May 26, 2004
2004 NOTRE DAME BASEBALL
BIG EAST Tournament Notes
May 27-29 … Commerce Bank Ballpark … Bridgewater, N.J.
The Notre Dame baseball team (46-10, 20-6 BIG EAST) – ranked as high as 7th in the nation (by Baseball America) – is set to make its ninth straight BIG EAST Tournament appearance as the Irish return to Bridgewater, N.J., looking to become the first “three-peat” champion in the 20-year history of BIG EAST baseball … the 2002 Notre Dame squad was the BIG EAST’s first repeat champion since St. John’s won the first two tournaments (in ’85 and ’86) … Notre Dame will open postseason play in the 3:30 game (EDT, 2:30 in South Bend) by facing 4th-place finisher Boston College (30-25, 15-9) and the game is slated to be a showcase of each team’s top-rated prospects: ND junior RHP Grant Johnson and BC junior RHP Chris Lambert … the games again will take place at minor-league Commerce Bank Ballpark in Bridgewater, N.J., with the second game on Thursday, May 27 (7:00), featuring co-runner-ups St. John’s (35-19, 17-9) and Pittsburgh (38-16, 17-9).
RADIO AND LIVE-STAT COVERAGE – All of Notre Dame’s 2004 regular-season and postseason games again are broadcast by South Bend-based WDND 1580 AM (and its sister station, WNDV 1490) … the broadcasts are available via the internet at www.und.com (College Sports Pass subscription required) … a link to the BIG EAST livestats is available on the und.com main page or via www.bigeast.org.
QUICK NOTES ON THE IRISH – ND has posted a shutout in each of its last four series openers (4-0 vs. UConn, 1-0 vs. Rutgers, 4-0 vs. UCF, 9-0 vs. VT) … ND’s starting pitchers in the series and the first game vs. #20 Central Florida – Grant Johnson, Chris Niesel, Tom Thornton and Jeff Samardzija – combined for a 0.93 ERA, 24 Ks, 5 BB, 19 H and .190 opp. batting in 29 IP) … ND’s 12-game winning streak was snapped in the second-to-last game of the regular season (11-10 vs. VT) … the Irish own a 24-5 record in all games away from home (22-5 at Eck Stadium) … ND is on the verge of having three double-digit HR hitters for the first time since 1998 (pre-bat restrictions) … the Irish have won nearly 80% of the games during the ’01-’04 seasons when 2B Steve Sollmann has been in the starting lineup (165-46-1; including 29-4 this season, compared to just 15-6 when he was out with a fractured jaw) … ND entered the week 13th in the nation for staff ERA (3.45) and 14th in scoring (8.0 runs/gm) while Ryan Doherty’s 11 saves (in 12 opp.) rank 10th (2nd in ND history) … seven top ND players have combined to miss 198 games this season due to injury (most notably pitchers John Axford, Jeff Manship and Derik Olvey, plus Sollmann’s 21 games missed due to a fractured jaw) … the Irish have logged over 17,000 travel miles this season … ND owns seven wins over teams that were ranked in the national top-25 at the time (USC, Winthrop, Florida Atlantic, Minnesota, Arizona, UCF twice), also besting a high-powered Texas Tech squad that remains one of the nation’s top offensive squads … ND’s 95 times hit-by-pitch ranks 11th in the NCAA record book (Nevada holds the record with 125 in ’97) … the Irish have won 24 times in ’04 by 5-plus runs, plus 32 double-digit hit games … Grant Johnson’s 1.58 ERA would rank 4th in the nation (he does not meet the min. 1 IP/tm game) while Macri is 11th in runs … ND has scored in the 1st inning in 8 of the last 10 games … Sollmann is batting .400 (16-for-40) since returning from injury … he ranks 3rd in the ND record book for career hits (296), stolen bases (83) and runs (208) plus 8th in batting avg. (.364) … Macri (47) and SS Greg Lopez (39; 15 straight) have combined for 86 error-free games (Sollmann just made his 1 E in ’04 while 1B Matt Edwards has 4) … ND is 36 games over .500 for the 2nd season in the program’s history and set the record for regular-season wins (the ’01 team was 45-9-1) … ND is riding the 2nd-longest scoring streak in the program’s history (142 games; also 371 of the last 372) … the ’01-’04 ND teams have combined to go 190-59-1 (tying the class of 2003’s ND record for wins in 4-year span) … ND now owns a 52-8 scoring edge in the 2nd inning … the Irish have posted 24 error-free games in ’04 … ND has blasted 57 HRs after hitting just 31 in ’03 … the Irish have hit 3 HRs six times in ’04, plus a 4-HR game at UConn … Paul Mainieri’s 22-year career record is 776-449-2 (445-170-1/.723 at ND) … the team’s .413 on-base pct. would rank 4th in ND history (best since ’94) while the .247 opp. batting avg. is 3rd-best by an ND staff since 1971 … the ND staff’s low walk avg. (2.7 BB/9 IP) trails only the ’01 staff’s 2.5 in the ND record book … Brian Stavisky (14, in 2000) is the last ND player to hit more HR in a season than Matt Macri’s 12 … Cody Rizzo’s 47 HBP are an ND career record … the ND baseball program owns a 100% graduation rate during the Mainieri era (59 of 59), among players who have completed their eligibility (eight who signed professionally as juniors also have returned to complete degrees) … all six seniors registered a 2004 spring GPA above 3.55 (led by a 4.0 from marketing major Sollmann, a 2003 Academic All-American) … the entire Irish baseball squad just posted a 3.15 team GPA in the 2004 spring semester, led by 11 players at 3.4-plus and 22 above 3.0 … three ND players – Sollmann (3.44 cum. GPA), sophomore LHP Tom Thornton (3.49, anthropology/film, television and theater) and sophomore LF Steve Andres (3.24, business) – are on the CoSIDA Academic All-America ballot (TBA) … Notre Dame is the only baseball program to produce two Academic All-American in each of the previous four seasons … ND joins Texas and Rice as the only teams in the top-20 for ERA each of the past five seasons (ND was 16th in ’00, 5th in ’01, 13th in 2002 and 18th in ’03).
40-SOMETHING – ND owns 15 straight seasons with 40-plus wins, including 49 in 2001, 48 in ’89 and ’92, 46 in ’90, ’93, ’94, ’00 and ’03, 45 wins in ’91 and 44 in ’95 … ND’s active streak of seasons with 40-plus wins ranks 3rd in Division I, behind Florida State (26; currently 37 wins) and Wichita State (has extended streak to 27).
CAREER BIG EAST TOURNAMENT STATS
Matt Macri (dnp in ’02 due to injury): hit 1-for-14 (.071) at ’03 BET (3 RBI, 3 R, HBP, 5 Ks, 2 SAC, 2 Es)
Steve Sollmann (’01-’03): .286 (12-for-42), 2 RBI, 7 R, 4 BB, HBP, 4 Ks, 4 SB, 2 Es
Matt Bransfield (’03): 2-for-6, RBI, R, BB, K
Steve Andres (’03): 3-for-10, 4 RBI, 3 R, 2B, 2 BB, HBP, 2 Ks, SF
Javi Sanchez (’02-’03, dnp in ’01 BET): .520 (13-for-25), 7 RBI, 9 R, HR, 3 2B, 6 BB, 2 Ks, 4 SAC, SB, 4 Es at SS)
Craig Cooper (’03): 2-for-7 (RBI, 2 R, 2 BB, 2 Ks, SB)
Matt Edwards (’03, dnp in ’02 due to injury): 8-for-18 (.444). 5 RBI, 4 R, 2B, BB, 3 Ks
Cody Rizzo (’03): 6-for-13 (.462), 4 RBI, 6 R, 3 BB, 3 HBP, K
Greg Lopez (’03): 1-for-4, R, 2 Ks
Alex Nettey (’03): 2 GP, 0-for-1
Grant Johnson (’02 vs. Rutgers): 8-3 win, 7 IP, 9 H, 2 H/1 ER, 2 BB, 7 Ks (dnp in ’03 BET due to injury)
Chris Niesel (no dec. is 8-4 win over VT in ’02, dnp in ’03 due to injury): 1.80, 1-0, GS, 5.0 IP, 6 H, R, 5 Ks (vs. VT)
Tom Thornton (’03): 2 IP, H, 2 Ks, .143 opp. avg.
Ryan Doherty (’03): 1 GP, 2 IP, H, 2 R/0 ER, BB, 5 Ks, .125 opp. avg.
Tyler Jones (’03) – 1.1 IP, K
THE ND-BC SERIES – Notre Dame leads the BC series 18-7, with a split earlier this season at Eck Stadium (4-7, 6-4), with an 8th-inning double from Matt Edwards helping the Irish earn the split … BC knocked off the Irish twice at the 2000 BIG EAST Tournament (12-1, 10-6).
JOHNSON CLOSES REGULAR SEASON WITH BACK-TO-BACK WEEKLY HONORS – Notre Dame junior Grant Johnson (Burr Ridge, Ill.) – whose 1.58 season ERA would rank 4th in the nation (he is 10 innings shy of the minimum) – repeated as the BIG EAST Conference pitcher of the week, after logging seven shutout innings for the second straight week to headline a 9-0 victory over Virginia Tech on May 21 … he became just the second Notre Dame pitcher ever to earn the BIG EAST honor in back-to-back weeks ( Danny Tamayo also turned in the feat in 2001), with no previous Notre Dame position players ever earning consecutive BIG EAST player-of-the-week awards … Johnson, who has made an impressive return from his sophomore-year shoulder surgery, helped post Notre Dame’s fourth straight series-opening shutout while tying a career high with nine strikeouts in the win over the Hokies. The 6-5, 215-pound righthander allowed just two balls to leave the infield (on a linedrive to center and single through the left side), with his 91-pitch start including all but four of his outs coming via Ks (9) or groundouts (8), plus a pair of infield popups, a lineout to the shortstop and a foulout … Johnson ended up leading the BIG EAST with a 1.91 ERA during 2004 conference games, after allowing just one Virginia Tech leadoff batter to reach base while holding the Hokies to 1-for-9 batting with runners on base and 0-for-7 with 2 outs … he has been impressive all season at working out of jams and showcased his moxy in the 7th by maintaining the shutout with the bases loaded and no outs, registering three straight strikeouts (each went down swinging at 1-2 pitches).
JOHNSON BY THE NUMBERS – Grant Johnson’s 45.2 innings leave him shy of the minimum to be listed in the NCAA rankings (1 IP per team game) but his 1.58 overall season ERA would rank 1st in the BIG EAST and 4th in the nation (plus 8th-best in ND record book) … the only pitchers among the current NCAA leaders with an ERA better than Johnson’s are top-ranked prospect Jered Weaver of Long Beach State (1.25), Troy State’s Nate Moore (1.25) and Northeastern’s Jordan Thomson (1.31) … Weaver is the brother of current Major Leaguer Jeff Weaver … in addition to his low overall ERA, Johnson’s .171 opponent batting average would be leading the BIG EAST (teammate Jeff Samardzija is the official leader, at .199) and would rank 3rd in the ND record book (stat kept since ’91) … Johnson also ranks 3rd on the Irish staff in games started (11) and 4th in strikeouts (41) and innings pitched while his other season stats include a 5-0 record in 12 total appearances, 28 hits allowed and 22 walks. He ranks 2nd on the staff in fewest hits allowed per 9 innings (5.52, would rank 8th in ND record book), plus 3rd in strikeout avg. (8.1 per 9 IP) and 4th with 9.7 groundouts per game … situationally, Johnson owns the best opponent leadoff on-base pct. (just .213) while ranking 3rd on the staff for lowest batting avg. with runners on base (.200) and 4th in opponent 2-out batting (.186). Roughly one-third of his strikeouts (14 of 41) have come on called third strikes … in conference games only, Johnson led the BIG EAST with a 1.91 ERA and .169 opp. batting avg., with all five of his decisions coming in conference play … his other stats in eight BIG EAST starts included 33 Ks (7.9/9 IP), 15 BB and 23 hits allowed in 37.2 innings … Heilman is the only previous ND pitcher to lead the BIG EAST in conference ERA, posting a 1.40 en route to repeating as the league’s pitcher of the year in 2001 … Johnson’s two healthy seasons with the Irish include a 14-4 record and 2.88 ERA that would rank 9th in the ND record book, plus 127 strikeouts, 66 walks and 122 hits allowed in 147.0 innings … his 1.58 season ERA and low hit average (5.22/9 IP) both are on pace to rank 8th in the ND record book. ND’s BIG EAST WEEKLY AWARD HISTORY – The Notre Dame program now has produced 29 BIG EAST pitcher-of-the-week recipients in the last nine years, the most from any of the league’s schools during that stretch (Rutgers is next with 22, followed by West Virginia’s 17) … six previous ND hurlers have earned multiple BIG EAST pitcher-of-the week honors (five doing so in the same season), including current sophomore LHP Tom Thornton twice in the first month of the 2004 season (Feb. 32, March 15) … just two previous ND staffs have produced two pitchers who earned multiple BIG EAST pitcher-of-the-week awards in the same seasons, in 2000 ( Aaron Heilman and Scott Cavey ) and again in 2001 (Heilman and Danny Tamayo ) … Tamayo earned three honors in that 2001 season and is the only previous Irish player to earn BIG EAST awards in consecutive weeks (April 23 and 30 of that season) … ND is the only school to produce three different BIG EAST players of the week this season and led the conference with both four weekly player awards and four pitcher awards. … Johnson rose to the challenge with BIG EAST rival Rutgers to earn his previous BIG EAST weekly honor, tossing the 4-hit shutout to best Rutgers ace Jack Egbert in the 7-inning series opener on May 15 (1 BB, 25 BF, 11 groundouts, 71% strikes) while emerging victorious from just the sixth 1-0 game of the 10-year Paul Mainieri era (ND has won all six) … he logging his first complete game in nearly two years, dating back to his 1-hitter vs. South Alabama in the ’02 NCAAs (that outing earned him national pitcher of the week, after the BIG EAST weekly awards had ended) … Notre Dame’s previous BIG EAST pitcher-of-the-week recipients include 10-time honoree Heilman, from 1998-2001 (no other BIG EAST pitcher ever has totaled more than four). Two other ND pitchers – Cavey (’97-’00) and Tamayo (’98, ’00-’01) – are tied for fourth on the BIG EAST list with three career BIG EAST pitcher-of-the-week awards while Niesel, Thornton, Johnson and recent starter/closer specialist J.P. Gagne (’00-’03) each own two BIG EAST weekly awards. The other five Notre Dame pitchers who have received weekly BIG EAST honors include Christian Parker (’96), Lidge (’98), Alex Shilliday (’98), Peter Ogilvie (’02).
SHOWDOWN CITY – Bridgewater, N.J., could be the place to be for east-coast scouts on Thursday, May 27, when Notre Dame faces Boston College in the first game of the BIG EAST Tournament (3:30 EDT) … the game will feature two of the highest-rated prospects in the BIG EAST in the form of junior righthanders Chris Lambert (BC) and Grant Johnson (ND) … Baseball America’s latest ratings of draft-eligible players (high school, college and JC included) list Lambert 12th among college pitchers, 16th among all college players, 18th among all pitchers and 25th among all players while Johnson is No. 33 among college pitchers, 44th among all pitchers, 46th among all college players and 67th among all players (with Division I college baseball alone including nearly 300 teams) … Lambet currently ranks 3rd among BIG EAST players in overall ERA (3.31) to along with a league-best 99 total Ks, also ranking 2nd behind Samardzija in lowest opp. batting avg. (.207) and 8th in innings (84.1) while his other stats include a 6-4 record, 49 walks, 63 hits, 10.6 Ks and 5.2 BB per 9 IP … in conference games only, Lambert ranks 14th in ERA (4.18), and in wins (5-2), 1st in Ks (58), 5th in opp. batting (.229), plus 32 BB, 41 H, 47.1 IP, 11.0 Ks and 6.1 BB per 9 IP … there will be a lack of familiarity in Thursday’s game between the pitchers and hitters, as the Irish have not faced Lambert since the final week of the 2002 regular season while the Eagles also have not seen Johnson since that 2002 series … Johnson’s Freshman All-America season in 2002 included winning the 9-inning, Friday-night series opener vs. BC (8-2; 6 IP, 4 H, R, 2 BB, 6 Ks, 83 pitches) … all six of his Ks came in the first time through the lineup … only three current BC position players remain who played in that game and they combined to bat 0-for-8 with a pair of Ks vs. Johnson: 1B Ryan Morgan (0-for-3; 3U, 4-3, F-7-2 DP), CF Drew Locke (0-for-3; KL, L-9, FC 5-4) and 3B/OF Jason Delaney (0-for-2; KS, F-8) … the game featured a memorable double-play throw to the plate from LF Brian Stavisky (who also completed a streak of 11 straight times on base) while Joe Thaman’s grand slam capped the night … Lambert (who went on to earn BIG EAST pitcher of the year) took the hill the next day in the 7-inning game-2, entering the game with a 9-2 record … he took a no-hitter and 6-0 lead into the 4th (BC scored four in the 1st) before the Irish used 3 hits, 3 walks and a costly error (5 UER) to claim a 7-6 lead en route to the 10-6 win … Lambert’s final line was 5 IP, 9 R/3 ER, 6 H, 4 BB, 1 K in 98 pitches … three current ND players faced Lambert that day and combined to bat 2-for-7: 2B Steve Sollmann (0-for-2; 1-3, BB/R, F-7), SS Javi Sanchez (1-for-3; F-9, E4/R, 1B-9/R) and 1B Joe Thaman (1-for-2, KS, HR-9/4 RBI) … ND’s 7-run rally included Sollmann’s 1-out walk, Stavisky’ single through the left side (on a 1-2 pitch), Andrew Bushey’s RBI double down the leftfield line, Paul O’Toole’s 5-pitch walk, Matt Bok’s full-count walk, a flyout and then the groundball to 2B Josh DiScipio who booted the try for a costly error … Thaman then launched the next pitch over the RF fence for his second grand slam in a span of 17 hours.
ND’s BIG EAST STAT LEADER HISTORY – Cooper is ND’s fourth BIG EAST batting champ and second in the last three seasons, with the others including Jeff Wagner (.488 in ’97), Brant Ust (.493 in ’98) and Steve Stanley (.431 in ’02) … Macri (Clive, Iowa) joins Stanley (44, in ’02) as the second ND player to lead the BIG EAST in hits … Stanley also led the league in runs during the 2001 (38) and ’02 (30) seasons … Macri continues an ND tradition of BIG EAST triples leaders that also includes J.J. Brock (4 in ’97), Ken Meyer (4 in ’00), Stanley (5 in ’01) and Brennan Grogan (4 in ’03) … Bransfield (Englewoo, Colo.) becomes the fifth straight ND player to lead the BIG EAST in RBI, following the likes of Alec Porzel (27 in ’00, 35 in ’01), Paul O’Toole (30 in ’02) and current junior 1B Matt Edwards (26 in ’03) … Stanley also led the BIG EAST in stolen bases as a freshman (12, in ’99) and walks as a junior (18, in ’01) while Porzel was a two-time BIG EAST doubles leader (11 in ’00, 13 in ’01) … Grant Johnson follows Aaron Heilman (1.40, in ’01) as ND’s second pitcher to lead the BIG EAST in conference ERA while Heilman (4 in ’98), John Corbin (4 in ’99) and now Doherty have been BIG EAST saves leaders … other previous ND players listed among the six yearly leaders in the BIG EAST record book include: Heilman (7 in ’00, 8 in ’01) and current junior RHP Chris Niesel (7 in ’03) in wins; Heilman (66 in ’00) and Danny Tamayo (59 in ’01) in strikeouts; Tamayo with 60.2 innings in ’01; and Heilman with 8 complete games in ’01.
BIG EAST BESTS
Notre Dame players combined to lead the BIG EAST in nine offensive categories and four pitching stats during 2004 conference games – including six of the offensive stats (batting avg., hits, home runs, RBI, runs, triples) that are included in the BIG EAST record book among its list of annual leaders. The only BIG EAST teams ever to have more conference leaders among the nine record-book offensive stats were the 1987 and ’88 Seton Hall squads – led by the likes of Mo Vaughn, Craig Biggio, Martese Robinson and Dana Brown – that played when the league included just eight teams.
Most notably among the Irish stat leaders, sophomore rightfielder Craig Cooper became the first player in BIG EAST history ever to lead the league in conference batting avg. (.470), on-base pct. (.545) and slugging pct. (.712) in the same season – while junior third baseman Matt Macri led the league in five different categories for conference games: hits (38), home runs (7), triples (3), runs (36) and total bases (71).
Macri’s name will be added to four of the nine BIG EAST record-book annual leader lists (hits, HRs, 3Bs and runs, with TBS not kept as an annual stat), tying three previous BIG EAST players for the most conference-leading stats among those nine categories. It has been 14 years since a BIG EAST player led four of those nine categories, with SHU’s Biggio the first to do so in 1986 (27 runs, 16 stolen bases, 21 walks, 3 triples), followed by his teammate Brown in 1988 (.455, 30 hits, 27 runs, 17 SBs) and Georgetown’s John Belicka in 1990 (21 runs, 22 RBI, 9 doubles, 6 HRs).
Macri’s tremendous offensive versatility is evidenced by the fact that he is the first player ever to lead the BIG EAST in conference home runs and triples. He also becomes just the fourth to lead the league in hits and home runs during the same season, joining former UConn star and current Texas Ranger Jason Grabowski (40 H, 10 HR in ’96) and former Pittsburgh players Josh Tyler (37 H, 6 HR in ’94) and Matt Stennet (27 H, 6 HR in ’85) in that distinction.
Notre Dame also is the first BIG EAST team since 1991 to feature the BIG EAST leader in conference batting avg. (Cooper) and ERA (Johnson). Just four previous tandems in the 20-year history of BIG EAST baseball have completed the feat (all when the league included just eight teams): Providence’s Roger Haggerty (.500) and Jim Navilliat (1.45) in 1985; Seton Hall’s Martese Robinson (.519) and John Spiciarich in 1987; Villanova’s Dennis McCaffery (.458) and Brian Kenny (1.19) in 1990; and the 1991 St. John’s pair of David Honor (.442) and Mike Maerten (1.60).
Sophomore DH Matt Bransfield also finished as the BIG EAST leader in RBI during conference games (33), making Notre Dame the league’s first team since 1989 (and third in BIG EAST history) to feature the conference leader in batting avg., home runs and RBI (ND has the unique distinction of also owning the ERA leader). The 1989 Villanova squad – featuring Kevin Cain’s .517 batting avg., Gary Scott’s 27 RBI and 6 home runs from Scott and Gary Schall – is the only previous BIG EAST team to feature three different players who comprised the league’s leaders in batting, RBI and home runs.
Seton Hall produced the other two teams with BIG EAST leaders in the top three offensive categories, doing so in 1987 behind the hitting of Robinson (.519) and slugging of Vaughn (37 RBI, 13 HR) before duplicating the feat in 1988 with Brown (.455) and Vaughn (37 RBI, 7 HR). Brown also led the BIG EAST in ’88 with 27 runs scored, as did SHU’s Craig Biggio in ’87 (35), VU’s Scott and Jim Sears in ’89 (both with 24) and ND’s Macri in 04 (36).
Notre Dame junior righthander Grant Johnson led the BIG EAST in conference ERA (1.91) and low opponent bagging avg. (.169) while sophomore closer Ryan Doherty topped the list for appearances (12) and saves (5) in BIG EAST games. Just three previous BIG EAST staffs have featured both the league’s ERA and saves leader: Providence in 1986 (Jim Navilliat 1.45, Tommy Geruso 2 SV), St. John’s in 1991 (Mike Maerten 1.60, Eric Reichenbach 5 SV) and Villanova in 1996 (John Klopp 1.71 and 4 SV).
MORE ON ND’S BIG EAST LEADERS – Notre Dame also led the BIG EAST in team batting avg. for conference games during the 2004 season (.319, well ahead of Virginia Tech’s .304), joining the 1996 (.327), 1997 (.360) and 2001 (.334) Irish squads as BIG EAST team batting champs … the Irish also finished the 2004 conference slate as the BIG EAST leader in team on-base pct. (.404, with Pittsburgh second at .381), slugging pct. (.489, to Pitt’s .450), runs (188, with VT’s 154 a distant 2nd) and home runs (26, to Pitt’s 24), plus 4th in stolen bases (36) … on the mound, ND finished with a BIG EAST-best 179 strikeouts (besting BC’s 166) and a walk avg. of 2.73 per 9 IP that was best among the league’s staffs – also finishing 2nd in conference ERA (3.51, behind SJU’s 3.14) and K avg. (7.40/9 IP) and 3rd in opp. batting avg. (.258) and saves (6) … defensively, the Irish turned a BIG EAST-leading 28 double plays (to SJU’s 26) and ranked 3rd with a .968 fielding pct. … ’04 marked the first time in four seasons that ND did not own the top conference ERA (3.46 in ’01, 3.74 in ’02, 3.14 in ’03) … the ’03 team also led the BIG EAST with a .968 conference fielding pct
BIG EAST CHAMPS – Notre Dame is the only team to qualify for the BIG EAST Tournament in each of the past nine seasons (since joining the conference in 1995-96), winning regular-season titles in 1997 (15-6), 1999 (20-5), 2001 (22-4), 2002 (18-8) and 2004 (20-6) … the Irish also were the regular-season runner-up in 1998 (15-4) and 2000 (18-7) while placing third in 1996 (13-7) and 2003 (16-7) – with their all-time winning pct. in BIG EAST regular-season games (.744, 157-54) easily ranking as the best in the league over then span of the past nine seasons.
OVERALL BIG EAST STAT LEADERS – Here’s a look at where Notre Dame finished up as a team and individually among BIG EAST overall stat charts, heading into the ’04 postseason:
WINNING WITH CLASS – The current six-member senior class has helped Notre Dame post 190 wins during the past four seasons, matching their predecessors (the class of ’03) as the winningest class in the program’s history.
BACK IN THE GARDEN STATE – Notre Dame’s list of 812 all-time baseball letterwinners includes 45 New Jersey natives, the fifth-highest state representation behind Illinois, New York, Indiana and Ohio … the current roster includes players from 19 states, including sophomore closer and Toms River East product Ryan Doherty … Doherty captured New Jersey player-of-the-year honors in his senior season … other New Jersey natives to play for the Irish in the Paul Mainieri era include OF Rowan Richards (Bloomfield HS; at ND from ’93-’96) and RHP Larry Mohs (Nutley HS; at ND from ’94-’97).
TOURNEY NOTES – Since joining the BIG EAST concurrently prior to the 1996 season, Notre Dame (157-54, .744) has ranked as the winningest teams in BIG EAST regular-season play … ND is the only teams to qualify for each of the last nine BIG EAST Championships, followed by Rutgers (8), Seton Hall (5), West Virginia (5), St. John’s (5), Providence (3), Virginia Tech (3), Boston College (3), Villanova (2), Pittsburgh (2) and Connecticut (1) … the last nine seasons have seen ND earn the top seed four times (’97, ’99, ’01, ’02, ’04) while Rutgers has earned that distinction in 1998, 2000 and ’03 (Villanova was the top seed in ’96) … the 19 previous BIG EAST baseball championships have seen the top seed claim the title just six times: Seton Hall in 1987 and ’90, Rutgers in ’98 and 2000 and ND in ’02 and ’03 … the Irish went 2-4 vs. the rest of the 2004 BET field (1-1 vs. BC and SJU, 0-2 at Pitt.), all while Steve Sollmann was sidelined by injury … 2002 marked just the third time in the 18-year history of the BIG EAST baseball championship – and the first since 1992 – that a team had repeated as the top seed (also Seton Hall in ’89 and ’90 and St. John’s in ’91 and ’92).
GOTTA SWING THE BATS – Improved hitting made the difference for the Irish in the 2003 BET, as ND hit .361 as a team (compated to .208 in 2002) … ND’s woeful team batting averages at previous conference tournaments had included: .276 in 1996 (35 strikeouts in 6 games), .280 in ’97 (32 Ks in 4 games), .247 in ’98 (41 Ks in 5 games), .238 in ’99 (18 Ks in 3 games), a surge to .295 in 2000 (13 Ks), then .252 in ’01 (18 Ks) and just .208 in the ’02 championship season (25 Ks) … that adds up to a .230 avg. batting effort and 30 Ks per season from ’96-’02.
ALWAYS NEAR THE TOP – ND has finished near the top of the BIG EAST regular-season standings or in the postseason tournament during each of its eight previous seasons in the conference … in 1996, the Irish played their way into the tournament on the last weekend before extending West Virginia to a winner-take-all title game … in ’97, ND posted the best winning pct. in the conference but lost twice to upstart Villanova in the postseason … in ’98, the Irish finished second to Rutgers in both the regular-season standings and the title game … in ’99, ND became the first BIG EAST team ever to win more than 18 conference games (20-5) en route to the regular-season title before finishing 18-7 and tied for second in 2000 (ND went 1-2 in the ’99 and 2000 BETs), followed by first-place regular-season finishes in 2001 (22- 4), ’02 (18-8) and ’04 (20-6) and the ’02 and ’03 tournament titles.