March 4, 2007
DELAND, Fla. – Brett Lilley’s 4-for-5 day from the leadoff spot headlined a strong effort from the entire Notre Dame lineup – including 11 of the team’s 15 hits coming on two-strike counts – as the Irish scored five times in the first inning and seven in the sixth en route to a 16-6 victory over 7th-ranked Nebraska. It matches the highest-ranked opponent defeated by a Notre Dame opponent since the program’s 2002 College World Series team won twice at top-ranked Florida State (in the NCAA Super Regionals) and then beat the new No. 1, Rice, at the CWS. Sunday’s game at the Stetson Invitational was being played under the 10-run-rule, giving the Irish the win after seven innings had been completed. Sophomore righthander David Phelps (2-0) beat one of the nation’s top-ranked teams for the second straight week, allowing just one earned run in five-plus innings.
(Note: the release now includes full recap details; look for a photo gallery and a Q&A visit with head coach Dave Schrage later in the week.)
Eight of the nine starters contributed to Notre Dame’s 15-hit attack, with the efficient Irish offense bringing home the 16 runs while stranding just five runners on base. Despite being just seven innings, the game produced a rarity as nine different Irish players – eight starters and pinch-hitter Mike Dury – registered RBI in the win. The big hits included a two-run single by Ryan Connolly and Tony Langford’s two-run single minutes later. In addition to the two big-scoring innings, the Irish scored three times in the seventh to help bring the 10-run-rule into effect.
Producing two “big innings” (5-plus runs) in the same game also ranks as an offensive rarity for most teams. Notre Dame’s 2006 squad had plenty of innings with five-plus runs (15, including seven of 7-plus) but that team never posted two big innings during the same game (additional research about the rarity of the feat will be forthcoming in later ND baseball notes).
The 16 runs and 10-run margin also certainly rank among the most dominating performances versus a top-10 opponent in the histoy of the Notre Dame baseball program (pending further research).
Nebraska (5-4) was the first opponent for Notre Dame (3-6) this season to start a lefthander on the mound – and head coach Dave Schrage responded by placing more righthanded hitters into his lineup. The resulting alignment gabe the Irish their fourth different starter at first base, with freshman A.J. Pollock making his first start at the position. A prep shortstop who started the first four games of the 2007 season at third base, Pollock had trouble controlling two bounced throws that helped Nebraska fashion its game-tying rally in the top of the third, but he came through at the plate to snap out of a slump that dated back to the second game of the season.
Notre Dame’s offensive output included three extra-base hits, three sacrifice bunts and three sacrifice flies, plus five walks and another batter who reached when hit-by-pitch (with those free passes negating six strikeouts). The 1-2-3 batters combined to go 9-for-12 with three RBI, six runs scored, a pair of walks and a sacrifice bunt. Lilley opened the game with his first career triple, later adding three singles while scoring twice and driving in a run. Pollock was inserted into the #2 spot, where he hit 3-for-4 with a walk, sacrifice bunt and three runs scored (plus an RBI). Sophomore Jeremy Barnes added a 2-for-3 day from his usual spot in the 3-hole (RBI, R, BB).
On a day filled with impressive offensive numbers, possibly the most impressive was the fact that 11 of Notre Dame’s 15 hits – plus three walks and the hit batter – all came with two strikes on the board. Lilley had three different two-strike hits while Pollock reached three times on two-strike counts (two hits and a walk) and Barnes added his own pair of two-strike hits. Seven different Irish players reached base at lease once while facing two strikes, including twice by both Weglarz (hit and HBP) and Langford (walk and hit). All four hits in the first-inning flurry – and two of the three hits in the seven-run sixth – came with two strikes.
Phelps – who helped knock off 12th-ranked TCU last week in Myrtle Beach – was charged with five runs, but four of them came unearned after an early error in the bottom of the third. Jake Opitz had the big hit, sending a three-run blast over the rightfield fence. Phelps scattered six hits and four walks over his five-plus innings, with three strikeouts in the 108-pitch outing. He now owns a 1.12 season ERA, with 15 strikeouts in 16 innings pitched.
It had been four years nearly to the day since a Notre Dame team had knocked off an opponent ranked as high as Nebraska (#7), stretching back to the 2-1, 13-inning win over #7 Wake Forest on March 2, 2003 (at the Metrodome). Sunday’s win completed an eight-day stretch in which the Irish knocked off two highly-ranked opponents (#12 TCU and #7 Nebraska), yielding one of the program’s most noteworthy pair of regular-season wins in recent memory.
Since the three postseason wins over #1-ranked teams in the 2002 postseason (10-4 and 3-1 at FSU; 5-3 vs. Rice) and the 2003 win over #7 Wake Forest, the Notre Dame baseball program had posted nine wins over top-25 opponents (prior to the TCU game) – but none were ranked higher than 12th. The potent 2004 team rattled off seven wins over top-25 teams en route to setting the school record for wins in a season (51-12). Those noteworthy 2004 games included wins over #20 USC (3-1), #25 Winthrop (19-6), #12 Florida Atlantic (3-2), #25 Minnesota (19-7), #19 Arizona (4-2) and #20 Central Florida (4-0, 3-2).
More recently, the 2005 team won an early game at #17 USC (3-1) and then edged a North Carolina team that was ranked as high as 17th, in the NCAA regionals (3-1). The 2006 Irish squad added a 5-4 win over Texas A&M, when the Aggies were ranked as high as 15th in the national polls
Sophomore lefthander Drew Bowman was chased from Sunday’s game after managing to retire just one of the six Notre Dame batters he faced. Bowman ultimately was charged with five runs (four earned), after allowing four hits (including a double and triple), a walk and a sacrifice bunt.
Bowman jumped ahead of the first batter he faced but Lilley then jumped on the 2-2 offering, driving the right-center gap for what appeared to be a certain hit. Centerfielder Bryce Nimmo and rightfelder D.J. Belfonte collided as they tracked the ball, helping Lilley earn his first triple. The game then was delayed for several minutes while Nimmo was removed from the field by ambulance, as a precautionary measure (he was able to return to the dugout later in the game).
Pollock was ready for his at-bat when play resumed, pulling a 1-2 pitch through the left side of the infield for his first hit since the opener. A bunt from Barnes advanced the runner and the junior DH Langford coaxed a full-count walk before junior second baseman Ross Brezovsky continued hi hot-hitting by sending a 1-2 pitch into left field for an RBI single. Bowman again worked ahead in the count but the Irish produced their fourth two-strike hit of the inning, as the fifth-year catcher Weglarz ripped his two-run double down the leftfield line (on a 2-2 pitch). A passed ball brought home Brezovsky for the 4-0 lead, with righthander Charlie Shirek then taking the mound to serve up Danny Dressman’s sacrifice fly.
The Irish now are batting .324 in the first inning this season and own a commanding 12-3 scoring edge in the first inning of 2007 games. The Huskers were able to push across a first-inning run – after a pair of walks, a sac. bunt and an RBI groundout – before tying the game with the four unearned runs in the third. Notre Dame made three costly errors in the inning, with the big hit coming when Opitz sent a two-out, first-pitch home run over the rightfield fence. The tying run then scored on the inning’s third infield throwing error, with the runner advancing all the way from second.
Phelps and his Notre Dame teammates then proceeded to dominate the rest of the game, scoring 11 straight runs to ultimately bring out the 10-run rule (which is used in games involving Notre Dame only during some regular-season tournaments). The Irish quickly retook the lead in the top of the fourth, sparked by the senior centerfielder Dressman’s first-pitch single up the middle. Freshman rightfielder Brayden Ashdown followed with the sac. bunt and Lilley delivered two batters later, sending a one-out single back up the middle for the 6-5 lead (and one of the many two-strike hits).
The seven runs in the top of the sixth marked Notre Dame’s highet-scoring inning in the past 33 games, dating back to the 15-3 win over Rutgers on April 22, 2006 (ND scored nine times in the sixth inning of that game, at Eck Stadium). The trend of productive two-strike plate appearances continued when Shirek hit the leadoff batter Weglarz with a 1-2 pitch. Dressman then dropped the next pitch into center field and Ashdown reached when Shirek misplayed his sac.-bunt attempt, loading the bases.
Connolly then fell into an 0-2 hole but the sophomore leftfielder provided one of the day’s biggest hits, smacking his two-run double into the leftfield corner for the 8-5 lead. Lefthander Zach Herr then was called into the game and induced a groundout from Lilley before uncorking a wild pitch that allowed Ashdown to score. Pollock (with two strikes) and Barnes (four pitches) then walked before Langford sent a 2-2 pitch up the middle, scoring both runners for an 11-5 cushion.
A passed ball put two runners in scoring position and Wertz struck out Brezovsky before opting to walk Weglarz intentionally. But with his team already trailing by six runs, with two outs on the board and a lefty-lefty matchup at the plate, Herr inexplicably tried to pick off Weglarz and the throw carried down the rightfield line – with two more runs scoring on the error.
The Irish added three runs in the seventh, versus righthander Luke Wertz. The sequence included another error on the pitcher, an opposite-field single by Lilley (to left-center, on a 2-2 count), Pollock’s bunt single, an infield single from Barnes (RBI; 3-2 count) and sacrifice flies off the bats of Dury and Brezovsky.
Senior righthander Jess Stewart closed out the final six outs for the Irish, allowing one run on two hits and a walk.
Notre Dame (3-6) 5-0-0 1-0-7 3 – 16 15 3
#7 Nebraska (5-4) 1-0-4 0-0-0 1 – 6 8 4
Drew Bowman (L, 1-1), Charlie Shirek (1), Zach Herr (6), Luke Wertz (6) and Mitch Abieta, Jeff Lanning (7).