April 1, 2004
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The fifth-ranked Notre Dame baseball team elected to rest most of its regulars during Thursday night’s makeup game versus Hillsdale College but the reserve players more than did their part in boosting the Irish record to 19-3, with a 10-2 win over the Chargers that yielded the team’s sixth straight victory and 34th in the last 40 games at Eck Stadium.
Sophomore rightfielder Craig Cooper – who had started 10 games previously this season – nearly hit for the cycle, with a triple and home run followed by a pair of singles in a 4-for-6 effort from the 2-hole (plus three RBI and a pair of runs scored).
But the true story of the night belonged to junior DH Brent Weiss, who saw his first action since the 2002 NCAA Regional win over South Alabama (his pinch-hit double and grand slam helped cap that stunning 25-1 victory). Weiss sent a sharp single to center field in his first official at-bat, exactly 22 months to the day after the win over South Alabama on July 1, 2002. He later added a walk and another single while scoring two runs to round out his impressive return to action.
Sophomore DH Steve Andres launched a 1st-inning home run for an early 2-0 lead while Cooper and freshman first baseman Mike Dury also left the yard, giving the Irish 24 home runs this season (just seven shy of the entire 2003 team’s total) and 14 in the last nine games. Thursday’s long-ball display marked the fourth time this season that the Irish have hit three HRs in one game.
Freshman Chris Vasami (1-0) picked up his first decision in his first start with the Irish, with the 6-3, 250-pound righthander yielding a pair of unearned runs and four hits while striking out four Hillsdale batters in three innings of work. His efficient outing included locating 37 of his 49 pitches for strikes (76%).
Five Notre Dame relievers combined to close out the game with six shutout innings, just three hits allowed and one walk from the final 23 Chargers batters. Senior lefthander Joe Thaman (4 BF, K) and sophomore closer Ryan Doherty (3 BF, K) both logged early innings before three pitchers saw their first action of the 2004 season. Freshman lefthander Matt Whittington (5 BF, 2 H, 2 Ks) and his righthanded classmate Rico Bertucci (3 BF) each tossed an inning before junior lefthander Scott Bickford faced eight batters over the final two innings (H, BB, K).
A win in its next game would land the Irish on 20 wins in just 23 games, with only the 1908 Notre Dame team (20-1) reaching 20 wins faster (the ’01 team’s 20-4-1 start currently is second on that list).
Freshman righthander Kevin Phelan (0-4) took the loss after allowing eight runs on nine hits and seven walks in a five-inning stint that spanned 112 pitches.
The Irish could have enjoyed a much bigger margin but stranded 13 runners on base, in addition to seeing two others erased on a double play and caught stealing.
The Notre Dame pitching staff saw the team ERA drop to 3.55, thanks to an impressive stretch since the 8-4 loss at Southern Illinois. During that eight-game span, the Irish pitchers have combined for a 1.97 ERA and .221 opponent batting average in 73 innings of work, plus 46 strikeouts, just 26 walks and 61 hits allowed. The last four games have yielded nearly a 4-to-1 K-to-walk ratio for the ND pitchers (25/7), after nine Ks and just one base on balls vs. Hillsdale.
Cooper – who had homered in a reserve appearance the night before vs. Western Michigan – came out swinging from the 2-hole, going the other way on a 1-0 pitch for a triple to the right-center gap. Andres followed two pitches later with his third home run of the season and seventh of his ND career, clearing the new 30-foot sign down the rightfield line for the early 2-0 cushion.
Dury then led off the bottom of the 2nd with a full-count walk and Weiss ripped a 3-1 pitch into center field before senior shortstop Tim Murray walked on four pitches. His classmate Zach Sisko, who started at second base, then delivered on a 1-2 pitch by sending an RBI single through the right side and sophomore centerfielder Alex Nettey added an RBI groundout for a 4-0 lead.
Nettey was hit by a 1-1 pitch in the 4th and Cooper brought him home moments later, driving a 2-0 pitch down the rightfield line for another two-run inning. The two-run 5th then featured singles from Weiss and Nettey (RBI) and Cooper’s run-scoring single up the middle, plus walks by Sisko and Andres (one of three BBs in the game for the versatile slugging/on-base threat).
The final two Irish runs came versus starting catcher and senior righthander Dan Baker, with the switch-hitting Dury sending a 1-0 pitch over the rightfield fence for his first home run with the Irish and a 9-2 cushion in the 6th. The final run came unearned after Nettey’s double, Cooper’s single and another Andres walk had loaded the bases, with Baker’s errant throw on a comebacker failing to force Nettey at the plate.
Notre Dame now has won by five-plus runs 11 times this season and has scored in six of eight offensive innings during each of the last two games. Sophomore Matt Bransfield, who started at third base vs. the Chargers, saw his hitting streak end at seven games after batting 0-for-5.
Hillsdale (8-15) 0-0-2 0-0-0 0-0-0 – 2 7 4
#5 Notre Dame (19-3) 2-2-0 2-2-1 1-0-X – 10 13 2
Kevin Phelan (L, 0-4), Dan Baker (6), Alex Pesusich (7) and Baker, Lance Boehm (6).
Chris Vasami (W, 1-0), Joe Thaman (4), Ryan Doherty (5), Matt Whittington (6), Rico Bertucci (7), Scott Bickford (8) and Sean Gaston, Steve Andres (8).
Home Runs: Steve Andres, ND (1 on in 1st; 3rd of season); Craig Cooper (1 on in 4th; 2nd of season); Mike Dury, ND (solo in 6th; 1st of season).
Triple: Cooper (ND).
Doubles: Alex Nettey (ND), Mike McGavin (HC).