March 24, 2007
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The Notre Dame baseball team used a high-scoring early inning to claim a 5-2 lead but visiting South Florida ended up posting the decisive big back-to-back innings, as the Bulls quickly scored 11 runs in the middle of the game and went on to the 13-10 win. The teams are set to return to Eck Stadium on Sunday for the third and final game of their BIG EAST series, with the first pitch set for 1:05 p.m.
Notre Dame (11-10, 1-1 BIG EAST) was halfway home to registering its sixth straight win over South Florida (17-8, 3-2) but the Irish ultimately were undone by a frustrating trend, as a series of defensive miscues helped the visitor score three costly unearned runs. Half of Notre Dame’s losses this season (5) have seen unearned runs produce the margin of defeat, with each of those tough losses also seeing the Irish fail to close out middle-inning leads. The host team finished the day with three errors and four passed balls to go along with 10 free passes issued to USF, on eight walks and a pair of hit batters.
Junior lefthander Wade Korpi had no-decision after pitching into the 6th inning. Two of the four runs charged to Korpi were unearned, with his outing also including four hits, two walks and a hit batter, plus four strikeouts while locating 60 percent of his pitches for strikes (47 of 78). Four Irish relievers then struggled to keep more Bulls from crossing home plate, with 9-of-10 inherited baserunners scoring for USF in the pair of big innings.
Notre Dame’s offense again showed its big-inning ability by pushing across four runs in the bottom of the 2nd and four more in the 8th. The Irish – who now have scored four-plus runs in 13 different innings this season – outhit the Bulls by a 14-12 margin, losing for just the second time this season (10-2) when holding the edge in hits. It also marked the first time this season (9-1) that Notre Dame has scored five-plus run and failed to win the game.
Both teams put four leadoff batters on base (three score for each squad) but USF proved to be the better team with runners in scoring position by batting 8-for-17 (.471) on those prime RBI chances, compared to just 5-for-19 by the Irish (.263). Six of the eight walks allowed by Notre Dame came at key junctures, including two with the bases loaded and three others that came in USF’s pair of big innings (Korpi also walked the first batter of the game, leading to the game’s opening run).
USF junior righthander Daniel Thomas was a late scratch, with midweek starter Matt Quevedo instead taking the mound for the Bulls. The freshman righthander found early trouble and was unable to pitch out of the 2nd inning, but senior righthander Yuri Higgins (3-1) then entered the game and struck out 10 Irish batters over the next 5.2 innings to pick up the win (3 R, 7 H, BB). Freshman righthander Shawn Sanford worked into and out of a 9th-inning jam to register his fifth save of the season.
The game saw each team bat around twice, with the Irish sending 10 batters to the plate in the 2nd and nine in the 7th while USF had 20 total batters spending the 5th (9) and 6th (11) innings. Notre Dame had allowed five-plus runs in an inning just once prior to Saturday’s game, only to see the Bulls collect a pair of back-to-back big innings.
Notre Dame scored in the opening inning for the ninth time this season, answering a USF run to produce a 19-9 margin in the 1st inning for the season. Junior shortstop ripped the first pitch from Quevedo into the rightfield corner for his third triple of the season (after totaling none previously in his career). The Irish then scored four times in the next frame, with the sequence including Ryan Smith’s leadoff single, Ross Brezovsky’s sacrifice bunt (he reached on the pitcher’s fielding error), an RBI single from Jeremy Barnes, Brayden Ashdown’s sac. bunt, a double steal, Ryne Intlekofer’s opposite-field RBI single, Lilley’s walk, another double steal, a passed ball on a strikeout (allowing A.J. Pollock to reach) and a dropped fly ball on Danny Dressman’s sac. fly.
The Irish later battled back to score four times in the 8th, sparked by pinch-hit singles from Michael Wright and Eddy Mendiola. Junior lefthander Davis Bilardello then came out of the bullpen but he lost Lilley on a full-count walk before serving up RBI singles from Pollock and Mike Dury (plus a run-scoring groundout off the bat of Danny Dressman). Sanford followed as the third USF pitcher of the inning, with an error allowing another to run to score before the rally ended with the deficit cut to 13-10.
Nine Irish players combined on the 14 hits (five had two-hit games) and nine also scored runs. Lilley (2-for-4) raised his season batting average to .383 and score twice more, giving the leadoff batter 25 runs in 21 games played this season. Pollock (2-for-5, 2 RBI) also boosted his season average (.373) while Dury’s 2-for-5 game moved his season mark to .333. The switch-hitting senior first baseman doubled in the game to give him 12 extra-base hits this season (5 HR, 3B, 6 2B), along with 12 singles. Dury’s season slugging pct. (.682) is well above his career slugging mark (.412) prior to the 2007 season, as is his current .444 on-base pct. that includes 8 walks and 6 HBPs (he totaled a .320 OB pct. from ’04-’06).
Those two numbers combine for Dury’s impressive 1.126 OPS this season (on-base plus slugging), for a huge boost from his .734 OPS spanning the ’04-’06 seasons. For comparison, All-America first baseman finished the 2006 season with a 1.176 OPS that represents one of the top all-around offensive seasons in ND baseball history.
Dressman saw the third-longest hitting streak of his career end at eight games (0-for-5), but the senior centerfielder still had a hand in three runs with a pair of RBI and a run scored.
Nearly half of the inherited baseunners (18 of 37) now have scored versus the Irish this season while nearly 50 percent of the opponent runs have been unearned in 2007 (34 of 70).
South Florida (17-8, 3-2 BIG EAST) 1-1-0 0-0-5 6-0-0 – 13 12 3
Notre Dame (11-10, 1-1 BIG EAST) 1-4-0 0-0-0 1-4-0 – 10 14 3
Matt Quevedo, Yuri Higgins (2; W, 3-1), Davis Bilardello (7), Shawn Sanford (8; SV, 5) and Brad Karns.
Wade Korpi, Joey Williamson (6), Jess Stewart (6), David Mills (7), Tony Langford (7), Mike Dury (9) and Ryan Smith, Matt Weglarz (8).