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Johnson And Samardzija Nearly Pitch Irish To Sweep Of St. John's (7-1, 1-2)

April 12, 2004

Game One Box Score | Game Two Box Score

NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Freshman righthander Jeff Samardzija retired the first 14 batters he faced, took a no-hitter into the 7th inning and extended the second-longest personal shutout streak of the Paul Mainieri era to 22 innings but St. John’s used a pair of unearned runs to escape with a split versus 4th-ranked Notre Dame in a rare Monday doubleheader (7-1, 1-2) during BIG EAST action at Eck Stadium.

Notre Dame (26-5, 8-2 BIG EAST) took the opener behind five strong innings from junior righthander Grant Johnson, backed by the timely hitting of sophomores Cody Rizzo and Greg Lopez, but Samardzija was the hard-luck loser in the nightcap after the Irish managed to plate just one of 13 baserunners.

Even before winning the opener (26-4), the Irish were assured of posting the best 30-game start in the program’s 112-year history (the 2001 team was 24-5-1, en route to earning the No. 1 ranking). The 287 current Division I teams include just two with four losses (35-4 Texas and 18-4 Albany, sharing the lead for fewest losses) while Notre Dame joins Stanford (25-5), Wichita State (20-5), Tennessee (25-5) and Eastern Kentucky (22-5) as the nation’s only current five-loss teams (EKU’s pitching coach is former ND record-setting closer John Corbin).

St. John’s (18-11, 7-3) stays in the thick of a four-team BIG EAST race, with Notre Dame and Rutgers tied atop the standings while Pittsburgh and SJU are one game back and Boston College (4-3) has three games in hand. (Note: final BIG EAST standings are based on win pct. – not the traditional “games back” – with a handful of games typically lost due to rainouts . only three-game series have provisions for a makeup day, with several of the remaining three-game series also not including makeup days due to finals, graduation schedules and the BIG EAST Tournament).

The teams combined for nine errors in the doubleheader, with eight of the 11 runs coming unearned (including all three in the nightcap and five of the ND runs in the opener) while the Irish posted their 13th error-free game of the season in the opener.

Samardzija (1-1) – making his first start of the season – used nine groundouts, four flyouts and a strikeout to retire the first 14 batters he faced before issuing a walk to 6-hole hitter Eddie Schultz (SJU’s only free pass of the day). He ultimately faced just four batters over the minimum (26) in 7.1 innings, allowing two hits while the tying run reached on an error. The 6-5, 205-pounder registered half of his 22 outs on groundballs, plus six flyouts, two lineouts and a caught-stealing in his 85-pitch outing.

Four-year All-American Aaron Heilman is the only Notre Dame pitcher during the Mainieri era to log a longer shutout streak than Samardzija, who did not allow a run for 22.2 innings over the span of nine appearances. Heilman logged 33 straight shutout innings over 19 relief appearances as a freshman in 1998, en route to leading the nation with a 1.61 ERA. Samardzija (0.33, in 27.2 IP) could put himself in a similar position but ultimately will need to meet the NCAA requirement of one inning pitched per team game (his other season stats include a .130 opponent batting avg., 12 Ks, 9 BB and 12 H).

Samardzija’s tremendous start has helped overcome the absence of top pitchers John Axford and Jeff Manship (out with season-ending injuries) and Johnson’s return from ’03 surgery. Another pitcher who likely could have started Monday, freshman RHP Derik Olvey, has not pitched since March 23 due to a sore forearm.

Johnson – who continues to ease his way back into fulltime status, after 2003 shoulder surgery – faced just 18 batters in five shutout innings, with three strikeouts, two hits and a hit batter while locating 49 of his 72 pitches for strikes. The 2002 Team USA member did not rack up a high groundout total (2) but retired five SJU batters on popups (2) or foulouts (3) while lowering his season ERA to 0.56 and opponent batting avg. to .203.

Notre Dame again saw just three players – Lopez (5-for-6), Rizzo (3-for-6) and Macri (3-for-7) – manage three-plus hits in the doubleheader, with the rest of the team combining to bat 5-for-38 (.132) in the two games.

Senior lefthander Joe Thaman retired six of the eight batters he faced to close the opener and register the first save of his brief ND pitching career (R, 2 H, K). Sophomore righthander Anthony Varvaro (4-1) suffered his first loss of the season, despite allowing just two earned runs in 5-1 innings (7 R, 8 H, 2 BB, 2 Ks).

The hosts opened the day’s scoring with two runs in the 2nd, behind a Matt Bransfield walk, Rizzo’s two-out double down the rightfield line (and the ensuing outfield error), Sean Gaston’s full-count walk and Lopez’s RBI single into left field. The Irish then added a run in the 5th, when Lopez sliced a leadoff double to right-center and moved up on Steve Andres’ single up the middle. Shortstop Mike Rozema then dropped a popup behind the bag, allowing Lopez to score another unearned run.

Notre Dame pushed across four more runs (just one earned) in the 6th, highlighted by two-strike hits from Rizzo (RBI triple to right-center), Lopez and Macri (RBI). Chris Fournier also had a pinch-hit single to plate a run while a pair of wild pitches from reliever Anthony Sullivan helped bring home another run.

Freshman lefthander Matt Tosoni (2-0; 7.1 IP, UER, 5 H, 2 BB, 4 Ks) picked up the win for SJU while hardthrowing sophomore righthander Craig Hansen came on to register his fourth save of the season (2.2 IP, 9 BF, 2 H, 2 Ks).

Notre Dame’s chances in the nightcap included two runners on in the 1st (Tosoni rolled up a groundout) and a runner picked off in the 2nd before senior Javi Sanchez (again playing at second base for injured classmate Steve Sollmann) drove the ball over the head of rightfielder Blake Hershelman. Sanchez chugged around the bases and appeared to slide in for the triple but he was called out to end the inning, with Irish head coach Paul Mainieri ejected from the game after the contested call.

The Irish claimed a brief lead in the 7th when Macri sent a leadoff single into left field on a 2-2 count (taking second on another outfield error). Bransfield the singled through the left side for the 1-0 lead – but SJU added another pickoff to end the inning.

SJU’s Jim Martin sent a one-out bouncer to the right side in the top of the 7th and the ball bounced up on Sanchez, who still had the chance to recover and make the forecourt before bobbling the ball. Joe Burke then delivered with two outs, with a dipping drive to left field. Fournier made a diving try to preserve the no-hitter but the ensuing double tied the game, with Eddie Schultz then providing the go-ahead single to short-center field on a 2-2 pitch.

The Irish still had more chances to tie the game, with Hansen rolling up a double play in the 7th (runners on first and second) before getting an 8th-inning strikeout with two outs and the tying run on second. The leadoff batter then reached in the 9th but Hansen induced another double-play ball to help seal the win.

NOTES – Macri pushed his team-leading batting avg. to .391 while extending his career-best hitting streak to 9 games (.571/20-for-35, 11 RBI, 17 R, 5 BB, HBP, HR, 2 3B, 2 2B, .829 slugging) … Macri entered the week ranked in more BIG EAST overall categories (10 of 12, all but doubles and stolen bases) than any other player in the league: first in triples (3), second in batting (.391), RBI (33), runs (36), slugging pct. (.645) and on-base pct. (.481), third in total bases (71), sixth in hits (43) and home runs (5), and eighth in walks (18) … the leftside infielders Macri (23 at 3B) and Lopez (24 at SS) now have combined for 47 error-free games in ’04, with Macri going errorless in 19 of his last 20 games … Andres extended ND’s only double-digit hit streak to 13 games, with the streak technically ending when he failed to connect as a 9th-inning pinch hitter in the nightcap (he still is batting .390/16-for-41, in his last 14 games) … Andres (73 AB) is just shy of the NCAA and BIG EAST stat minimums (2.5 AB/tm gm, or 78 AB) but his .515 on-base would rank 2nd in the league while his .575 slugging would rank 7th … Rizzo was hit by a 1-2 pitch from Tosoni in the 4th, giving him the ND record for career HBPs (39) in 80 games played (Craig DeSensi had 38 HBPs from ’92-’95) … Sanchez saw his 9-game hit streak end in the opener … Bransfield was hitless in the opener but now has hits in 15 of his last 17 games … Lopez (.371) moved back to second on the ND batting charts … sophomore closer Ryan Doherty retired the final five bat.ters in the nightcap (3 Ks), dropping his ERA to 0.54 while his opponent batting avg. continues to drop (0.93, 5-for-54) … the ND pitchers put 14 zeroes on the board in 16 innings of play Monday … the current opp. batting avg. (.240) would rank 3rd-best by an ND staff since ’71 … the ND pitchers lowered the staff ERA to 3.48 and have held the opponent to 0-2 earned runs nine times in the last 13 games … ND now is 3-1 in one-run games this season while owning 15 wins by 5-plus … ND leads the SJU series 18-7 (but just 7-5 at The Eck), including 9-2 in the last 11 … ND now is 65-10 in April during the last four seasons, owns a 27-3 scoring edge in the 2nd inning this season, is 53-9 in its last 62 at Eck Stadium and has scored in 115 straight (344 of last 345, 587 of 591 in the Mainieri era) … ND was close to picking up 150 BIG EAST wins before its 50th loss (145-50; 41-13 in last 54), with the 77 all-time BIG EAST series including 57 series wins for ND, 9 by the opponents and 11 even series … ND has lost just 3 of 41 all-time BIG EAST series at Eck Stadium (32 ND series wins, 6 even), with the Irish winning 22 of their last 26 home BIG EAST series (3 even, 1 opponent series win).

St. John’s 0-0-0 0-0-1 0 – 1 4 4

#4 Notre Dame 0-2-0 0-1-4 X – 7 9 0

Anthony Varvaro (L, 4-1), Anthony Sullivan (6) and Joe Burke.

Grant Johnson (W, 2-0), Joe Thaman (6; SV, 1).

Triple: Cody Rizzo (ND).

Doubles: Rizzo (ND), Greg Lopez (ND), Mike Rozema (SJU.

St. John’s (18-11, 7-3 BIG EAST) 0-0-0 0-0-0 2-0-0 – 2 2 3

#4 Notre Dame (26-5, 8-2 BIG EAST) 0-0-0 0-0-1 0-0-0 – 1 7 2

Matt Tosoni (W, 2-0), Craig Hansen (7; SV, 4) and Joe Burke.

Jeff Samardzija (L, 1-1), Ryan Doherty (8) and Sean Gaston.

Doubles: Javi Sanchez (ND), Burke (SJU).