May 3, 2003
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Saturday’s BIG EAST doubleheader between Notre Dame and West Virginia was billed as a showdown between the league’s top pitching and top hitting teams and the Eck Stadium fans were treated to both, as Chris Niesel’s one-hit gem lifted the 13th-ranked Irish to a 1-0 win in the opener before a 12-hit attack gave the Mountaineers a 7-5 win for the split.
Notre Dame (36-11, 14-3 BIG EAST) – which improved to 9-1 in one-run games this season – remained atop the three-team race for the BIG EAST regular-season title, with Rutgers (14-4) splitting a pair at Connecticut while West Virginia (30-14, 13-4) kept its spot near the top.
Niesel (7-1) was two outs away from registering the first no-hitter by a Notre Dame pitcher since 1988, when 3-hole hitter Lee Fritz opted to try a bunt single. Niesel ended up fielding the bunt but Fritz was safe on a close play at first. Niesel then induced a flyout from Tim McCabe and blew a third strike by Jake Serfass to end the game.
WVU sophomore righthander Shawn Miller (5-1) suffered the tough-luck loss, with the Irish scoring on a two-out fielding error in the bottom of the sixth. WVU senior righthander Jason DiAngelo (7-3) then logged a marathon outing to win the nightcap, tossing 150 pitches while allowing five runs (four earned) on seven hits and four walks (with seven strikeouts).
Sophomore righthander John Axford (9-1) saw his 13-decision winning streak come to an end, lasting just three innings in the nightcap after allowing three runs on five hits and two walks (with two Ks). Notre Dame had its chances at rallying for the sweep but the Irish left six men on base and hit into three double plays in the second game.
Niesel – who improved to 11-1 in his ND career and is 30-2 in his last 32 decisions (dating back to his senior year at Aquinas High School) – walked just one batter in the 101-pitch outing while posting the fifth 9-strikeout game of his career, to go along with 10 and 11-K games. The sophomore righthander lowered his season ERA to 2.61 and dropped his opponent batting average to .219 while his 5.5 K-to-walk ratio (77/14) would rank fifth in the ND record book.
Since suffering the only loss of his ND career (Feb. 28 vs. Nebraska), Niesel has gone 7-0 in his last 10 starts, with a 1.69 ERA, .199 opponent batting and nearly a 7-to-1 K-to-walk ratio (74/11) in those 10 outings.
Miller was touched for just four hits and one walk (plus two hit batters) in his 88-pitch performance. The Irish nearly scored in the first but a lucky bounce saw the ball glance off Miller for a 1-6-4-3 double play with runners on the corners.
WVU then nearly opened the second inning with a hit but rightfielder Cody Rizzo robbed Tim McCabe with a diving catch in the right-center gap.
Matt Macri’s leadoff double past the third-base bag (on a 1-2 pitch) sparked the only run-scoring sequence of the opener. Brennan Grogan followed with a sac. bunt and Miller hit Matt Edwards with a 1-2 pitch before appearing to be out of the inning after a popup and groundball to the left side – but shortstop Grant Psomas booted the ball and Macri scored for the 1-0 lead.
Four WVU batters collected multiple hits in the nightcap, with the big blow coming on DH Stan Posluszny’s two-run home run in the sixth, yielding a 5-2 lead. Axford earlier had appeared to escape a bases-loaded situation in the second, allowing a double play that plated WVU’s second run before a costly balk made the score 3-1.
Notre Dame nearly rallied in the ninth, after a two-out throwing error by the third baseman McCabe, an RBI single by pinch-hitter Joe Thaman and walks by Greg Lopez and Steve Sollmann – but DiAngelo got a called third strike to end the game with tying runs on base.
- The 1-0 game was just the fifth of the nine-year Paul Mainieri era (ND has won all five) and was ND’s first 1-0 game in BIG EAST play
- The Irish improved to 7-0 in one-run games vs. WVU (5-0 since ’97)
- The Irish scored in the first inning of the nightcap and own a 16-1 scoring edge in the 1st inning over the last 12 games
- ND has been shut out just once in the last 299 games
- The team ERA rose just slightly (3.37 to 3.39)
- ND posted its 18th error-free game in the opener and 14th one-error game in the nightcap
- The Irish have played 34 straight doubleheaders at the Eck without being swept
- Senior RF Kris Billmaier became the 16th ND player ever to appear in 200-plus career games (201)
- Macri has logged 35 error-free games at SS (just one E in last 12 games) while junior 2B Steve Sollmann has just one E in his last 23 GP
- Axford had owned the nation’s third-most wins among undefeated pitchers and was one win shy of joining Frank “Dreams” Scanlan (1908, 10-0) and Aaron Heilman (2001, 15-0) as the only ND pitchers ever to start a season 10-0
- Virginia Tech (12-7) moved into sole possession of the fourth and final BIG EAST Tournament spot with a sweep of St. John’s (9-10), with Pittsburgh dropping back to 10-8 after losing a single game at Boston College (8-8)
- WVU joined Rutgers and St. John’s as only teams ever to post more than three wins over ND at The Eck (each has four).
GAME 1West Virginia 0-0-0 0-0-0 0 - 0 1 1Notre Dame 0-0-0 0-0-1 X - 1 4 0
Shawn Miller (L, 5-1) and Travis D'Amico. Chris Niesel (W, 7-1) and Javi Sanchez.Doubles: Matt Macri 2 (ND).
GAME 2West Virginia 1-0-2 0-0-2 0-2-0 - 7 12 2Notre Dame 1-0-0 1-0-1 0-1-1 - 5 7 1
Jason DiAngelo (W, 7-3) and Travis D'Amico. John Axford (L, 9-1), Matt Laird (4), Brandon Viloria (8) and Javi Sanchez.Home Run: Stan Posluszny, WVU (1 on in 6th, 5th of season). Doubles: Steve Sollmann (ND), Grant Psomas (WVU).