April 29, 2007
PISCATAWAY, N.J. – The 40-game baseball series between Notre Dame and Rutgers has produced plenty of wild and memorable moments over the past 12 years and Sunday’s weekend finale at Bainton Field added another classic chapter to the rivalry, as the Irish used a pair of clutch triples in the 8th and 9th to score twice in both innings, securing the 6-4 win to give head coach Dave Schrage his 500th career coaching victory. Notre Dame (24-19, 8-9 BIG EAST) – which has won three straight league series and is 7-3 in its past 10 BIG EAST games – moved into a tie with Cincinnati for 6th-place in the standings and is only five percentage points behind South Florida (10-11), which has just two league series remaining and will be off from BIG EAST play next week while the Irish are playing host to 10th-place Seton Hall (5-10).
(Note: this full recap now includes additional game details and postgame notes).
Ross Brezovsky’s full-count, 2-out triple chased home Ryan Connolly and A.J. Pollock to give the Irish a 4-3 lead in the 8th, but Rutgers tied the game moments later on Jon Gossard’s solo home run. The visitors came right back in the 9th, as Jeremy Barnes followed Danny Dressman’s leadoff single with a tie-breaking triple before scoring an insurance run for the final 6-4 score.
Schrage’s 500th career win as a college baseball coach fittingly arrived on the same date as his 46th birthday. His 20-year career totals include (most recently) 130 wins at Evansville, following 75 at Northern Illinois, 210 at Northern Iowa and 61 at Waldorf Junior College (plus the 24 at Notre Dame).
Notre Dame now holds a 25-15 edge in a series with Rutgers that has included plenty of extremes in the results, with 10 of the games decided by 7-plus runs (including both ends of Saturday’s doubleheader, one won by each team) while 18 other games in the series – nearly half – have been decided by 1-2 runs (ND has won seven of the 11 one-run games in the series and four of the seven two-run games). The Irish now have won seven seasons series vs. RU, which has claimed four weekend matchups with ND over the years (one other series was a split of two games, with the ’98 series rained out). The ND-RU rivalry also includes nine meetings in the BIG EAST Tournament (ND holds a slim 5-4 edge in those games), highlighted by three title-game showdowns (won by RU in ’98 and ND in ’02 and ’03).
The Irish are 11-3 in their past 14 games and have yet to suffer consecutive losses since the early-April series at Cincinnati. Notre Dame entered the month of April with a record of just 12-14 but now will head into May on the heels of a 12-5 record in the current month.
In a season already overflowing with “I’ve never seen that before” moments, another flashed in front of the Notre Dame bench in the middle of Sunday’s game. With the game tied 2-2 in the 6th, the Irish were poised to retake the lead – after A.J. Pollock’s opposite-field double down the rightfield line (the ball hopped the fence for a ground-rule double, preventing Pollock from a possible triple) and a walk by Ross Brezovsky. Righthanded-hitting Matt Weglarz then ripped a low grounder down the third-base line – but Tim Querns made the stab at the hot corner, stepped on third and quickly began the relay around the horn as Rutgers pulled off the rarity of a triple play (2B Mike Bionde and the 1B Tom Edwards joined in the 5-4-3 sequence).
An unearned run in the bottom of the inning made the triple play even more painful, but the Irish went on to score four of the game’s final five runs to take the victory and the weekend series.
Senior righthander Dan Kapala once again had a quality outing but failed to pick up the win, after receiving minimal run support in his 5.1 innings. Kapala allowed just two earned runs (plus one unearned) on eight hits and a walk, with one strikeout. Junior RHP Joey Williamson (3-2) picked up the win after facing 11 batters in 2.2 innings, with one of his two hits allowed being Gossard’s home run (Williamson also had a walk and K).
Freshman RHP Eric Maust started the bottom of the 9th but had two runners in scoring position with 2-outs. Sophomore lefty Sam Elam was summoned from the bullpen and struck out the lefthanded-hitting 5-hole hitter Edwards to leave the tying runs on base.
Notre Dame again scored in its first trip to the plate and added another run on Ryan Smith’s solo blast in the 2nd, giving the Irish home runs in five of the past six games. But the hosts scored single runs in the 3rd, 4th and 6th to take a 3-2 lead into the late innings.
St. John’s (14-4) gained sole possession of the top spot in the BIG EAST standings, after sweeping West Virginia to send WVU into 9th place. Rutgers (25-16, 13-5) and Louisville – a team that will play host to ND in two weeks – are one game off the pace, followed by idle Pittsburgh (11-6) in 4th place. Villanova (7-11) moved into 8th place, after taking 2-of-3 from Cincinnati, followed by WVU, UConn (6-12), SHU and Georgetown (5-13).
Junior shortstop Brett Lilley – whose impressive 21-game errorless streak came to an end (on somewhat of a fluke combination of circumstances) – opened the day by reaching on a hit-by-pitch, as sophomore RHP Casey Gaynor plunked him with a 1-2 offering. Lilley’s 22 HBPs this season rank 4th in the ND record book while his 73 career HBPs are just one shy of tying for 5th in NCAA D-I history.
Pollock then hustled to beat out a groundball to the second baseman and Lilley took third on a Brezovsky flyout before scoring on Weglarz’s groundout to the shortstop. The Irish now have won 80% of the time when scoring the game’s first run (20-5) but are just 4-14 when facing the game’s first deficit. Notre Dame’s season-long 1st-inning production includes 36 runs spread over 19 games (ND is 12-7 when scoring in the 1st).
Notre Dame also continued its season-long domination of 2nd-inning scoring (now a 33-8 margin), as Smith connected on a 1-1 pitch from Gaynor for the 2-out solo shot that hooked inside the left foul pole. The Irish totaled just 13 home runs in the first 37 games of the season – including a 14-game drought without a long ball – but ND now has left the yard eight times in the past six games. Smith also homered in game-2 of last week’s series vs. West Virginia and the freshman DH now is riding a nine-game hitting streak, third-longest by an ND player this season (behind current 10-game streaks by Barnes and Dressman).
Rutgers answered with a run in the 3rd, as 9-hole hitter Luis Feliz reached on a 1-out single before motoring all the way around to score on Todd Frazier’s double into the leftfield corner. The Knights then tied the game in the 4th, on Frank Meade’s 2-out double down the leftfield line. Cleanup batter Dave Williams had led off with an infield single to the right side and moved up when Kapala hit Gossard with a 1-out pitch. The hosts could have claimed the lead in the 4th – with Gossard and Meade in scoring position – but Kapala blew strike three past Feliz to keep the game tied.
A pair of errors helped produce the go-ahead unearned run for Rutgers in the 6th. Williams again reached as the leadoff batter, when his roller went between the legs of the first baseman Mike Dury (ending his own errorless streak at 11 games). Edwards then bunted the runner over and Gossard followed with a sharp grounder to the left side. Lilley managed to keep the ball in the infield and attempted to complete the above-average play – instead bobbling the ball away from himself as he tried to pull off the throw. Williams alertly scampered home, ending the Lilley errorless run that had spanned nearly 100 fielding chances (98).
Lilley’s fielding streak easily could have continued if not for the combination of his strong play to initially corral the ball, his attempt to throw out the slow-footed Gossard, and the fact that a runner was on second base. If Williams had been on third, he would simply have scored on the Gossard single; if the runner was on first, he would not have been able to take third, as the ball still was close enough to Lilley after the bobble.
Similar to the bottom of the 4th, Rutgers had the chance for more runs in the 6th – after Querns sent a single through the left side put two runners aboard with only 1-out. Williamson then inherited the two runners and left them stranded, as Meade flew out to left and Feliz popped up behind the plate to Weglarz.
Connolly – who had provided a big 9-hole boost in the series opener (2-for-2, 2 BB, 2 RBI, 4 R) – sparked the go-ahead sequence in the 8th, despite falling into an 0-2 hole for the third time in the game (with two earlier Ks). Connolly went the other way on the next pitch for a 1-out hit into the right-center gap, producing his seventh double of the season. Lilley’s rightside groundout advanced the runner and Gaynor opted to walk Pollock on five pitches.
That set the stage for a dramatic at-bat from the lefthanded-hitting Brezovsky, who worked the count full and then narrowly missed sending a couple of fastballs down the leftfield line. Gaynor came with a curveball on the next pitch and the battle-tested Brezovsky delivered his third triple of the season (and seventh of his career), slicing the ball deep into the left-center gap to easily score the pair of speedy runners for the 4-3 Irish lead – ending the day for Gaynor (7.2 IP, 4 R, 5 H, 2 BB, 5 Ks).
Gossard’s 2-out blast moments later tied the game and Rutgers was looking for more, after a single by Querns and a walk to Meade. But Williamson induced Feliz to fly out to the leftfielder Brezovsky, sending the game to the 9th with a 4-4 score.
Dressman led off the 9th with an infield single, producing the second double-digit hit streak of the senior centerfielder’s career. The other team’s centerfielder then played a key role in the next hit, as Barnes parked a 2-2 pitch from sophomore RHP Chris Lillis (2-2) over the head of the retreating Feliz (who earlier had hauled in several warning-track balls with over-the-head catches). Barnes cruised around the bases for his second triple of the season and eighth of the sophomore second baseman’s young ND career, before scoring an insurance run on Dury’s sacrifice fly to center field.
Maust took the mound in the bottom of the inning for his first save opportunity of the season, but the rookie two-sport talent lost Frazier on a four-pitch walk and fell behind Bionde before getting the out on a called third strike. Three-hole hitter Ryan Hill followed with a single into right field, bringing Williams to the plate as the potential winning run.
Maust battled to get another strikeout “looking” – with both runners swiping a base on the third strike – and Elam then was brought in to force the lefty-lefty matchup. The first and third pitches went for strikes and Edwards then was unable to catch up to a high fastball, tipping it into the glove of the catcher Weglarz to end the game.
NOTES – Barnes’s career-best hit streak (10 games) is well above his best from 2006 (6) … Dressman had an 11-game hit streak as a junior (from March 28-April 11, 2006) … ND’s BIG EAST-leading 13 triples this season include three in the RU series (Connelly had a 3-base hit in the opener) … Lilley (3-for-7, 4 RBI, 4 R, 2B, 3 BB, 2 HBP, SF, E) and Pollock (5-for-12, 2 RBI, 2 R, BB, K, 2 2B) combined for a solid series at the top of the order (8-for-20, 6 RBI, 6 R, 3 2B, 4 BB, 2 HBP, K, SAC, SF, SB, E) … Smith (3-for-11, HR, RBI, 3 R, K) and Connolly (3-for-9, 2 RBI, 5 R, 3B, 2B, 2 BB, 3 Ks, SB) likewise provided a big boost at the bottom of the order (6-for-20, 3 RBI, 8 R, 2 Bb, 4 Ks, SB, HR, 3B, 2B) … ND’s 9-hole batters had combined to score just 9 runs in the first 40 games of the season, before Connolly had 5 R from the #9 spot in the RU series … Lilley now owns two of the top-4 season HBP totals in ND history (30 in ’05, 22 in ’07; Cody Rizzo had 28 in ’03 and Alex Nettey 23 in ’06) … his 73 career HBPs still are 6th in NCAA history, just one back of former Texas player Jeff Ontiveros and three shy of recent Cincinnati player Mark Muscenti … ND made just four errors in the series, with one of the miscues made by a pitcher … ND’s four infielders have combined to make just 10 Es in the past 13 games (Pollock 6 at 3B, Lilley 1, Barnes 1 and Dury 2) … Pollock had 6 Es in the first nine games of the recent homestand but now has played four straight error-free games … Pollock (2-for-3 on Sunday) remained among the top contenders for BIG EAST rookie of the year, with his season batting avg. now at .364 … Pollock amazingly had no doubles in his first 31 games of the season but now has five 2Bs in the past 10 games … Lilley ended the weekend with a team-best .375 batting avg. and a .515 season on-base pct. that would rank 6th in ND history (the only ND player with a better season OB pct. since 1993 is Craig Cooper, who posted a .522 in ’06) … Lilley still is two hits shy of 200 for his career (198 H, in 163 GP) … as a freshman, Lilley went 104 fielding chances without an error, spanning 21 full games and parts of two others (from March 22-April 21; at second and third base) … a full five weeks had passed since Lilley’s previous error this season, way back during the first BIG EAST series (game-2 vs. USF, a fielding error on a ball hit by Joey Angelberger in the 8th inning of that March 24th game) … Lilley has made just 2 Es in the 17 BIG EAST games this season (.972 fielding pct.; 72 chances) … Kapala owns a 2.51 ERA and a 2.6 K-to-walk ratio (18/7) but has yet to pick up a win in his five starts (plus four relief appearances) … RU outhit ND in Sunday’s game, 10-7 … the team with the hit edge had been 34-6 in previous ND games this season (the Irish now are 3-15 when being outhit) … ND is 6-6 in games decided by 1-2 runs this season … the Irish now are 4-17 when heading into the 8th with a deficit (17-0 when ahead entering the 8th) … ND is 10-3 when hitting a home run this season … despite batting just .203 for the season, Connolly has more extra-base hits (3B, 7 2B) than singles (6), plus 12 walks that have helped lead to his 14 runs scored (also 9 RBI, a pair of stolen bases, a sac. bunt and only one time grounding into a double play) … a couple weeks ago, the ND bullpen had allowed 50% of inherited runners to score, with that number now down to 39% (25 of 64) … Williamson notably has improved in that area during recent games (5 of his 12 total IRs have scored in ’07, including 0-for-2 on Sunday) … Frazier, one of the frontrunners for BIG EAST player of the year, hit 4-for-10 in the series but the Irish were able to limit the junior shortstop to 3 RBI and a pair of runs scored (HR, 2 2B, 2 BB, 2 HBP, 5 Ks).
Notre Dame (24-19, 8-9 BIG EAST) 1-1-0 0-0-0 0-2-2 – 6 7 2
Rutgers (25-16, 13-5 BIG EAST) 0-0-1 1-0-1 0-1-0 – 4 11 0
Home Runs: Ryan Smith, ND (solo in 2nd; 2nd of season); Jon Gossard, RU (solo in 8th; 5th of season).
Triples: Ross Brezovsky (ND), Jeremy Barnes (ND).
Doubles: A.J. Pollock (ND), Ryan Connolly (ND), Todd Frazier (RU), Meade (RU).