April 27, 2004
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Chris Niesel – and the Notre Dame baseball faithful – had been waiting all season to see the junior righthander flash his All-America form and Tuesday night’s thriller at Eck Stadium provided just that opportunity, as the Plantation, Fla., native came on to post a career-best 12 strikeouts in 8.1 shutout innings of relief before watching Steve Andres’ leadoff triple and Craig Cooper’s first-pitch single win the game in the 15th, capping a 7-6 victory for the 8th-ranked Irish over visiting Ball State.
The game equals the longest in the 11-year history of Eck Stadium, matching the 15-inning, 5-3 win over West Virginia on May 3, 1998 (then-freshman leftfielder Alec Porzel ended that game on a two-run blast, signaling many clutch hits to come from the future ND all-star shortstop).
Notre Dame (33-8) averted what would have been its first three-game losing streak since early in the 2003 season while four pitchers – Tom Thornton (4), Rico Bertucci (0), Niesel (12) and Ryan Doherty (4) – combined for an Eck Stadium-record 20 strikeouts and issued only one walk, an intentional pass in the 5th inning to Brad Miller (who already had smacked a pair of two-run home runs).
Ball State (17-20) had been victorious in three of its previous four visits to Eck Stadium but the Cardinals instead saw another trend continue by falling to 1-10 this season in one-run games. The visitors opened the game with a 2-0 lead and later took a 6-3 cushion into the 7th, only to see the Irish tie the game with single runs in each of the next three innings.
Niesel remarked after the game that he didn’t miss a spot in his 102-pitch outing, with his final line including the 12 Ks, no walks and just four hits allowed. Each of the hits versus Niesel were doubles and three of them came off the bat of senior rightfielder Kiel Holman, with Niesel responding to the first two Holman doubles by striking out Kenny Bargfeldt and leadoff batter Mike Sullivan in succession (Bargfeldt finished the night with 4 Ks while Sullivan endured the rare 5-K game).
Sophomore closer Ryan Doherty (5-1) took the hill after Holman’s third double (in the 14th) and picked up where Niesel left off by striking out the BSU 9- and 1-hole hitters. The 7-foot-1, 220-pound righthander bounced back from his loss on Sunday at Pittsburgh by striking out four of the five batters he faced to close the game, dropping his season ERA to 2.05 and while his opponent batting average dipped to .110 (8-for-73). Doherty now is averaging 13.1 strikeouts per nine innings (32 Ks in 22 IP) and has allowed just one of 17 inherited baserunners to score this season (he now has forced out or stranded 16 straight).
The game featured 408 pitches (Thornton and Niesel were the only ND pitchers with more than 20), 29 strikeouts and 36 total baserunners, with the Irish pushing across just six of their first 21 baserunners prior to the 15th.
Notre Dame is 20-5-1 (.789) in its last 26 extra-inning games, including 4-0 this season (plus 5-2 in one-run games).
All but three of Niesel’s 25 outs came via Ks (12) or groundouts (10), with just five balls leaving the infield (the four hits, plus a 10th-inning flyout to right field). His other two outs came on a popup back to the pitcher and a soft lineout to first baseman Matt Edwards.
The 3-hour, 37-minute marathon suddenly came to an end after just two pitches in the bottom of the 15th from senior righthander John Pettibone. The lefthanded-hitting Andres entered the day with the team’s third-best leadoff on-base percentage (.481) but the junior leftfielder did more than simply trot to first base in his seventh plate appearance of the night, driving the ball deep into the right-center gap and chugging around for his second triple of the season and fourth of his career.
Cooper then continued his recent hot hitting by going to the opposite field on the next pitch, placing the ball into shallow right-center as Andres raced home to be mobbed by his teammates.
Niesel becomes just the fifth pitcher in the Notre Dame record book to post double-digit Ks in three or more career games (see full list below) . He was one strikeout shy of joining fellow All-American Aaron Heilman as the only Irish pitchers in the last 27 years with 13-plus Ks in a game (Heilman set the ND record with 18 in a 2000 game at West Virginia). Niesel also became just the fifth Notre Dame pitcher since 1980 to post a dozen or more strikeouts in a game, joining Darin Schmalz (’96), current Houston Astro setup man Brad Lidge (’98), Heilman (twice in 2000, once in ’01) and fellow junior righthander John Axford (12 vs. Western Michigan last season) in that distinction.
The Irish began their comeback in the 7th, as Cooper led off with a full-count walk (vs. senior RHP Erik Morrison) before coming around to score on a stolen base, a groundout and sophomore shortstop Greg Lopez’s opposite-field poke into right field (on a 2-out, full-count pitch).
Notre Dame then cut the lead to 6-5 in the 8th (vs. junior RHP Jeff Michael), thanks to a fly ball off the bat of senior catcher Javi Sanchez that plopped just inside the leftfield line for a 1-out double. Cooper then fell into an 0-2 hole with two outs but the sophomore rightfielder delivered a single to left-center before the junior first baseman Edwards sent Sanchez home on a scorcher past the third baseman.
The tying run came home in the 9th, with Lopez walking on five pitches to start things off before a failed sacrifice bunt attempt forced Lopez out at second base. The pressure then fell to senior second baseman Zach Sisko, the fourth-year walk-on whose .351 batting average ranks second only to Cooper’s .366 on the ’04 squad. Sisko – subbing for injured classmate Steve Sollmann (who now has missed 18 games due to a fractured jaw suffered in an early-April collision) – fell behind 1-2 vs. Michael before fouling off the fourth pitch and taking the next two for balls (loading the count). The lefthanded hitter then fouled off another pitch before ripping a single to shallow center field, with Matt Macri advancing to second.
A passed ball then moved the runners up and heavy-hitting Matt Bransfield drew an intentional walk before Sanchez delivered a sacrifice fly to shallow center field (on an 0-2 pitch), sending the game to extra innings.
Niesel had an answer for each of the first three doubles that BSU hit versus him, in the 9th-13th innings. Holman bounced a ground-rule double over the leftfield fence with one out in the 9th before the freshman DH Bargfeldt went down swinging at an 0-2 pitch and the sophomore centerfielder Sullivan was caught looking at a 1-2 offering. Three innings later, Holman led off the 12th by pulling a double over Cooper’s head in right field (after Lopez nearly caught a Holman popup deep in foul territory) but Bargfeldt (1-2) and Sullivan (0-2) then both went down swinging before Lucas Fry grounded out to reserve second baseman Tim Murray.
The 13th inning featured a double from a different batter, as Miller drove the left-center gap with one out and Andres nearly made a leaping catch against the fence. Another 4-3 groundout from Fry moved Miller to third base but Lopez then made a great backhanded stop and threw out Kyle Dygert at first to end the threat.
Holman collected his third triple with one out in the 14th, on a ball nearly hauled in by centerfielder Cody Rizzo near the wall. But Doherty did his trademark hurdle of the bullpen fence and sent Bargfeldt and Sullivan down swinging at 1-2 pitches to finish BSU’s final chance of the night (he also struck out the first two batters in a quick top of the 15th).
Notre Dame’s only strong scoring chance in extra innings (before the 15th) came in the 10th, as Pettibone lost his first batter (Cooper) on a four-pitch walk before balking the runner to second with two outs (negating a stolen base). A wild pitch then put the winning run on third but Lopez went down swinging on a 2-2 pitch, leading to four more innings of action.
Ball State had claimed its second lead of the night in the 4th, sparked by Marc Franz’s leadoff single to right on a 1-2 pitch. Thornton then had a two-strike count on Miller (2-2) but the sophomore first baseman pulled the ball down the leftfield line and over the fence for his 13th home run of the season and a 4-2 lead. Dygert then doubled down the rightfield line and Kory Bucklew came through on a full count with a double to right-center for a three-run lead (5-2).
Notre Dame answered with a run in the bottom of the inning versus freshman righthander Ryan DeGeeter, as Sanchez sent a leadoff single into right-center and moved up on a groundout and wild pitch before scoring on a Cooper groundout for a 5-3 game. BSU then restored its three-run cushion in the 5th, after a leadoff bunt single from Matt Singleton, a groundout that advanced the runner, an intentional walk to Miller (ending Thornton’s day) and Fry’s single through the left side vs. the freshman Bertucci.
The visitors opened the game with a pair of runs, as Sullivan hit a leadoff single to left field before Miller delivered with two outs – driving a first-pitch shot over the leftfield fence. Notre Dame promptly tied the score, with Sisko sending a first-pitch single through the right side before the sophomore DH Bransfield flared an opposite-field single into the right-center gap (both runners took an extra base when the rightfielder bobbled the ball). Sanchez added a sacrifice fly to center field and Andres walked on four pitches before Bransfield scored the tying run (unearned) on a wild pitch.
NOTES – First-year ND pitching coach Terry Rooney has placed a premium on low walk totals and the ’04 staff has delivered by averaging just 2.64 walks per 9 innings (compared to 3.64 in ’03) … just one previous team in the ND record book – the ’01 staff led by Heilman and fellow BIG EAST first teamer Danny Tamayo – has posted a better walk avg. (2.48) … Niesel located 74 of his 102 pitches for strikes and slashed his season ERA from 4.95 to 4.35 … Alabama’s Will Schleuss (13 Ks vs. ND, on April 25, 1995) still holds the Eck Stadium record for strikeouts by one pitcher, with Niesel and Axford now sharing the record for Ks at The Eck by an ND pitcher … the previous Eck Stadium record for Ks by one team was 16, by ND in 2000 vs. Oakland and in 2003 vs. both Western Michigan and Cleveland State … Niesel’s double-digit strikeout games also include 10 vs. Southern Illinois in the first game of his ND career (at New Orleans, in ’02) and 11 at Villanova in ’03 (he also owns six 9-K games) … after the big night, Niesel shot past Brian Piotrowicz (201, ’87-’90), former teammate J.P. Gagne (205; ’00-’03) and Tom Bujnowski (206; ’52, ’56-’57) into 8th on the ND career strikeouts list with 210 (just four behind Tim Kalita’s ’97-’99 total) … Niesel’s career K-to-walk ratio is back atop the ND record book at 4.11 (210/51, ahead of the 4.00 posted by Alan Walania from ’90-’93) … the four previous ND pitchers with double-digit Ks in three or more career games include Heilman (7 from ’98-’01; 18, 12 twice, 11 twice, 10 three times), Tamayo (five 10-K games, from ’98-’01), Tim Kalita (four 10-K games from ’97-’99) and David Sinnes (one 11, two 10, from ’90-’93) … ND has overcome a deficit to win 15 times this season, including five of the last six wins (all but the Toledo game) … Cooper is batting 9-for-19 (.474) in his current six-game hitting streak … ND now leads the series with BSU 14-11 but the Cardinals have a 9-8 edge in games played at ND (the teams now have split six 1-run games, with Tuesday’s game representing the first extra-inning finish in a series that dates back to 1976) … Sanchez has caught all 45 innings that ND has played during the past five days (freshman catcher Sean Gaston is sidelined due to mononucleosis) … Murray was hit by a pitch in the 11th inning, giving ND 75 HBPs this season (tying the team record, set in 1993) … the NCAA record for HBPs is 125, by Nevada in 1997 (only seven previous teams have totaled 100-plus HBPs) … Macri (36) and Lopez (29) now have combined for 65 error-free games (Macri has logged 20 straight games, and 30 of the last 31, without an E at the hot corner) … the Irish posted their 15th error-free game of the season … ND now owns an 81-24 combined scoring edge in the 7th (48-14) and 8th (33-10) inninngs … ND has collected double-digit hits 24 times this season (18 with 12-plus) … Macri hit in the leadoff spot for the first time since early in the 2003 season (Sisko was 2-for-5 as the 2-hole hitter in Tuesday’s game) … the Irish extended the 3rd-longest scoring streak in the program’s history to 125 games (also 354 of last 355 and 597 of 601 in 10-year Mainieri era).
Ball State (16-21) 2-0-0 3-0-0 0-0-0 0-0-0 0-0-0 – 6 12 1
#8 Notre Dame (33-8) 2-0-0 1-0-0 1-1-1 0-0-0 0-0-1 – 7 12 0
Ryan DeGeeter, Erik Morrison (7), Jeff Michael (7), John Pettibone (10; L, 0-5) and Lucas Fry.
Tom Thornton, Rico Bertucci (5), Chris Niesel (6), Ryan Doherty (14; W, 5-1) and Javi Sanchez.
Home Runs: Brad Miller, BSU (1 on in 1st and 4th; 12th and 13th of the season).
Triple: Steve Andres (ND).
Doubles: Javi Sanchez (ND), Kyle Dygert (BSU), Kory Bucklew (BSU), Kiel Holman 3 (BSU), Miller (BSU).