Feb. 24, 2002
Sal Frisella broke a 2-2 tie with a three-run home run in the seventh inning as Southern Illinois defeated an injury-depleted Notre Dame baseball team, 6-2, in Sunday’s final-round action at the UNO/Ron Maestri Classic.
Notre Dame (1-2) faced the challenge of playing without four of its position starters, including the 2-3-4 batters in the lineup and senior third baseman/catcher Andrew Bushey, who had posted a career-best five hits in Saturday’s 8-7 loss to New Orleans. Senior catcher Paul O’Toole also was limited to third-base duty due to a hand injury while junior pitcher Matt Laird – ND’s 2001 closer – missed the entire weekend as he recovers from an arm strain.
The loss overshadowed an impressive debut from freshman righthander Chris Niesel (Plantation, Fla.), whose 87-pitch outing included 10 strikeouts, no walks, five hits and just one run allowed in five full innings. The high school All-American also hit two batters and had a wild pitch, plus three groundouts and two flyouts.
Notre Dame again played without its starting middle infielders, freshman shortstop Matt Macri (elbow strain) and sophomore second baseman Steve Sollmann (quad pull), while junior leftfielder Brian Stavisky and senior third baseman/catcher Andrew Bushey both missed the game due to shoulder sprains (Stavisky was injured late in the UNO game while Bushey was injured during the pregame infield practice).
The Irish lineup included senior Matt Strickroth in right field and freshman Brent Weiss as the DH while senior Matt Bok made his first start behind the plate since 1999, with O’Toole limited to third-base duty due to his left-hand injury. Sophomore Javier Sanchez (second base) and freshman Matt Edwards (shortstop) again played solid as the middle-infield starters, with each driving in a run during the 3rd inning.
Niesel’s 10 strikeouts equal the second-most ever by a Notre Dame freshman and are the most by an Irish freshman in his first start. Lefthander Don Wolfe posted 12 Ks in a 10-0 win over Butler on April 20, 1975, while righthander David Sinnes had 10 Ks in a nine-inning win at Xavier on April 16, 1990 (2-0).
Niesel also became the first Notre Dame freshman pitcher to start an opening-week game since Christian Parker’s gem that beat Pepperdine (14-5) at the 1995 Anaheim Classic (Parker started for the New York Yankees in the opening week of the 2001 season and currently is on the Yankees 40-man spring training roster).
Just two previous Notre Dame pitchers have posted a double-digit strikeout game in February, with Alex Shilliday totaling 10 Ks in a 6-1 win over Evansville on Feb. 27, 1998 (8 IP, at the Diamond Classic) while Danny Tamayo posed 10 Ks last season in the 7-4 win over Sam Houston State at the Alamo Invitational (Feb. 25, 6 IP).
Senior Luke Nelson (1-0) picked up the win after a marathon 122-pitch, seven-inning outing, allowing two runs on five hits, five walks, two hit batters and two wild pitches. Lefthander Eric Habere then faced eight batters over the final two innings to close out the win.
Both teams stranded 11 baserunners, with the Salukis holding a 13-6 edge in hits.
The winning rally saw SIU (4-2) open the 7th with singles from Jeff Stanek (to right, on a 1-1 pitch) and Toby Barnett (to center on a first pitch). Greg Andrews then bunted the runners over and Frisella lifted a 1-2 pitch over the leftfield wall for his third home run of the young season and a 5-2 lead.
SIU added an insurance run in the 8th, after singles from Ross Kozwan, Stanek and Barnett.
Notre Dame had claimed a 2-0 lead in the 3rd, behind Joe Thaman’s one-out walk, Steve Stanley’s double to left and RBI from Sanchez (groundout) and Edwards (single to left on a 2-2 pitch). SIU then scored in the top of the 4th, with Andrews hitting a first-pitch single to right before scoring on Scott Hankey’s one-out, 1-2 double to right-center.
The Irish loaded the bases in the bottom of the 4th but Nelson served up an infield popup and groundball to get out of the inning. The Salukis then tied the game in the 6th, sparked by Hankey’s one-out, full-count single to right-center and P.J. Finnigan’s full-count walk. Freshman righthander Martin Vergara then hit Cory Newman with the next pitch and the tying run scored when John Klem was hit by a 1-2 pitch.
Southern Illinois (4-2) 0-0-0 1-0-1 3-1-0 – 6 13 0
Notre Dame (1-2) 0-0-2 0-0-0 0-0-0 – 2 6 1
Luke Nelson (W, 1-0), Eric Haberer (8) and Toby Barnett.
Chris Niesel, Martin Vergara (6, L, 0-1), Drew Duff (7), Ryan Kalita (9) and Matt Bok.
Home Run: Sal Frisella, SIU (2 on in 7th, 3rd of season).
Doubles: Toby Barnett (SIU), Scott Hankey (SIU) and Steve Sanley (ND).