March 21, 2004
CARBONDALE, Ill. – Sophomore lefthander Tom Thornton continued his strong season and the Notre Dame offense pieced together five runs as the eighth-ranked Irish baseball team earned a weekend split with Southern Illinois in Sunday’s 5-3 game at Abe Martin Field.
Notre Dame (13-2) totaled just six hits – led by sophomore shortstop Greg Lopez’s 3-for-5 day -but the Irish had 13 other baserunners, with seven coming on walks while four were hit-by-pitch.
Junior righthander Grant Johnson (still being eased back after 2003 shoulder surgery) tossed the first two innings as part of a planned rotation before giving way to Thornton, who improved to 3-1 for the season and 8-2 in his career. Thornton faced a 3-1 deficit after giving up an early wind-blown, two-run home run but the 6-6, 215-pound southpaw shut down SIU the rest of the way – with his final line including two runs allowed on four hits and one walk in six innings of work. All but three of Thornton’s outs came via strikeouts (4), groundouts (10) or popups (1).
Sophomore righthander Ryan Doherty walked the bases loaded in the ninth but worked out of the one-out jam for his third save of 2004, dropping his season ERA to 1.17 while lowering his opponent batting average to .148.
Thornton’s 2.87 season ERA – with four quality outings in five appearances – is all the more noteworthy when considering the absence of two top pitchers (junior RHP John Axford and freshman RHP Jeff Manship, both out for the season due to injury) plus the limited contributions of Johnson (5 IP) and some early struggles for another junior righthander, ’03 All-American Chris Niesel.
After suffering his only loss of the season, Thornton’s last two outings include just two runs allowed in 14 innings (1.29 ERA, plus 11 Ks, 4 BB and 5 H). His 42 outs in those two outings – vs. Texas Tech and an SIU team that had just scored 30 runs in its previous two games – included 20 groundouts, 11 Ks, three popups and a runner caught stealing. His ’04 season totals also include a .212 opponent batting avg., 24 Ks, 9 BB and 24 H in 31.1 IP.
Thornton’s 2.20 career ERA remains below the standing Notre Dame record (minimum 60 IP), set by All-American Nick Pahilnich in the early 1960s (2.36).The 7-foot-1 Doherty (1.98, in 36.1 IP) gives the lofty sophomore tandem a 2.13 combined career ERA with the Irish.
Notre Dame survived another gap in the lineup, with the 5-7 hitters combining to bat 0-for-10. Lopez accounted for half of the six ND hits from his No. 8 spot in the batting order and now leads the ND regulars with a .389 season batting avg., 21 hits and six times hit-by-pitch (he’s also 2nd on the team with 15 runs, a .566 slugging pct., 2 home runs and 7 two-out RBI, plus 3rd with 16 RBI, 30 total bases, a .465 on-base pct., .455 batting with runners on and a .590 leadoff OB, and 5th with 3 doubles).
The Irish turned in their fourth straight error-free game, pushing the season fielding pct. to .977 (above the .970 team record set in ’03). Since a rare six-error game in the March 7 loss to Texas-San Antonio, Notre Dame has totaled just four errors in the last seven games and now owns nine total error-free games in 2004 (with 13 total Es in 15 games).
Southern Illinois (3-13) claimed the 3-1 lead in the bottom of the 3rd before the Irish chipped away with a solo home run in the 5th from senior second baseman Steve Sollmann and two more runs in the 7th. Senior DH Javi Sanchez delivered the tying hit by sending a 2-2 pitch into center field (scoring Sollmann) and freshman pinch-hitter Chris Fournier followed with the go-ahead flyout to left, with his classmate Danny Dressman tagging up for the 4-3 lead.
SIU senior righthander Marshall Tucker tossed six solid inning, allowing three runs (two earned) on three hits and two walks while striking out six Notre Dame batters. Junior lefthander Bryan Rueger (0-3) was tagged with the loss, after retiring just one of the three batters he faced in the 7th.
Greg Andrews – who hit one of SIU’s three home runs in Saturday’s 8-4 win over the Irish – gave the Salukis the 3-1 cushion in the 3rd, going the other way and riding the strong wind for a two-run shot over the rightfield fence.
Both teams scratched across unearned runs to open the game. Irish 2-hole hitter Dressman walked and shortstop P.J. Finigan booted a routine groundball before Tucker plunked both Sanchez and Matt Macri to force home a run. The hosts quickly tied the game when leadoff batter Kevin Koski walked, stole second, took third on a passed ball and scored on Andrews’ fly ball to right field.
Notre Dame added an insurance run in the 9th, with the inning included a leadoff walk to Matt Edwards, a sharp single into left from Sanchez, an intentional pass to Macri and sophomore pinch-hitter Matt Bransfield’s bases-loaded walk.
Sollmann’s hit was the 269th in four seasons with the Irish, tying his brother Scott’s former classmate Mike Amrhein (’94-’97) for sixth in the ND record book. The home run was the 13th of Sollmann’s career and the first in 27 games, dating back to the 19-inning marathon game at Rutgers in 2003.
Notre Dame continued to play without sophomore rightfielder and 5-hole hitter Cody Rizzo, who has missed the last five games due to a wrist injury. Even with the absence of Rizzo – who had an ND-record 28 HBP in ’03 – the Irish offense is averaging more than two hit batters per game in 2004 (33, in 15 GP).
The team’s rightside infielders Sollmann and junior first baseman Edwards both have yet to make an error in 2004 (pushing Sollmann’s error-free streak to 20 games) while the leftsiders – Lopez and junior third baseman Macri – each have posted 13 error-free games in ’04 (Lopez has no Es in seven straight and added several strong charging plays to his highlight tape in Sunday’s game).
Notre Dame (13-2) 1-0-0 0-1-0 2-0-1 – 5 6 0
Southern Illinois (3-13) 1-0-2 0-0-0 0-0-0 – 3 7 1
Grant Johnson, Tom Thornton (3; W, 3-1), Ryan Doherty (9; SV, 3) and Sean Gaston, Javi Sanchez (8).
Marshall Tucker, Bryan Rueger (7; L, 0-3), Andrew Weber (7), Jerel Deitering (8), Adam Snyder (8) and Nathan Emrick.
Home Runs: Greg Andrews, SIU (1 on in 3rd; 6th of season); Steve Sollmann, ND (solo in 5th; 1st of season).
Doubles: Greg Lopez (ND).