May 31, 2002
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – If one of the keys to postseason success is clutch production from throughout the lineup, then the 16th-ranked Notre Dame baseball team could be on the verge of an offensive upswing – as new heroes continued to emerge during Friday’s 8-6 win over Ohio State, as nearly 1,800 Eck Stadium fans enjoyed the opening game of the NCAA South Bend Regional.
Second-seeded Notre Dame (45-15, with wins in 36 of the last 41) moves on in the four-team, double-elimination tournament to face top seed South Alabama (42-17), which posted a 7-4 win over Kent State in Friday’s night game. The pivotal “winner’s bracket” game will be played on Saturday at 3:05 p.m., with South Alabama winning the coin-flip to be the home team (meaning the Irish again must play from the visitor’s dugout, as they did in three games at the 2001 South Bend Regional).
Ohio State (36-19-1) – which faces Kent State (37-21) in Saturday’s 11:00 a.m. elimination game – opted to start sophomore lefthander Josh Newman versus a Notre Dame lineup dominated by lefthanded hitters. But the Irish responded by giving senior DH Ken Meyer his 31st start of the season, with Meyer and the other three righthanded batters combining to hit 8-for-12 vs. Newman.
A five-run bottom of the seventh saw Notre Dame reverse the momentum and secure a 7-5 lead, just moments after the Buckeyes had smacked a two-run homer.
Friday was a day for the junior class at Eck Stadium, as Peter Ogilvie logged a solid 5 1/3 innings while fellow righthander J.P. Gagne again bounced back from an opposing home run to pick up the victory. The only third-year players in the lineup also played major roles, as rightfielder Kris Billmaier hit 3-for-3 with an RBI from the cleanup spot while leftfielder Brian Stavisky had a hand in half of the Irish runs from his No. 3 spot (2-for-5, 2 RBI, 2 R).
Billmaier continued his career trend of elevated play in the NCAAs, as he now is batting 18-for-38 (.474) in 11 games of Regional action – more than 200 points higher than his .275 average in his other 135 games with the Irish.
Gagne (8-4) pushed his career record to 20-10, after yielding three runs on five hits and one walk over the final three innings (with two strikeouts). Newman (8-6) was touched for seven runs on 12 hits and one walk over 6 1/3, with three Ks.
On a day when its three leading veterans – Steve Stanley, Andrew Bushey and Paul O’Toole – combined to hit just 1-for-12, the rest of the Irish lineup more than picked up the slack by collecting 14 hits in their 22 at-bats. Sophomore second baseman Steve Sollmann had a strong day in the No. 2 hole, batting 3-for-4 with a walk, RBI and two runs scored. Notre Dame’s 15-hit attack equaled its fifth-highest hit total of the season and come on the heels of a dismal .208 team batting average at last week’s BIG EAST Tournament.
Meyer – whose production has been hampered by nagging shoulder problems – fittingly sparked the five-run seventh by driving a 2-2 pitch up the middle for an infield hit. Sanchez then dropped a 1-0 pitch into left field and sophomore first baseman Joe Thaman delivered from the left side, drilling his own 1-0 pitch up the middle to load the bases.
Two batters later, Sollmann added yet another hit on an 0-1 pitch, going the other way for a sinking linedrive to right field – where a diving Doug Deeds failed to come up with the ball. Stavisky then followed with another one-out RBI, snapping a one-out pitch into right field for a 5-4 game.
OSU then opted to have Smith pitch to the righthanded-hitting Billmaier but Smith’s 2-0 pitch sailed wide of the catcher Joe Wilkins, whose ensuing throw back to the plate caromed off the sliding Thaman – with the ball bouncing towards OSU’s first-base dugout as Sollmann scurried home with the go-ahead run. Senior DH Matt Bok’s pinch-hit home run over the rightfield wall later extended the Irish lead to 8-5 in the eighth.
The Buckeyes had claimed the 5-2 cushion just moments earlier, after Gagne gave up a one-out infield single by Lance Rolston before Snavely delivered on a two-out first pitch, launching his ninth home run over the rightfield fence for the three-run cushion.
One inning earlier, freshman righthander Chris Niesel had taken the mound in relief of Ogilvie, with one out and runners on second and third. Niesel induced an infield popup off the bat of Doug Dendinger and worked ahead to an 0-2 count versus Wilkins – but his next pitch was waved off when the third-base umpire signaled a balk call that sent the go-ahead run (3-2) across the plate (Wilkins then went down looking at strike three).
OSU opened the scoring in the second, thanks to Dendinger’s leadoff double past the first baseman Thaman and a pair of flyouts that advanced the runner.
The hosts tied the game and then took the lead in the fourth, sparked by a pair of opposite-field hits. Sollmann’s clutch leadoff single came on a 1-2 pitch before Stavisky’s RBI double jumped off his bat and found the gap in deep left-center field (on an 0-1 count). Billmaier’s 11th sacrifice bunt of the season and Bushey’s RBI groundout then yielded the 2-1 lead.
That lead was shortlived, with a leadoff double from Wilkins and Rolston’s RBI single forging a 2-2 tie in the fifth.
(3) OHIO STATE 0-1-0 0-1-1 2-0-1 – 6 10 1
(2) NOTRE DAME 0-0-0 2-0-0 5-1-X – 8 15 0
Josh Newman (L, 8-6), Nate Smith (7), Chris Hanners (8) and Joe Wilkins.
Peter Ogilvie, Chris Niesel (6), J.P. Gagne (7; W, 8-4).
Home Runs: Christian Snavely, OSU (1 on in 7th; 9th of season); Matt Bok, ND ((pinch-hit, solo in 8th; 2nd of season).
Doubles: Brian Stavisky, ND (45th of career), Javier Sanchez (ND), Nick Swisher (OSU), Doug Dendinger (OSU), Joe Wilkins 2 (OSU, Brett Garrard (OSU).
POSTGAME NOTES AND QUOTES (ND baseball vs. Ohio State; 5/31/02)
* ND now has posted 45-plus wins in nine seasons (all since 1989)
* The Irish are 7-8 in home NCAA games, including 5-4 at Eck Stadium.
* Notre Dame is 9-8 in opening games in NCAA tournament play, with five straight wins in NCAA openers.
* ND improved to 24-3 (.889) at Eck Stadium this season.
* The win was the 21st come-from-behind victory for Notre Dame this season and it marked the 11th time the Irish have scored the winning run in the last three innings in 2002.
* Gagne’s 15 relief appearances in 2002 have yielded a 6-2 record, with four saves and a 2.56 ERA.
* Sanchez extended his hitting streak to 11 games (only Stanley has a longer streak in 2002) … Sanchez is hitting .444 (16-36) in the 11-game hitting streak.
* Ogilvie’s starts have been aligned with solid offensive days from Sanchez, who now has hit .391 (16-for-41) in the 12 games started by Ogilvie (3-for-4 on Friday).
* Bok smacked the second pinch-hit HR for an Irish player this season (Matt Strickroth vs. Detroit) … it was the fifth career HR for Bok, who is 3-for-6 as a pinch-hitter this season (he hit a pinch-hit triple and scored to beat Virginia Tech in 11 innings, 2-1).
* Stavisky is hitting .391 (18-46) with 3 HR, 5 2B, 17 RBI and 14 R in 11 career NCAA games … Stavisky also owns a .382 career batting avg. at Eck Stadium (105-for-275), including .432 in 2002 (32-for-74).
* With the starts by Stanley, Bushey, O’Toole and Meyer, ND’s eight-member class of 2002 has combined to start exactly 1,000 games on the college level … the senior class has helped ND compile a four-year record of 182-64-1 (.739).
* The game marked the 1,100th in the head coaching career of Notre Dame’s Paul Mainieri (681-418-1 in 20 total seasons, 349-139-1 in eight years at ND.
* Billmaier sacrifice bunt was the 58th for ND this season, besting the team record set in 1989 (Thaman then added two sac’s, pushing the total to 60).
ND HEAD COACH PAUL MAINIERI: “It was a great game for us. We had a tremendous comeback in the seventh. Before that point, I knew we were still in the game, but we continued to swing the bats well and were able to come away with the victory. We now turn our attention to tomorrow. … I think with this format, it is very crucial to win the first game. It is not impossible to come back if you lose, but it is always better to remain in the winners bracket.”
ND SOPHOMORE 2B STEVE SOLLMANN: “I was waiting all day to really turn on the ball, but for the most part, we just took what they gave us and tried to drive the ball.”
ND JUNIOR RF KRIS BILLMAIER: “Hitting is contagious on this team. Thankfully, we did a great job in making contact and were able to pull out five runs in the seventh inning to take the lead.”
ND JUNIOR RHP STEVE SOLLMANN: “It was really exciting to get the final out on a strike-three call, especially since that guy [Chris Snavely] hit a home run off me earlier in the ball game.”
OSU HEAD COACH BOB TODD: “I thought it was a really well-played ball game for about the first six innings. Both teams were playing well and both were getting good pitching. … I really thought that after Chris Snavely hit the homerun in the seventh- a two-run homer that gave us a 5-2 lead — the momentum really swung into our dugout. I’ll give Notre Dame credit that in the bottom of the seventh they got five or six hits and really picked up the momentum. … I thought that maybe we had an out at home on that passed ball and instead of being an out, it turned out to be a big, big play that gave them a couple of runs. The other play we made in that inning, that was almost back-to-back, was when Doug Deeds did not make that catch in right field. The ball gets away and not only did we lose an out, but Notre Dame got another run. Those two plays changed the complexion of the whole game. … Every umpire said that they were going to be more observant, particularly on the righthanded pitchers’ ‘observable stop of the hands.’ We had a lot more balks called this year. … I think they put in a rule and they want the umpires to enforce it.”
OSU SOPHOMORE LHP JOSH NEWMAN: “I ended up giving up a couple hits. (I was) trying to make some pitches to get in a position for a double play. It seemed like every pitch I was throwing, they were hitting hard.”
OSU 2B CHRIS SNAVELY: “We’re kind of bummed out right now. We’re down; we lost. But I think that it’s more important for us to bounce back right now and put that all behind us. It’s going to be tough, but we have to win the games.”