May 14, 2009
QUEENS, N.Y. – Senior Ryan Connolly drilled two home runs, including a grand slam, and sophomore Cole Johnson allowed only two hits in seven innings of work to lead the Irish baseball team to a 9-1win over St. John’s at Jack Kaiser Stadium on Thursday evening. The win improved Notre Dame’s record to 32-20 (14-11 BIG EAST) on the season and clinched a place for the Irish in the 2009 BIG EAST Tournament. The Irish have now won six of their last seven. With the loss, St. John’s falls to 28-19 (15-10 BE) on the year.
The Irish offense exploded for nine runs on 16 hits. Connolly’s two home runs gave him five RBI for the night. Jeremy Barnes (Garland, Texas) and Casey Martin (Chesterton, Ind.) also went deep for Notre Dame as the Irish put together a four home run game for just the third time in the Dave Schrage era. Brayden Ashdown (Tucson, Ariz.) and Cameron McConnell (Bannockburn, Ill.) each had three-for-five nights at the plate and A.J. Pollock (Hebron, Conn.), Barnes and Connolly each recorded two hit nights.
The only thing more impressive than the Irish bats was Notre Dame’s performance in the field. Johnson struck out seven in seven innings of work, allowing two hits and only one earned run. The defense behind him, which did not have an error and included a timely caught stealing by McConnell, allowed Johnson to work around six walks. Johnson gave way to Todd Miller (Franklin, Tenn.), who pitched two scoreless innings of relief, allowing three hits while also notching three strikeouts. It was the first time this season that an opponent held St. John’s to under two runs scored.
The Irish took a 1-0 lead by virtue of a two out RBI single from McConnell, which scored Mick Doyle (LaGrange Park, Ill.) in the second inning. Doyle had reached on a single that deflected off the glove of SJU starting pitcher Kevin Kilpatrick. He advanced to second on a wild pitch, giving McConnell the chance to rack up his 27th RBI of the year with a line drive to right center.
The Red Storm threatened to answer in the bottom-half of the second. Leading off, Joe Panik earned the game’s first walk for St. John’s. Cole then notched his first strikeout of the game, fanning Matt Wessinger. Carlos Del Rosario looked like me may have tied the game with a deep drive to left field, but Notre Dame’s speedy left fielder Golden Tate (Hendersonville, Tenn.) came up with another impressive running catch as he crashed against the wall to pull down the inning’s second out. Danny Benedetti bunted for a single to give SJU two on with two out, but Johnson induced a ground ball off the bat of Gino Matias to get out of the inning unscathed.
Notre Dame built a substantial 5-0 lead in the third. Pollock lead off with a grounder down the third base line that looked to be going foul but bounced fair as Pollock reached first. Next up, sophomore Tate executed a textbook hit-and-run with Pollock, who advanced to third when Tate smashed a grounder through the hole vacated by Pollock’s movement toward second base. Tate advanced to second on a wild pitch and Barnes walked to load the bases. Connolly strode to the plate and jacked a pitch over the left field fence for his first career grand slam, putting the Irish up 5-0.
Handed a 5-0 lead, Johnson sat down the Red Storm in order in the bottom of the third. He struck out designated hitter Karmas to end the inning.
St. John’s threatened again in the bottom of the fourth, loading the bases through two walks and a single. Del Rosario used a sac fly to left to get the Red Storm on the board. With two on and one out and Benedetti batting, Panik attempted to swipe third. But McConnell gunned him out for his 25th caught stealing of the season, now tied for fourth best in Division I baseball. Johnson limited any remaining thoughts of cutting into the Irish lead with a strikeout of Benedetti.
With one out in the top of the fifth, Martin slammed his second homer of the season to put the Irish up, 6-1. The solo shot, which also accounted for his 12th RBI of the year, soared out to left. McConnell then singled up the middle and stole second, advancing to third with an error on the throw. It was the first stolen base of McConnell’s career. Greg Sherry (Mendham, N.J.) blooped a base knock to shallow right to drive in McConnell and chase SJU starter Kirkpatrick from the game. It was Sherry’s 15th RBI of the season. Sherry advanced to second on a wild pitch from relief pitcher Steve Forster and Pollock walked to bring Tate to the plate as Notre Dame looked to put up another big inning. But Pollock was picked off by a snap throw to first from SJU catcher Benedetti to end the threat.
With two outs in the top of the sixth, Conolloy jacked another homer to left to put the Irish up 8-1. The senior became the first Notre Dame player to have a two home run game since teammate Evan Sharpley (Marshall, Mich.) did so at Georgetown on March 22, 2008. With five RBI, he also set a career high mark in that offensive category, with his previous single game high being two RBI (four times).
In the bottom of the seventh, Johnson retired the side in order, including strikeouts of Matias and Kemp. With seven strikeouts in the game, Johnson tied his season high, first done against Oral Roberts on March 6. He only allowed two hits in his seven innings of work, the lowest hit total since allowing two hits in six innings of work in that same win over Oral Roberts.
In the top of the eighth, Barnes closed out the scoring with a solo shot to left centerfield for his 11th round-tripper of the year and his team-leading 60th RBI. It marked Notre Dame’s second four home game of the year, having already achieved that feat versus Pittsburgh on March 29, 2009.
The Irish resume their three-game series with St. John’s tomorrow, May 15 with another 6:00 p.m. start at Jack Kaiser Stadium. Sophomore right-hander Brian Dupra (Rochester, N.Y.) is slated to make the start for Notre Dame, while Bruce Kem, also a righty, will take the bump for the Red Storm.