March 13, 2003
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Chris Niesel logged eight dominating innings and Steve Sollmann’s inside-the-park home run yielded an early 3-0 lead as 18th-ranked Notre Dame overcame missed offensive chances and four errors to edge Eastern Illinois, 3-2, in Thursday’s continuing action at the Kennel Club Classic.
Niesel (1-1) – who now has won 23 of his last 25 overall decisions, dating back to his senior year of high school – struck out nine EIU batters while allowing two hits, two walks and a pair of unearned runs (in the bottom of the eighth). He allowed just two baserunners in the first six innings, with his classic control resulting in 75 of his 105 pitches going for strikes.
J.P. Gagne picked up his third save of the season, in relief of fellow senior Matt Laird, striking out pinch hitter Mike Meyer with runners on first and second to end the game.
Notre Dame (7-5) plated just three of its 11 baserunners, with all of the runs coming in the second inning. Junior DH Tim Murray – making the first start of the season – reached on a one-out single through the right side before freshman Greg Lopez (who started at shortstop) ripped a single past the first-base bag.
Sollmann then worked to a 1-1 count vs. righthander Damon White before stroking the ball to right-center. Centerfielder Eugene Oliver made a lunging try at the ball but it glanced off his glove, with Sollmann running hard all the way as the EIU outfielders gathered the ball in the rain-soaked field.
Irish head coach Paul Mainieri was sending Sollmann all the way and he scored easily after the relay throw came beyond the second-base bag.
It marked the first inside-the-park home run for a Notre Dame player since one of the most memorable offensive efforts in the program’s history, when Alec Porzel went 6-for-6 and hit for the cycle vs. Pittsburgh on May 7, 2000, at Eck Stadium (he hit traditional and inside-the-park home runs).
Eastern Illinois (3-8) managed two runs in the eighth, after Nolan Cork’s leadoff single through the left side, a wild pitch and three Irish errors. Kyle Haines then walked on a full count, leaving runners on the corners with two outs, but Niesel struck out Bret Pignatiello to preserve the lead.
NOTES: ND entered the game with a sparkling .974 fielding pct. (with just 12 errors in 11 games) and had gone error-free in four of the previous five games … Sollmann now is batting 9-for-18 in the Kennel Club Classic and .426 overall this season, after batting 2-for-2 with a pair of walks in the EIU game (his eighth multi-hit game of the season) … Gagne’s save was the ninth of his career, tying ’96 graduate Rich Sauget for sixth in ND history … Gagne (23-12) needs just one more save to join former greats Chris Michalak (34-13, 12 saves) and Aaron Heilman (43-7, 12 saves) as the only ND pitchers ever to post 20-plus wins and 10-plus saves in their Irish careers … Mainieri shook up his lineup by inserting Murray at DH, Lopez at shortstop and starting freshman Alex Nettey in left field … freshman LHP Tom Thornton now is the likely starter for Friday’s game vs. Navy, with sophomore RHP John Axford slated to start Saturday vs. Creighton.