May 19, 2004
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The Notre Dame pitching staff continued its recent wizardry while extending its scoreless streak vs. Central Florida to 17 innings before holding off a 9th-inning rally to edge the 20th-ranked Golden Knights, 3-2, in Wednesday-night action at Eck Stadium. The win was the 11th straight for 6th-ranked Notre Dame (44-9), which remained one of just four teams in all of Division I baseball with single-digit losses.
Jess Stewart, the second of three freshman righthanders to pitch for the Irish, picked up the win after logging five shutout innings while closer Ryan Doherty survived a bumpy 9th for the 10th save of his sophomore season.
Notre Dame (44-9) – still one of just four teams in the nation with single-digit losses – now turns its sights to the final three games of the regular season, a unique three-day BIG EAST series vs. Virginia Tech at Eck Stadium (May 21-23). The Hokies (27-24, 10-13 BIG EAST) are out of the running for the four-team BIG EAST Tournament while the Irish (18-5) are the only team to have secured a berth. Notre Dame can clinch at least a share of the BIG EAST regular-season title (ties are broken only for tournament seeding purposes) by winning one game in the series or by receiving some help in the series involving Pittsburgh (16-7), Boston College (14-7) and St. John’s (15-8). Rutgers (13-8) still has a shot at the tournament but can’t finish ahead of the Irish.
The Irish find themselves 35 games over .500 for just the third season in the program’s history, with only the top-ranked 2001 team rising more games above even (+36, at 43-7-1). Two more wins will best the ’01 team’s ND record for regular-season victories (45-9-1) while a sweep of the Hokies would mark the deepest into a season that an Irish team ever has ventured (56 games) before suffering its 10th loss.
Notre Dame’s 3.46 staff ERA includes a scorching run through the last five games, with the ND pitchers combining for a 1.26 ERA, a .187 opponent batting avg., 36 Ks, just 11 walks and 28 hits allowed in 43 innings during that span vs. fellow NCAA Tournament hopefuls Rutgers and UCF.
The Irish are 7-0 this season when facing a team ranked in the national top 25, with early-season wins over USC, Winthrop, FAU, Minnesota and Arizona to go along with Tuesday’s 4-0 shutout of UCF.
Notre Dame now has posted a pair of 11-game winning streaks this season (also April 29-May-19), marking the first time in the 10-year Paul Mainieri era that the Irish have posted two winning streaks of 11-plus. Notre Dame has totaled 10 double-digit win streaks in the Mainieri era, including two in 1996 (11, 10) and again in ’98 (13, 10).
Notre Dame’s four-year record from 2001-04 now stands at 188-58-1, putting the current senior class in the company of the winningest in the program’s history. Two more wins will tie the ’04 seniors with their 2003 predecessors (190-67-1) for the most wins in a four-year career, with second baseman Steve Sollmann essentially on the verge of becoming the winningest four-year starter in the program’s history. Sollmann and his classmates already hold that distinction when if comes to four-year winning pct. (.763), currently ranking ahead of the .758 posted from 1990-93 (185-59).
UCF (39-14) left nine runners on base while combining with Notre Dame in a game that generally was devoid of timely offensive plays. The Knights put five leadoff batters on base but hit just 3-for-19 with runners on, 1-for-15 with runners in scoring position and 2-for-12 with 2 outs. The Irish met with a similar fate in clutch hitting opportunities, batting 1-for-11 with runners on (1-for-6 in scoring position) and 1-for-8 with 2 outs.
Stewart and UCF’s starter, sophomore righthander Mike Billek (0-1), logged strong outings to play a key role in the offensive futility. Stewart faced just 19 batters spanning the 3rd-7th innings, allowing two hits and one walk while striking out three UCF batters. Billek surrendered the three runs in the first half of his six-inning stint, with three hits, three walks and four Ks before yielding to three relievers.
Notre Dame has turned in its share of blowout victories this season (with 23 wins by 5-plus runs and eight by double-digit margins) but the Irish also have shown the ability to pull out close games, with a 15-4 record in games decided by 1-2 runs. Wednesday’s tight finish gives the Irish a 7-2 mark in one-run games this season and brought back memories of a similar 3-2 ending versus another team from the sunshine state, in the game at Florida Atlantic way back on Feb. 28.
Doherty took the mound in the 9th for his third appearance in the last four days, looking to close out the 3-0 lead for his 10th save in 11 opportunities. Five-hole hitter Drake Wade fell behind in the count before sending a 1-2 single into right-center. Chandler Rose then fouled off six straight 2-2 pitches before poking a single into left field to put the tying run at the plate.
Sophomore lefthanded-hitting DH Dave Lambert, from nearby Chesterton, Ind., next worked ahead to a 2-1 count and fouled off a full-count offering before taking the next pitch outside for a walk that loaded the bases.
Doherty then fell behind Marshall Bernard (2-0) before blowing a high strike by the UCF third baseman and getting a called second strike. The next pitch was fouled into the Knights bullpen but Doherty induced a timely popup to the second baseman Sollmann.
Catcher Drew Butera – son of former big leaguer Sal Butera – had a chance to deliver from the 9-hole but he lifted an 0-2 pitch into shallow right-center, with centerfielder Alex Nettey squeezing the second out while the runners held on base.
Doherty then tossed a called strike to leadoff man Clay Timpner, who sent the next pitch through the left side to plate two runs and leave the tying run at second base. Matt Ray also took a first-pitch strike before sending a bouncer to the right side. Sollmann – who had yet to make an error this season in 155 fielding chances – bobbled the ball as Timpner crossed in front of him before quuckly shaking off the error and checking on the lead runner at third.
Pinch-runner David Mann had made the turn at third and overran the bag by a couple of paces, leaving the wily veteran Sollmann just enough space to squeeze off a throw to Matt Macri. The Irish third baseman then ran Mann towards home plate and lofted the ball to catcher Javi Sanchez to cap the dramatic ending – with Doherty becoming the fourth Irish pitcher ever to post double-digit saves in a season.
The early-season win over FAU had a similar ending and the same score. In that game, the Blue Wave had runners on first and second with one out when a ball was hit to first baseman Matt Edwards, who was playing back to take away the big hit. Edwards made the throw to second base for the force and shortstop Greg Lopez followed with his own heady play, firing on to Macri as the lead runner was caught overrunning third in anticipation of a throw back to first.
Notre Dame scored in the 1st inning for the sixth time in the last seven games, sparked by Macri’s first-pitch double to the left-center gap. Sollmann’s lineout to right field advanced the runner and Macri then scored on a rare foulout sacrifice fly off the bat of sophomoee DH Matt Bransfield, with the third baseman Bernard making the play near shallow left field.
Lopez started things for the Irish in the 3rd, drawing a leadoff walk on four pitches before Sollmann added a one-out walk on a full count. Bransfield then slapped a 1-0 pitch that tipped off the glove of the diving shortstop Rose for an RBI single, with Sollmann running on the play to take third. Sanchez followed with a rightside groundout to plate his fellow graduate for the 3-0 lead.
Freshman righthander Rico Bertucci opened the game with a pair of shutout innings, lowering his season ERA to 1.98 in 13.2 innings of work that now include 11 strikeouts and no walks. Bertucci allowed a leadoff double to Timpner but retired the final six batters he faced, including two by strikeout.
Bertucci bounced back from the Timpner double by getting Ray to look at a 2-2 pitch before Lopez made a tough play up the middle on a groundball off the bat of Dee Brown. Ryan Bono still had a runner at third but Bertucci induced a shallow popup to left field that ended the threat.
UCF had another chance in the 3rd, after Bernard’s leadoff single up the middle and Butera’s sac. bunt. Timpner then sent a tricky bouncer to the right side but Edwards made a lunging stab and threw to Stewart for the second out. Ray followed with a similar bouncer to Edwards, who raced across the bag as Bernard was stranded at third.
Stewart worked out of a jam in the 7th, after opening with a leadoff walk to the 9-hole hitter Butera before Timpner went the other way for a single into left-center (on a 1-2 pitch). Stewart then won a 2-2 battle with Ray, getting the called third strike on the outside corner (soliciting a chest pump from the catcher Sanchez), and pitching coach Terry Rooney then made a visit to the mound with the dangerous Brown at the plate.
Brown worked ahead and sent a 2-0 bouncer to Edwards, who alertly forced the runner at second to leave men at the corners. Cleanup hitter Ryan Bono then fell into a 1-2 hole before flying out down the leftfield line to end the threat.
Macri bounced a triple off the wall in left-center to start the bottom of the 8th and Sollmann walked before a groundout and an intentional walk to Sanchez left the bases loaded. Freshman lefthander Brian Brooks had entered after the Sollmann walk and he served up the pitch that left Macri stranded at third, on a 6U-3 double play by the shortstop Chandler.
NOTES – Despite the shaky save, Doherty became just the fourth ND pitcher to post double-digit saves, joining former teammate J.P. Gagne (13, in ’03), John Corbin (11, in ’00) and Mike Coffey (10, in ’89) atop the ND season saves list … Macri’s seven triples this season are most by an ND player since 1997 and are tied for 6th in the ND record book, with Sollmann’s brother Scott holding the record of 11 (in 1995) … others ahead of Macri on the triples list include Olympian Shaun Fitzmaurice (10 in ’64), Robbie Kent (9 in ’94), George Restovich (9 on ’96) and J.J. Brock (8 in ’97) … Macri has an outside shot at the rare 10-home run, 10-triple season and already owns the 10-HR-10 stolen base distinction this season (with 10 HR, 11 SB) … he is tied with Steve Sollmann and two others for 9th in ND history with 12 career triples (just two out of 3rd on that list) … Sollmann’s run was the 204th of his career, tying current Major Leaguer Craig Counsell for 5th in the ND record book (one behind Eric Damapilis) … he also drew the 97th and 98th walk of his ND career … Lopez posted his 12th straight error-free game and 36th of the season … the Irish were three outs away from their first back-to-back shutouts since the 2001 wins over BYU (1-0) and Valparaiso (16-0) … Stewart dropped his season ERA to 3.46 while fellow freshman RHP Dan Kapala tossed a scoreless 8th (H, BB, K) that dropped his ERA to 3.03 … the Irish extended the program’s 2nd-longest scoring streak to 139 games (370 of the last 371) … ND is 63-10 in its last 73 at Eck Stadium … the Irish are 27-3 with Sollmann in the starting lineup this season (15-6 when he was out with a fractured jaw) … freshman C Sean Gaston has been cleared to return to duty, after missing the last 17 games due to mononucleosis … the current 11-game winning streak is tied for 5th in the Paul Mainieri era, behind one 17-game streak (March 13-April 14, 2003), a pair of 16-game streaks (April 11-May 4, 2002 and April 4-25, 2001) and a 13-game streak from April 8-23, 1998 … two other ND teams have posted 11-game winning streaks (March 8-28, 1999 and April 13-23, 1995) to go along with 10 straight wins from March 24-April 6, 1996 and March 26-April 5, 1998.
#20 Central Florida 0-0-0 0-0-0 0-0-2 – 0 2 0
#8 Notre Dame 1-0-2 0-0-0 0-0-X – 3 4 1
Mike Billet, Matt Rhodes (7), Derek Abriola (8), Brian Brooks (8) and Drew Butera.
Triple: Matt Macri (ND).
Double: Clay Timpner (UCF), Macri (ND).