May 29, 2006

The NCAA on Sunday afternoon (May 28) announced the 16 host sites for the 2006 NCAA baseball regionals and Notre Dame’s Eck Stadium was not included among the host sites. The 64-team NCAA field, regional pairings and national seeds will be announced Monday, May 29, at 12:30 p.m. EDT, live on ESPN. Notre Dame will be one of the featured teams during the ESPN telecast, with head coach Paul Mainieri and pitcher Jeff Samardzija to be interviewed during the selection show.

The Irish just returned from a 12-day roadtrip and already have traversed nearly 17,400 travel miles while playing 36 games away from home. Notre Dame was away from home for 16 of 17 days before settling into things back on campus now for two days (and then departing on the road again for the NCAAs). The Irish also played the first 15 games of the 2006 season on the road and have been travelling for a total of 46 days this season – all while maintaining the university’s policy in which each player can miss only three Mon.-Wed.-Fri. and three Tues.-Thur. classes.

The Notre Dame players emerged from the grueling past few months with a 3.28 team GPA for the 2006 spring semester. The team’s 32 players included 25 with a semester GPA of 3.0 or higher, led by 16 at 3.4-plus and six with GPAs of 3.6 or higher (sophomore 3B Brett Lilley posted a perfect 4.0 semester GPA). Every member of the eight-player senior class closed with a semester GPA of 3.0 or higher, combining for a 3.48 semester GPA and a 3.22 combined cumulative GPA. Three seniors – LHP Tom Thornton (3.87 semester GPA/3.58 overall; double major in anthropology and film-television-and-theater), SS Greg Lopez (3.58 semester/3.40 overall; double major in pre-professional studies and anthropology) and LF Matt Bransfield (3.78 semester/3.40 overall; sociology major) – recently were named to the Academic All-District V team and have advanced to the final Academic All-America ballot (as selected by the College Sports Information Directors of America).

The 16 host sites include five teams from the Southeastern Conference – Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky and Mississippi – plus four Atlantic Coast Conference teams (Clemson, Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Virginia) and Big-12 Conference teams Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas. The remaining four host teams include Cal State Fullerton (Big West Conference), Oregon State (Pacific-10 Conference), Pepperdine (West Coast Conference) and Rice (Conference USA). Kentucky and Pepperdine will be hosting NCAA regional action for the first time in their program’s history.

Notre Dame had been one of 12 teams to qualify for the NCAAs every season from 1999-2005 and now remains on that elite list through 2006, with the Irish set to make the program’s eighth straight NCAA appearance. Among the 11 others that played in the ’99-’05 NCAAs, five have earned their conference’s automatic NCAA bid and/or are among the 16 host teams: Texas, Rice, Fullerton, Clemson and Oral Roberts. Threee others – Miami, Florida State and Tulane – are strong candidates for at-large spots while LSU, Stanford and East Carolina also will be hoping to extend their NCAA streaks by receiving at-large bids.

Notre Dame has a tradition of upsetting high-ranked host teams during NCAA play, previously winning at Minnesota in 1956 (4-3), at Miami in 1992 (6-3), at Florida State in 1993 (4-3), at Clemson in 1994 (8-1), at Mississippi State in 2000 (7-0) and at Florida State again in the 2002 super regional (10-4 and 3-1).

Here’s a quick look at Notre Dame’s series history and noteworthy connections to the 16 host sites:

* Alabama – ND leads the series 4-3 (1-1 in the Mainieri era/since ’95) … the Irish split with the Crimson Tide in the first season under Mainieri (5-3, 1-9; at Eck Stadium) … Notre Dame was part of the six-team NCAA South I Regional held at Alabama in 1996 (the Irish split two games with Virginia, see below, and also dropped a 7-6 game to Stetson) … ND’s 800-plus all-time baseball monogram winners include two Alabama natives … current ND first-year assistant coach Cliff Godwin was on an SEC coaching staff last season (at Vanderbilt).

* Arkansas – The teams have split 12 previous meetings, including an 8-5 ND win at the 1997 Service Academies Classic in Millington, Tenn. (the only game of the series in the Mainieri era) … ND’s all-time baseball monogram winners include one Arkansas native.

* Cal State Fullerton – The Titans have won all four previous meetings, including the second game of the Mainieri era (20-3, at the 1995 Anaheim Classic), a 6-3 game at the 1999 South Bend Regional and two games at the 2003 Fullerton Regional (4-3, 8-1) … ND’s all-time baseball monogram winners include 32 from California (six in the Mainieri era), among them senior RF/C and southerm California native Cody Rizzo (Temecula) plus two current players from the north end of the state: senior LF/DH Steve Andres (Napa) and junior OF Danny Dressman (San Jose).

* Clemson – Notre Dame won the first (and, so far, the only) game versus Clemson, knocking off the host team in th 1994 NCAA East Regional (8-1) … South Carolina is one of just six states that has yet to produce an ND baseball monogram winner (the others are Alaska, Idaho, Nevada, New Hampshire and Vermont).

* Georgia – The Irish own a 7-5 series lead, including one game in the Mainieri era (6-4 at the 2000 Metrodome Classic) … ND’s two all-time monogram winners from Georgia include recent standout pitcher Alex Shilliday (Dunwoody).

* Georgia Tech – The Yellow Jackets hold the narrow series lead (6-4), including a pair of wins to open the 1996 season (12-4, 9-4; only meetings in Mainieri era).

* Kentucky – The Irish and Wildcats have split 10 previous games but have not met in the Mainieri era … ND’s all-time baseball monogram winners include 18 Kentucky natives, among them three from the Mainieri era: 1B Craig DeSensi (Louisville), RHP Craig Allen (Franklin) and the program’s career home run leader Jeff Wagner (Louisville).

* Mississippi – The Rebels own a 4-1 series edge, including a Mainieri-era game at the 1997 USC Classic (11-5) … ND’s all-time baseball monogram winners include one Mississippi native.

* Nebraska – These teams have played several recent games, with ND holding the 10-3 series edge (1-2 in the Mainieri era) … ND beat Nebraska at the 1995 Irish Baseball Classic in San Antonio (5-3) but the Cornhuskers have defeated ND the past two times (7-1 in 2003 and 11-1 earlier this season, both at Metrodome tournaments) … ND’s all-time baseball monogram winners include six Nebraska natives, among them recent RHP Scott Cavey (Omaha) … ND and Nebraska were two of the most popular teams at the 2002 College World Series.

* North Carolina – ND and UNC had met just once before splitting a pair of games last season at the Gainesville Regional (5-1 UNC win in opener, 3-0 ND win in elimination game) … recent LHP Cody Wilkins (Hudson) became the ND program’s first monogram winner from North Carolina … ND assistant coach Cliff Godwin is a native of Snow Hill, N.C., and was a standout catcher and hitter at East Carolina (he also coached at UNC-WIlimgton)… ND (Jeff Manship, Jeff Samardzija) and UNC (Andrew Miller, Daniel Bard) have two of the top-rated pitching combinations for the upcoming MLB draft.

* Oklahoma – A costly error late in the game helped Oklahoma come back to beat the Irish earlier this season (5-4, in Millington, Tenn.) … OU won the only other game in the series … ND’s all-time baseball monogram winners includes four Oklahoma natives.

* Oregon State – The Beavers have won the only game ever played vs. ND (pre-Mainieri era) … ND’s all-time baseball monogram winners include eight Oregon natives.

* Pepperdine – The only game between the Irish and the Waves was the first win of the Mainieri era, 14-5 at the 1995 Anaheim Classic.

* Rice – The only game in this series was a College World Series classic, as Notre Dame rallied in the 9th to win that elimination game (a triple by Steve Stanley and Steve Sollman’s single tied the game before Brian Stavisky’s home run produced the 5-3 win) … the teams were rained out mid-game at the 2005 Round Rock (Texas) Classic … ND’s all-time baseball monogram winners include 14 Texas natives (seven in the Mainieri era), among them four current players: junior RHP Jeff Manship (San Antonio), sophomore RHP/OF Tony Langford (Fort Worth), freshman IF/RHP Jeremy Barnes (Garland) and freshman LHP Sam Elam (Mesquite).

* Texas – The teams have split six previous meetings, with the most recent ND-UT matchup coming in the first game of the Mainieri era (a 10-6 win for the Longhorns, at the 1995 Anaheim Classic).

* Virginia – The Cavaliers own the narrow 3-2 series lead (1-1 in the Mainieri era) … the teams split a pair of games at Alabama in the 1996 NCAA South I Regional (12-1 ND win, 7-1 UVa win) … ND’s all-time baseball monogram winners include eight Virginia natives, among them current junior RHP Jess Stewart (Manassas) and recent standout 1B Matt Edwards (Mechanicsville) … former ND associate coach Brian O’Connor is in his third season as head coach of the Cavaliers … current ND pitching coach Terry Rooney is a native of Fairfax County, Va., played at Radford and has coached in the state of Virginia at James Madison and Old Dominion (also at nearby George Washington).