April 30, 2001
The Notre Dame baseball team has maintained its No. 1 ranking in the Collegiate Baseball magazine poll while also moving into the top spot in the Baseball America poll and jumping to a No. 2 ranking in the USA Today/ESPN coaches poll, after winning five of six games last week to yield an overall record of 40-6-1 for the Irish.
Notre Dame nearly gained consensus No. 1 status but Louisiana State (35-13-1) jumped from 5th to 1st in the coaches poll, after a 5-0 week for the Tigers that included a three-game sweep at Alabama. Notre Dame-which was ranked 4th in last week’s coaches poll-actually received the most 1st-place votes in this week’s coaches poll (15 of 41, with LSU receiving 14) but the Tigers collected 956 total points, followed by the Irish (930), Miami (904), last week’s No. 1 Stanford (894) and Southern California (810).
Each of the rankings is the highest ever for Notre Dame in each poll.
Notre Dame maintained the same point total in the Collegiate Baseball poll (473) while LSU climbed from 3rd to 2nd place in the CB poll (rising from 463 points to 469) and Stanford (33-13) dropped from 2nd to 6th, following a 2-2 week. The other top five teams in this week’s CB poll include Cal State Fullerton (33-11), USC (32-16) and Miami (35-11).
The Irish moved atop the Baseball America poll while Nebraska (35-12) fell from the top spot into 4th, after losing three games last week. LSU, Miami and USC round out the top five in the current BA poll.
Notre Dame nearly joined Georgia Tech and Stanford as the only teams in 2001 to be ranked No. 1 in all three polls during the same week, with the Yellow Jackets holding that distinction in the preseason polls and again on Feb. 5, Feb. 26 and March 5 while the Cardinal were a consensus No. 1 on April 9 and 16.
Notre Dame-which owns the nation’s fourth-longest active streak of consecutive seasons with 40-plus wins (13)-currently leads the Division I ranks in team ERA (2.51) while ranking just behind Stetson (40-6) for the nation’s top winning percentage, at .862. The Irish have won 19 of their last 20 games while batting .338 as a team during that 20-game stretch.
The Irish rolled to 20 victories and just two losses during the month of April-highlighted by three-game sweeps on the road versus two of the top teams in the BIG EAST Conference, defending champion Rutgers and St. John’s (for perspective, the previous five ND teams combined to post just two 3-game road sweeps in BIG EAST play).
The baseball team last week became the fourth Notre Dame sport to earn a No. 1 national ranking in 2000-01, with the others including the women’s soccer team, the men’s fencing squad and the national championship women’s basketball team.
Notre Dame has been led all season by its pitching, with senior righthanders Aaron Heilman (11-0, 1.43 ERA) and Danny Tamayo (7-1, 1.42) ranking as one of the nation’s top pitching tandems. Heilman is nearing the end of his storied career that has included All-America honors each of his first three seasons and a spot in the USA national team while his 39-7 career record (with 390 strikeouts) includes wins in 21 of his last 22 decisions.
Sophomore righthander J.P. Gagne (5-2, 3.40) came on strong during the month of April as Notre Dame’s No. 3 starter, winning all five of his decisions during the month while allowing just seven earned runs in 34 innings pitched (for a 1.85 ERA in April).
With Heilman, Tamayo-and now Gagne-leading the way, Notre Dame’s starting pitchers have combined for a 1.90 ERA during the first 47 games of the 2001 season while sophomore righthander Matt Laird has developed into a quality closer, with his 1.59 ERA including a recent 15-inning shutout streak (he has not allowed a run in 14 of his 16 outings).
The surging Irish offense includes six starters who are hitting .290 or higher, led by sophomore rightfielder and cleanup hitter Brian Stavisky (.396-second-best in the BIG EAST Conference-plus 45 RBI, 4 HR) and the team’s first two batters in the lineup: freshman second baseman Steve Sollmann (.392, 30 RBI, 5 HR, 19 SB) and the team’s leadoff batter, junior centerfielder Steve Stanley (.389, 27 SB, 54 R). Junior third baseman Andrew Bushey is batting .351 overall while leading the BIG EAST with a .443 batting average in conference games.
Defensively, the Irish have totaled just 63 errors in 47 games-leading to just 30 unearned runs for the opponents. Bushey (9 errors) and senior shortstop Alec Porzel (8) have combined to make the Notre Dame defense particularly strong on the left side of the infield.