May 18, 2004
Two leaders of Notre Dame’s highly-regarded junior class – third baseman Matt Macri (Clive, Iowa) and righthander Grant Johnson (Burr Ridge, Ill.) – have earned the respective BIG EAST Conference baseball player- and pitcher-of-the-week awards after playing lead roles in a 5-0 week from May 10-16 that included wins over Connecticut (16-8), Michigan (7-3) an Rutgers (1-0, 7-1, 5-3). It marks the seventh time in Notre Dame’s nine BIG EAST seasons that a pair of Irish players have earned the conference awards on the same week.
Macri’s honor is his second of the season (also April 5) and third of his career, tying the BIG EAST record shared by current Irish senior second baseman Steve Sollmann, current Boston College outfielder Jason Delaney, former Irish outfielder Brian Stavisky and shortstop Alec Porzel, and former Virginia Tech second baseman Marc Tugwell. Johnson – who was recognized for his 4-hit shutout in the 1-0 opener vs. Rutgers – picks up his first BIG EAST weekly honor, although he was national player of the week in 2002 after tossing a 1-hit masterpiece vs. South Alabama in the NCAAs (after the BIG EAST weekly awards had ended).
A total of 18 Notre Dame players – including freshman catcher Sean Gaston (March 1) and sophomore shortstop Greg Lopez (April 19) – now have combined to earn 31 BIG EAST player-of-the-week awards, since ND joined the BIG EAST in 1995-96 (ND’s total is more than double that of any other school in the last nine seasons, with Rutgers earning 15 in that span). The Notre Dame program also now has produced 27 BIG EAST pitcher-of-the-week recipients in the last nine years, the most from any of the league’s schools during that stretch (RU is next with 22, followed by West Virginia’s 17). Sophomore lefthander Tom Thornton was named BIG EAST pitcher of the week twice in the first month of the 2004 season (Feb. 32, March 15).
Notre Dame is the only school to produce three different BIG EAST players of the week this season and leads the conference with both four weekly player awards and three pitcher awards. The 2004 BIG EAST weekly awards have featured just two other sweeps by the same school – Seton Hall (senior 3B Joey Scott and junior RHP Jake Haggerty on April 26) and Boston College (Delaney and junior RHP Chris Lambert, on May 10).
Macri enjoyed a stellar week in which his OBS (combined on-base and slugging percentages) was an off-the-charts 1.509 (.553 on-base, .944 slugging). He hit .500 (9-for-18) for the week with 7 RBI, 5 runs, 2 home runs, 2 doubles, 2 walks, 2 times hit-by-pitch, 2 stolen and no errors at the hot corner in the 5-0 week (he also struck out just once). The 6-2, 190-pound righthanded hitter hit 7-for-10 in showdown series with Rutgers (3 RBI, 3 R, HR, 2B) to complete a .571 week in four total BIG EAST games (8-for-14, 8 RBI, 5 R, 2 HR, 2B, 1.682 OBS). He hit safely and had RBI in all five games, with multiple hits in all three games vs. Rutgers.
Macri had a walk and two early runs in the series finale at UConn before capping that 16-8 win with a 2-run blast. He turned around two days later in Grand Rapids with an RBI double and HBP in the win over Michigan and then had the game’s only RBI in the 1-0 opener vs. RU, on a third-inning double that scored Cody Rizzo (he also walked and singled in that game). Later that day, he led off the bottom of the 1st with a single and scored, later adding a sacrifice fly and two more singles in the 7-1 win over the Scarlet Knights. He topped week with a solo home run and single in the 5-3 win over RU.
Macri currently leads the BIG EAST in runs while ranking 2nd in triples (6) and total bases (123), 3rd in walks (35) and RBI (49), 4th in home runs (10) and on-base pct. (.476), 5th in hits (68) and 6th in batting avg. (.366). The only categories Macri is not ranked in the BIG EAST top 10 are stolen bases (8) and doubles (13, good for 11th) while his 1.137 OBS trails only Pittsburgh’s heavy-hitting PJ Hiser (1.242).
In conference games only, Macri ranks 1st in runs (31) and triples (3), 2nd in total bases (56), 3rd in home runs (5) and slugging (.644) and 10th in on-base (.453). His 1.097 OBS in conference games trails only Hiser’s 1.158 and Delaney’s 1.146.
Johnson rose to the challenge with BIG EAST rival Rutgers in town and plenty of pro scouts in the stands, tossing the 4-hit shutout to best RU ace Jack Egbert in the series opener (7 innings). The 6-5, 215-pound righthander pushed his season record to 4-0 and career mark to 13-5 while continuing the gradual return to his 2002 Freshman All-America form (he missed ’03 due to shoulder surgery). Johnson emerged victorious from just the sixth 1-0 game of the 10-year Paul Mainieri era (ND has won all six) while logging his first complete game in nearly two years, dating back to his 1-hitter vs. South Alabama in the ’02 NCAAs. The efficient 85-pitch outing (12.1 pitches per innings) included four hits and one walk while facing just four batters over the minimum (25). All three of his Ks came on called third strikes, with 71% of his pitches (60) finding the strike zone to help produce 11 groundouts.
Johnson now has won all three of his career starts vs. RU, with a 0.45 ERA in those games (18 H, 7 BB, 15 Ks in 20 IP). He held BIG EAST leading hitter Jeff Frazier to an 0-for-3 game (groundout, K, foulout) and held RU without a hit when runners were on base (0-for-8, 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position, plus 0-for-7 with 2 outs). Johnson also made an impressive defensive play to snare Colin Gaynor’s leadoff linedrive in the 5th and stranded Graig Badger at second base in the 6th, after inducing a pair of flyouts (followed by a double-play ball in the 7th).
Johnson is 13 inning shy of the minimum to qualify for the BIG EAST or NCAA leaders but his 1.86 ERA would lead the conference by a sizable margin (WVU’s Zac Cline is at 2.79) and would rank 13th in the nation. His .184 opponent batting avg. also would rank better than Lambert’s current BIG EAST-leading .198.
Notre Dame’s six previous BIG EAST player/pitcher-of the-week pairs include the following: senior 3B J.J. Brock and sophomore RHP Brad Lidge (March 16, 191998); junior RF/1B Jeff Felker and junior RHP Scott Cavey (May 12, 1999); Stavisky and Cavey (April 24, 2000). junior CF Steve Stanley and senior RHP Danny Tamayo (Feb. 26 and April 23, 2001); and Sollmann and sophomore RHP Chris Niesel (March 17, 2003).
Notre Dame’s previous all-time BIG EAST player-of-the-week recipients include four three-time honorees – Stavisky (4/24/00, 2/19/01, 4/2/01), Porzel (5/0/00, 4/15/01, 5/7/01), Sollmann (2/24, 3/17 and 5/19 in ’03) and Macri (4/21/03, 4/5/04, 5/17/04)- plus four other two-time recipients in 1997 catcher Jeff Wagner (4/7, 5/5), IF Brant Ust (4/3/98, 3/29/99), Felker (4/15, 5/12), catcher Paul O’Toole (5/13/00, 4/1/02) and Stanley (2/26, 4/23). The other eight ND position players who have received weekly BIG EAST honors include catcher Mike Amrhein (3/17/97), OF Allen Greene (4/28/97), Brock (3/16/98), catcher Mike Knecht (5/4/98), 3B/C Andrew Bushey (2/25/02) and three other current players: 1B Joe Thaman (5/13/02), 3B/1B Matt Edwards (4/7/03) and Gaston (3/1/04).
Notre Dame’s previous BIG EAST pitcher-of-the-week recipients include 10-time honoree Heilman, from 1998-2001 (no other BIG EAST pitcher ever has totaled more than four). Two other ND pitchers – Cavey (’97-’00) and Tamayo (’98, ’00-’01) – are tied for fourth on the BIG EAST list with three career BIG EAST pitcher-of-the-week awards while Niesel, Thornton and recent starter/closer specialist J.P. Gagne (’00-’03) each own two BIG EAST weekly awards. The other five Notre Dame pitchers who have received weekly BIG EAST honors include Christian Parker (’96), Lidge (’98), Alex Shilliday (’98), Peter Ogilvie (’02).