March 10, 2006

SAN ANTONIO, Texas – Notre Dame answered Texas A&M’s three runs in the bottom of the seventh with a four-run top of the eighth, quickly turning the tables while backing up a strong start from Jeff Samardzija as the Irish knocked off the 15th-ranked Aggies, 5-4, in opening-day action at the UTSA Express Classic.

Notre Dame (3-5) – which already had lost three times this season by one run and/or in extra innings – opened the game with a run in the first inning and maintained that lead until Texas A&M (13-4) scratched across a run in the fifth. The Aggies then surged to a 4-1 lead but the Irish answered right back – with the four-run rally sparked by three straight singles from Greg Lopez, Craig Cooper and Danny Dressman, followed by Brett Lilley’s bases-loaded walk, Sean Gaston’s RBI groundout and the game-tying hit from Jeremy Barnes. The freshman then stole second and Cody Rizzo drove the left-center gap to plate the eventual game-winning run.

Samardzija bounced back from his week-two loss with nearly six strong innings, holding the Aggies off the scoreboard until yielding a single run in the fifth. The junior righthander ultimately struck out four while allowing four hits and three walks in a 100-pitch outing than spanned 5.1 innings.

The gusty night at Wolff Stadium featured a wind that was blowing in, keeping hits at a premium until the teams exchanged rallies in the late innings. The game featured a spirited turnout of fans for both teams but the Aggie faithful were able to celebrate their only lead of the night for only a few minutes, watching as the Irish strung together the game’s pivotal plays.

Notre Dame’s strong team effort included hits from nine different players and the team’s third error-free game of the young season. The Irish outfielders made several big plays – including a diving catch by Dressman as he raced in from right field with two outs in the third, craddling Jose Salazar’s dipping linedrive as John Infante was left stranded at third base.

David Phelps (1-0) was the pitcher of record when the Irish staged their rally, after facing two batters in the seventh with one hit allowed. Fellow freshman righthander Kyle Weiland later entered the game as Notre Dame’s fifth reliever and picked up his second save of the season, striking out one of the 10 batters he faced while overcoming four walks in the final two innings.

Notre Dame claimed a quick lead after scoring in the 1st inning for the second time this season. Junior righthander Kyle Nicholson retired the first two batters of the game but Lilley sent the next pitch up the middle for a single. Nicholson then jumped ahead in the count versus Gaston but the junior catcher took the next pitch outside before pulling an RBI triple into the rightfield corner.

Samardzija lost Josh Stinson to a full-count walk leading off the bottom of the 5th and the runner moved up on a sacrifice bunt and groundout before Infante tied the game with a first-pitch single through the left side.

The Aggies nearly snatched the lead in the next inning, after Austin Boggs sent a one-out single up the middle and moved to third with two outs. Junior lefthander Mike Dury then came in relief of his classmate Samardzija and worked into a bases-loaded jam – after a pair of walks (the first intentional) – but Brandon Glover fell behind in the count and failed to check his swing on an 0-2 breaking ball to maintain the 1-1 score.

Parker Dalton reached on a hit-by-pitch to lead off the bottom of the 7th and moved up on a sacrifice bunt and groundout before sophomore righthander Joey Williamson issued an intentional walk to Salazar. Boggs then jumped on the next pitch, lifting it down the leftfield line for a groundrule double and the 2-1 lead. Sophomore lefthander David Gruener was next on the mound, losing Jake Vasquez to a full-count walk, and Craig Stinson battled Phelps to a full count before sending a two-run single in the right-center gap.

Lopez dug in versus junior lefthander Jason Meyer to start the 8th and sent a 2-2 pitch to the right side, as the second baseman Salazar was unable to make the backhanded play. Cooper then dropped a 2-1 pitch into left field and Dressman pulled Meyer’s next offering through the right side to suddenly load the bases.

The Aggies made another pitching change but sophomore righthander Jordan Chambless (1-1) lost a battle with Lilley, as the sophomore third baseman drew the full-count walk to forge a 4-2 game. Gaston’s ensuing double-play ball brought home another run and the DH Barnes stepped forward for the game-tying hit, overcoming a 1-2 count for a swinging bunt to the left side of the infield as Dressman scored for a 4-4 game.

Rizzo – who had been picked off in a rundown the previous inning, after entering as a pinch-runner – watched Barnes swipe second and worked ahead in the count before driving a 2-1 pitch into the left-center gap for one of the biggest hits of his four-year Irish career.

A pair of walks helped the Aggies put two runners in scoring position moments later but Weiland induced Salazar into a popup to the shortstop Lopez, sending the game on to the 9th.

More drama awaited in A&M’s final at-bat., after walks again helped put runners on second and third (with two outs). Glover then worked to a 2-2 count but went down looking at the game’s final pitch.

Notre Dame (3-5) 1-0-0 0-0-0 0-4-0 – 5 11 0
Texas A&M (13-4) 0-0-0 0-1-0 3-0-0 – 4 6 0

Jeff Samardzija, Mike Dury (6), Joey Williamson (7), David Gruener (7), David Phelps (7; W, 1-0), Kyle Weiland (8; SV, 2) and Sean Gaston.
Kyle Nicholson, Jason Meyer (6), Jordan Chambless (8; L, 1-1), Luke Anders (8), Hart Hering (8) and Josh Stinson.

Triple: Sean Gaston (ND).
Doubles: Alex Nettey (ND), Cody Rizzo (ND), John Infante (A&M), Austin Boggs (A&M).