May 30, 2005
The Notre Dame baseball team will be looking to continue its recent success in the state of Florida when the Irish head to Gainesville this week to compete in the four-team NCAA Regional being held at the University of Florida’s McKethan Stadium. Notre Dame is the No. 3 seed in the Regional and will face 2nd-seeded North Carolina in the first game on Friday, June 3 (4:00 EDT/3:00 in South Bend), followed by top-seeded Florida vs. No. 4 seed Stetson in the 8:00 game. Every game of the double-elimination Gainesville Regional will be telecast live by College Sports Television.
The NCAA Regionals will feature a slight tweak in the schedule, whereby only two games are scheduled per day (thus meaning that the 6/7-game format could stretch to a fourth day). The losers of Friday’s games will play an elimination game on Saturday at 3:30 EDT, followed by the winners-bracket game at 7:00. The second elimination game (between the winner of Saturday’s early game and the loser of the late game) then will shift to Sunday at 2:00 while the first championship game will follow at 6:00. If a second championship game is needed, it will be played on Monday at 7:00 p.m. In past years of the four-team regional format (which dates back to 1999), three games were played on the second day and both championship games were contested on the third day (this is the format still used by the BIG EAST and in other similar conference tournaments).
Notre Dame (36-22-1) enters the NCAAs with wins in eight of its previous nine games, including a split with then-#17 USC and an undefeated run (3-0) to its unprecedented fourth straight BIG EAST Tournament title. Oral Roberts (8) is the only team in the nation with a longer active streak of conference tournament titles while Rice has claimed nine straight Western Athletic Conference automatic bids (the WAC does not sponsor a tournament and awards its bid to the regular-season champ). ORU and Rice are the only teams – among 30 other Division I conferences – that are riding a streak of more than four consecutive conference automatic bids.
Notre Dame – which bounced back from a 14-14 start to the ’05 season by going 22-8-1 in the second half – will be making its seventh straight appearance in the NCAAs and eighth of the 11-year Paul Mainieri era. The Irish are part of an elite group of 12 teams that have appeared in the NCAAs every year since 1999, with the others including: recent NCAA champions Miami, LSU, Texas, Rice and Cal State Fullerton, plus Florida State, Stanford, Clemson, Tulane, East Carolina and Oral Roberts.
The Irish baseball team owns a 48-41-1 all-time record in the state of Florida but has found the Sunshine State to be an especially welcome home-away-from-home during the past six seasons, racking up a 26-6 record in Florida during that 2000-05 span (including a win at Central Florida on the first weekend of the ’05 season).
North Carolina (40-17) finished 5th in the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season standings (23-5) before going 0-2 at the ACC Tournament, with a pair of one-run losses to Miami (2-1) and Florida State (3-2). Florida (40-20) is the No. 7 national seed after winning its Southeastern Conference divisional title (20-10) and finishing 3rd in the SEC Tournament (9-8 win over Arkansas, 10-7 win and then 14-1 and 4-2 losses to Mississippi). Stetson (35-26) played its way into the NCAAs by winning the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament as the #4 seed (15-12 record), with an 8-5 win over Central Florida, a 3-0 loss to Florida Atlantic, a 6-5 win over Gardner Webb and two wins over FAU, 7-3 and 8-0).
The winner of the Gainesville Regional will advance to the Super- Regional round versus the winner of the regional being played in Tallahassee, Fla., and hosted by Florida State (other teams in that regional include Auburn, South Alabama and Army). The Super Regional features a best-of-3 series, June 10-13. The eight Super-Regional winners then advance to the College World Series, set for May 17-27 at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Neb.
Notre Dame will be making its 20th all-time appearances in the NCAAs, with a 40-39 record in previous NCAA Tournaments including trips to the College World Series in 1957 and 2002. The Irish own an 18-15 record in the NCAAs during the Mainieri era (since 1995) and have gone 9-9 away from home in Mainieri-era NCAA games, including a win over homestanding Mississippi State in 2000 (plus two wins over Tulane at that ’00 Regional), the Super-Regional victories at Florida State in 2002 and the ’02 CWS win over Rice.
Notre Dame has a limited series history vs. North Carolina (0-1), Florida (1-3) and Stetson (1-2), having not played UNC in nearly 50 years and not faced the Gators in the past 25 years while playng the Hatters just once in that 25-year span.
A look at the Notre Dame all-time series records at first indicated that ND and UNC had not played previously – but, in fact, the Tar Heels beat the Irish in a 1956 game played in Tallahasse at Florida A&M (14-4). The correction was noted by longtime South Bend Tribune writer Forrest “Woody” Miller, who has been on the Notre Dame baseball beat for nearly 50 years (including coverage at the 1957 and ’02 College World Series).
Florida swept a pair of games from Notre Dame early in the 1979 season (6-1, 12-0), with those games representing the only ones in the ND-UF series in the previous 74 seasons (dating back to a pair of games at UF in 1930, with ND winning 5-4 and then losing 1-0).
Notre Dame and Stetson first met at the 1978 Rollins Collins Invitational in Orlando (Stetson won, 8-2) and the Irish evened the series the following season with a 19-11 win at Stetson. The only other meeting in the series came 17 years later, when Mainieri’s second Notre Dame team lost to Stetson at the NCAA South Regional (7-6, held at the University of Alabama).
In addition to the aforementioned NCAA competition at Alabama, Mississippi State, Florida State and Omaha, the Irish also have reecently played in the 2003 NCAA Regional held at Cal State Fullerton. Previous Notre Dame teams have played NCAA Tournament games at Minnesota, Western Michigan, Illinois, Ohio State, Fresno State, Miami and Clemson.
Notre Dame’s tradition of upsetting home teams in NCAA Tournament play includes wins at Minnesota (’56), Western Michigan (’57), Miami (’92), Florida State (’93 Regional; twice in ’02 Super Regional), Clemson (’94) and Mississippi State (’00).
There are several connections between the Notre Dame baseball program and the other three teams in the Gainesville Regional. Second-year Irish pitching coach Terry Rooney spent the previous two seasons on the staff at Stetson while Florida coach Pat McMahon was the skipper at Mississippi State when Notre Dame staged its historic battle at the 2000 Starkville Regional (McMahon invited Mainieri and the Irish back to open their ’01 season and ND swept both games from the Bulldogs). North Carolina assistant athletic director Larry Gallo was the Notre Dame baseball coach from 1981-87 while many of the current Irish players (namely Florida natives Ross Brezovsky, Wade Korpi and Joey Williamson) are former teammates of players from the Regional’s other three teams. Check back to und.com later in the week for a complete listing of the Regional connections, included with the pre-tournament notes.
GAINESVILLE REGIONAL (all times are EDT)
Friday, June 3
Game 1 – 4:00 p.m. – Notre Dame (36-22-1) vs. North Carolina (40-17)
Game 2 – 8:00 p.m. – Stetson (35-26) vs. Florida (40-20)
Saturday, June 4
Game 3 – 3:30 p.m. – Loser of game one versus loser of game two
Game 4 – 7:00 p.m. – Winner of game one versus winner of game two
Sunday, June 5
Game 5 – 2:00 p.m. – Winner of game three versus loser of game four
Game 6 – 6:00 p.m. – Winner of game four versus winner of game five
Monday, June 6
Game 7 – 7:00 p.m. – if necessary