Feb. 22, 2004
LOS ANGELES, Calif. – The 10th-ranked Notre Dame baseball team – with wins in its first two games vs. Division I competition for the first time in the Paul Mainieri era – is set to return to campus without playing its third game of the weekend, as Sunday’s action at the USC Public Storage Classic has been called off due to steady rain and the resulting unplayable field conditions.
Notre Dame will announce a makeup game at a later game, with the makeup game possible to occur as early as next weekend during the trip to Boca Raton for the Florida Atlantic Classic.
Notre Dame’s .310 team batting average in the wins over San Diego State and USC represents the team’s third-best opening-week batting average in the 10-year Mainieri era (the ’03 team opened by batting .367 and the ’95 squad .352). The Irish also posted the fourth-best opening-week on-base pct. (.388) of the Mainieri era.
On the mound, starters Chris Niesel and Tom Thornton combined with four relievers to post a 0.56 opening-week ERA that blows away the program’s previous best during an opening weekend. That distinction had belonged to the 2000 staff, which posted a 2.05 opening ERA to go along with a .241 opponent batting avg. (bested by this weekend’s .170, also tops in the Mainieri era). In fact, the opponent slugging pct. from this weekend’s action (.208) even is lower than that 2000 opponent batting (the ’01 staff had allowed .292 slugging in opening week). The Irish pitchers also totaled 18 strikeouts and just five walks vs. SDSU and USC.
In the field, a catcher’s interference call was all that held the Irish from an error-free weekend. The resulting .985 fielding pct. is the best opening-week effort by a Mainieri-era squad (besting the .971/3 errors posted in 2000).
Sophomore rightfielder Cody Rizzo now is a .533 career hitter with the Irish during opening-week games (8-for-15) while sophomore shortstop Greg Lopez has hit a combined 5-for-13 (.385) in opening-week action with the Irish.
Notre Dame faces more tough competition next weekend, with Winthrop (35-22), Florida Atlantic (47-16) and Minnesota (40-22) returning large chunks of their 2003 squads that combined to post a 122-60 record (the field’s combined ’03 record is 167-78, when adding ND’s 45-18).
The Irish are nearing a +100 record during the past four seasons (146-49-1) and will be looking to post the program’s first 3-0 start since 1992, with Notre Dame typically facing several warm-weather schools at the start of each season.
Thornton’s impressive outing vs. USC – allowing an unearned runs on four hits and two walks in six innings, with four Ks – ranks among the top opening-week outings in the program’s history. Former righthander Scott Cavey is the only other Mainieri-era pitcher to not allow an earned run in six-plus innings of work during the first week of action (Cavey did so as a senior, vs. Air Force in Millington, Tenn.). Others of note include sophomore RHP Alex Shilliday’s five shutout innings vs. Florida State (’98, in Orlando) and three others who tossed four innings without allowing an earned run.
Notre Dame now is 12-7-1 in California during the Mainieri era and 73-26-1 in regular-season tournaments during the past 10 seasons. The Irish also have posted a winning or even record in 16 of their last 18 regular-season tournaments.