April 20, 2007
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – David Phelps bounced back from West Virginia’s early 2-out rally to log his third complete game of the season while co-captains Danny Dressman and Mike Dury hit back-to-back doubles to produce the eventual gamewinning run, as the Notre Dame baseball team continued its winning ways with Friday night’s 5-2 series opener versus West Virginia. The Irish now have won four straight and seven of eight, after limiting one of the nation’s top offensive teams to just a pair of runs and seven total hits (only one of them for extra bases).
Notre Dame (20-17, 5-7 BIG EAST) – which now has beaten West Virginia nine straight times (dating back to 2003) – jumped four spots in the league standings and currently owns a share of 6th-place, alongside West Virginia (22-12, 5-7) and Cincinnati (19-17, 5-7). The Irish could clinch a potential tiebreaker with WVU by winning at least one of the two remaining games in the series, to be played Saturday (3:05) and Sunday (1:05) at Eck Stadium.
Phelps (6-3) remained entrenched on the short list for BIG EAST pitcher of the year, after putting eight zeroes on the board and holding back the potent Mountaineers offense. West Virginia entered the game ranked 6th nationally in team batting average (.336) and 14th in scoring (8.9 runs per 9.0 innings). WVU also headed into the series with the nation’s 12th-best team slugging percentage (.503), with an average of 17 total bases per game – but Phelps limited the visitors to six singles and a triple (9 total bases), plus only three walks and no hit batters. He struck out six of his 36 batters faced and threw upwards of 100 strikes in the full nine innings, accounting for two-thirds of his total pitches (93 of 144).
WVU senior leftfielder Justin Jenkins holds his own lofty status as the BIG EAST’s leading hitter, entering the night with a .429 batting average that is good for 15th-best in all of Division I baseball. Phelps limited Jenkins to a 1-for-4 night while also retiring speedy leadoff man Adam White in two of his four plate appearances (1-for-3, BB). Jenkins did have an RBI single in the 3rd but also grounded into an out with White aboard in the 1st, flew out with another runner on in the 5th and ended the top of the 7th by looking at strike three (with White again on base).
It’s been 17 years since a Notre Dame pitcher posted a season ERA below 1.60, but Phelps has kept on pace for one of the top seasons in the program’s history. Phelps entered the week with the nation’s 6th-best ERA (1.34) among pitchers with 40-plus innings, with that number climbing slightly to 1.42 (which still would 6th in the ND record book and 2nd-best since the early 1960s). David Sinnes posted a 1.05 ERA for Notre Dame in 1990, finishing just one spot out of the national ERA lead that season.
Phelps also currently owns a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3:1 (60/20), has 11 more innings pitched (69.2) than hits allowed (59) and is limiting the opponents to a .230 combined batting average. He has hit six batters while uncorking only two wild pitches all season. He is averaging 7.0 innings through 10 starts this season, with his 9-inning averages including 6.0 strikeouts, 5.9 hits and 2.0 walks.
WVU junior RHP Levi Maxwell (5-2) joined Phelps in allowing only two leadoff batters all night. Maxwell was touched for the five runs (four earned) on seven hits and two walks, with a pair of Ks in his 114-pitch outing.
Seven different Irish players combined on the team’s seven hits, with seven also collecting either an RBI or run scored. Notre Dame quickly answered WVU’s 2-out rally in the top of the 3rd by tying the game in the bottom of the inning, with the game’s other runs then coming three innings later.
Jason Pape’s one-out single through the left side started WVU’s scoring sequence, followed by 2-hole hitter Tyler Kuehn’s 2-out triple into the right-center gap. Jenkins then dinked a single into center field for the 2-0 cushion and the visitors were looking for more after cleanup batter Austin Marjel placed a single through the right side. But Phelps caught Jordan Yost looking at a 1-2 pitch, minimizing the damage.
The Irish responded with their own 2-out hits, the first coming when junior shortstop Brett Lilley pulled a first-pitch single through the right side. Freshman third baseman A.J. Pollock then jumped all over an 0-1 pitch, driving it into the left-center gap, as Lilley motored into third base for runners at the corners. Junior leftfielder Ross Brezovsky kept things going by returning a 2-2 pitch over Maxwell’s left shoulder and into shallow center field for an RBI single. Pollock – who had hustled on to third base – then scored an unearned run, when the second baseman Jason Pape misplayed a sharp grounder off the bat of Matt Weglarz.
The pivotal bottom of the 6th saw the switch-hitting Dury rip into the first pitch from Maxwell, with the ball dropping behind the retreating centerfielder White for Dury’s team-leading 11th double of the season. Dressman then stepped in from the left side and likewise attacked the first pitch – producing a rare result on a double down the rightfield line. The senior centerfielder has become the master of providing the opposite-field hit during his career, as witnessed just two night’s ago when his 10th-inning single to left field ended the epic 1-0 pitchers duel with Purdue.
Dury’s run pushed the Irish into the lead (3-2) but more 2-out hits were to come, as sophomore second baseman Jeremy Barnes went the other way on a 2-2 pitch and placed an RBI single through the right side. Barnes then swiped second and scooted to third on the catcher’s wayward throw before scoring on Ryan Smith’s groundout to the right side.
Phelps retired the final eight batters he faced and ultimately limited WVU’s righthanded hitters to a 2-for-14 night. Three of his Ks came on called third strikes, pushing his season KL total to 29, trailing only USF’s Danny Otero (31) among BIG EAST pitchers.
Friday’s game marked the third time this week that the Irish have received a key double to spark their winning rally. The first midweek game (April 17) saw Barnes lead off the 9th with a double and come around to score, completing the 8-7 comeback win over Toledo as the Irish erased an early 5-0 deficit. One night later, Weglarz pulled a 2-out double down the line and scored on Dressman’s single to edge Purdue in the 10th (1-0). Dressman again followed a teammate’s double with a clutch RBI hit in tonight’s game, bringing home Dury for the 3-2 lead.
Notre Dame entered the night with the nation’s 13th-best team ERA (3.25) and knocked four points off that number, for a 3.21 ERA that would rank as the best by any Irish staff since 1992. In the previous 31 seasons, only two ND pitching staffs – the 1990 (3.00) and ’92 (3.06) units – have finished with ERA lower than the current team’s mark.
The Irish are slated to send sophomore righthander Kyle Weiland to the mound on Saturday while WVU likely will start a lefthander, either junior Matt Yurish or his classmate Kenny Durst (note that WVU’s confirmed rotation information has not been readily available for advanced release). Notre Dame senior righthander Dan Kapala – who missed his start last week due to tendonitis – could return to action this weekend, in a relief role.
West Virginia (22-12, 5-7 BIG EAST) 0-0-2 0-0-0 0-0-0 – 2 7 3
Notre Dame (20-17, 5-7 BIG EAST) 0-0-2 0-0-3 0-0-X – 5 7 1