May 22, 2004
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The Notre Dame baseball team traditionally has met with mixed results during the final weekend of the regular season, posting a combined record of just 10-7 in the six previous final BIG EAST series. Saturday’s slugfest with Virginia Tech became the latest wild game for the Irish in the final week of the regular season, with the Hokies emerging from a nearly two-and-a-half-hour rain and weather delay to score five runs in the 7th and secure the final 11-10 margin. Sixth-ranked Notre Dame saw its 12-game winning streak come to an end but still secured the outright BIG EAST title, thanks to Pittsburgh’s loss to St. John’s.
The Irish loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth but failed to plate the tying run, with Notre Dame (45-10, 19-6 BIG EAST) still claiming the BIG EAST title outright thanks to Pittsburgh’s 6-5 loss to St. John’s. The Irish are BIG EAST regular-season champs for the third time in the last four seasons and will open BIG EAST Tournament play in the early game (3:30 EDT) on Thursday, May 27, versus St. John’s (16-9), Pittsburgh (17-8) or Boston College (15-8), pending the results of Sunday’s games between Pittsburgh and SJU and BC and Seton Hall. Standings are based on win pct. (meaning 15-9 bests 16-10), with ties broken by head-to-head record.
Notre Dame’s likely first-round opponent will be St. John’s, as a victory by homestanding Pittsburgh on Sunday would match up the Irish and the Red Storm. If SJU wins, the outcome of the BC-SHU game then also would determine ND’s opponent (a BC win would match the Irish with Pittsburgh while a BC loss, combined with the conditional Pittsburgh loss, would forge an ND-BC first-round game).
The Irish scored in the first inning for the eighth time in the last nine games but failed to hold leads of 2-0, 6-3 and 10-6. Virginia Tech briefly claimed a 3-2 edge – becoming the first team to hold a lead versus Notre Dame in the last 12 games – before surging to an 11-10 lead in the decisive top of the seventh.
Junior third baseman Matt Macri and senior second baseman Steve Sollmann continued to be a potent combination at the top of the Irish lineup, batting a combined 8-for-10. Macri posted the first five-hit game of his career (5-for-6), including a pair of booming home runs, while Sollmann (3-for-4, walk, reached on error) moved into a tie with Pat Pesavento for second on the Notre Dame career hits list with 296.
Craig Cooper continued his torrid second half of the season by batting 2-for-4 with a walk, 4 RBI and a pair of runs scored. The sophomore outfielder stroked his seventh home run of the season while Macri hit his 11th and 12th to take over the team lead. Javi Sanchez added a pair of doubles, with Cody Rizzo and Greg Lopez adding two-hit games as part of Notre Dame’s most hits (17) in the last 34 games.
Despite his offensive heroics, Macri also made a pair of errors (just his third multi-error game of the season and first since March 9) that each produced an unearned run. It marked only the third time this season that unearned runs have provided Notre Dame’s margin of defeat, including the team’s previous loss vs. Cleveland State (12-5, 8 UER) and the 2-1 loss to St. John’s (2 UER) on April 12.
Junior righthander Chris Niesel left a tie game (6-6) after five innings, with one of the runs coming unearned while he was touched for 10 hits and one walk in his 74-pitch outing (with a pair of strikeouts). Freshman righthander Jeff Samardzija (5-3) was the second of three Irish relievers and took the loss after being responsible for all five Hokies runs in the seventh.
The Hokies had struggled with their clutch hitting in Friday’s 9-0 loss but the visitors had plenty of timely offense in the second game of the series, putting 6-of-9 leadoff runners on base while batting 10-for-28 (.357) with runners on base and 7-for-20 (.350) with runners in scoring position.
Notre Dame also had another strong hitting day (8-for-18/.421 with runners on, 4-for-11/.364 with runners in scoring positions and 9-for-16/.563 with two outs) but the Irish ultimately failed to cash in enough of their 28 baserunners. The hosts left 11 runners on base while seeing three erased on double plays and four others thrown out on the bases (by comparison, VT brought home 11 of its 22 baserunners).
Notre Dame’s last nine games now include 24 first-inning runs, with Macri opening the game by driving the first pitch from junior lefthanded Ryan Kennedy over the fence in dead-center field. Sollmann then dropped a first-pitch bunt to the left side and reached when Junior Kennedy bobbled the ball, with a full-count walk to Matt Bransfield and Cooper’s two-out double to left-center bringing home the second run.
Virginia Tech’s 3-2 lead was shortlived as the Irish scored four in the 3rd. Macri tied the game with a one-out solo blast, launching a 2-2 pitch that cleared the fence and sailed across the service road into the ND football practice field. Bransfield later drew another full-count walk, with two outs, and Sanchez then pulled a run-scoring double down the leftfield line. Cooper’s two-run shot to left-center capped the big inning for a 6-3 Irish lead.
The visitors forged a 6-6 tie in the 5th before the Irish scored four in the 6th versus senior righthander Jay Musialowski (3-2), with the inning halted due to lightning and rain.
Macri again was the spark for the Irish in the 5th, sending a one-out single through the left side. Sollmann again went after the first pitch and went through the right side on the hit-and-run, moving Macri to third, and Bransfield added a sacrifice fly into the left-center gap. The inning also included Sollmann’s second stolen base of the day, Sanchez’s four-pitch walk and Cooper’s opposite-field single to right (scoring Sollmann).
Cooper then added his own stolen base and Matt Edwards was hit by a 1-0 pitch before Cody Rizzo delivered his second two-run single in as many games, driving a full-count pitch up the middle as all three runners were in motion.
Sophomore righthander Nicky Bowers closed the game in shaky fashion for his seventh save of the season. Rizzo led off with a single to center field on a 2-2 pitch and moved up on a groundout before Tech shortstop Warren Schaeffer made a huge play on the ensuing groundball. Schaeffer fielded the ball on the grass and threw to the third baseman Bryan Thomas, who tagged Rizzo for the second out.
The Irish still kept battling, with Macri driving a single through the left side before Sollmann worked to a 2-1 advantage and was hit by the next pitch to load the bases. But Bowers induced a flyout from Bransfield to end the game.
Notes: Macri is batting .553 (21-for-38) in the last 10 games … he recorded the 13th five/six-hit game of the 10-year Paul Mainieri and the second this season (freshman C Sean Gaston was 5-for-6 vs. Minnesota on Feb. 29) … two previous ND teams in the Mainieri era have produced three five-hit games: 1997 (Allen Greene and Randall Brooks twice) and 2001 (Steve Stanley, Brian Stavisky and Alec Porzel’s six-hit game) … ND’s 17 hits are its most since also having 17 vs. Western Michigan on March 31 and the 4th-most all season (behind 20 vs. Southern Illinois, 19 vs. Minnesota and 18 vs. Winthrop) … the Irish hit 3-plus home runs for the eighth time this season and have totaled 56 HRs in 55 games … ND failed to set team records for regular-season wins (46) and games over .500 (+37) … the program’s 2nd-longest scoring streak now stands at 141 games (372 of last 373) … Lopez logged his 38th error-free game of the season (all at shortstop), including 14 straight … ND posted double-digit hits for the 32nd time this season while scoring 10-plus runs for the 18th time … Cooper has posted multiple hits in seven of the last nine games … Sollmann is batting .432 (16-for-37) since missing all of April with a fractured jaw … the rain delay officially lasted 2:21 (the teams waited out a 2:29 delay in game-2 of the ’03 series at VT).
Virginia Tech 0-2-1 0-3-0 3-0-0 – 11 15 2 (29-26, 11-14 BIG EAST
#6 Notre Dame 2-0-4 0-0-4 0-0-0 – 10 17 2 (45-10, 19-6 BIG EAST)
Ryan Kennedy, Jay Musialowski (5; W, 3-2), Jake Chaney (7), Nicky Bowers (SV, 7) and Wyatt Toregas
Chris Niesel, Joe Thaman (6), Jeff Samardzija (7; L, 5-3), Dan Kapala (7) and Javi Sanchez.
Home Runs: Matt Macri, ND (solo in 1st and 3rd; 11th and 12th of season); Craig Cooper, ND (1 on in 3rd; 7th of season); Matt Foley, VT (1 on in 7th; 2nd of season); Matt Kalish, VT (solo in 7th; 2nd of season).
Triple: Jed English (VT)
Doubles: Craig Cooper (ND), English (VT), Javi Sanchez 2 (ND), Foley (VT)