April 28, 2007
PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Brett Lilley and Ryan Connolly enjoyed highly productive days from opposite ends of the batting order while David Phelps kept cranking with another strong outing on the mound, as the Notre Dame baseball team won for the seventh time in its past eight games, 15-3 over Rutgers, in the first game of a Saturday doubleheader at Bainton Field. The 15 runs and 12-run margin match the highest totals for the Irish in the 38-game series, duplicating the score from game-2 of the 2006 series at Eck Stadium.
The win was the 499th career victory for Notre Dame first-year head coach Dave Schrage, spanning 20 seasons at Waldorf Junior College, Northern Iowa, Northern Illinois, Evansville and now Notre Dame.
Notre Dame (23-18, 7-8 BIG EAST) – which had seven hits and four walks when facing 2-strike counts – remained alone in 7th place of the BIG EAST standings while improving to 6-2 in its past eight league games. Rutgers (24-15, 12-4) dropped slightly behind St. John’s at the top of the conference, with SJU (13-4) posting a Friday-night win over WVU and adding another win over the Mountaineers in Saturday’s action.
Lilley entered the day as one of the nation’s leaders in on-base percentage and raised that lofty mark from .511 to .523, after reaching on all five of his plate appearances (2-for-2, 3 BB). The leadoff batter factored into nearly half of the Notre Dame runs (4 RBI, 3 R), with his run production in Saturday’s first game marking just the third time in his career that Lilley has totaled more than 2 RBI in a game.
Connolly provided a big lift from the 9-hole, matching Lilley with five times on base and a 2-for-2 day (plus a pair of walks and a catchers-interference play). The sophomore rightfielder either scored (4) or drove in (2) six of the Irish runs, with his big day including a triple and stolen base in the early innings. Connolly’s solid day ranks as possibly the best of the season from the 9-hole, a spot in the lineup that had seen the ND players combine to hit just .190 with only 9 runs scored in 40 previous games this season.
Phelps (7-3) – who entered the week ranked 6th in the nation with a 1.42 season ERA – saw that number rise slightly to 1.64, after allowing three runs on seven hits and no walks over 7.0 innings, with seven strikeouts. The sophomore righthander located nearly 70% of his pitches for strikes (79 of 114). All of the Rutgers runs came on home runs, as Phelps avoided any major trouble thanks to allowing no free passes. His current ERA (1.64) still would rank 3rd-best by an ND pitcher since the early 1980s, right behind Aaron Heilman’s freshman-year ERA (1.61, which led the nation in 1998). Former Irish pitcher David Sinnes finished 2nd among the nation’s 1990 ERA leaders, at 1.05. Phelps also now owns a 3.4 season K-to-walk ratio (67/20), has 11 more innings pitched (76.2) than hits allowed (66) and has a respectable 10.1 WHIP average (walks plus hits per 9.0 innings).
Two of Notre Dame’s most experienced veterans – fifth-year catcher Matt Weglarz (5 RBI, R, HR) and senior centerfielder Danny Dressman (2 R) – both went 2-for-5, as two of eight Irish starters that contributed to a 13-hit game. Another efficient game from the offense saw the Irish cash in those hits, seven walks and a pair of errors for the 15 runs – with just six runners stranded, plus two others erased on double plays.
The Irish posted double-digit runs versus Rutgers for the fifth straight game, outscoring the Scarlet Knights 65-34 in those five games. It was the 10th game in the history of the series decided by 8-plus runs, with the Irish now owning a 24-14 series edge (8-6 in games at RU).
Notre Dame opened the game with a run, sparked by Lilley’s full-count walk and A.J. Pollock’s ninth sacrifice bunt of the season. A wild pitch then moved Lilley to third and Ross Brezovsky drew his own full-count walk, followed by a stolen base and a run-scoring rightside groundout off the bat of Weglarz. The Irish now have totaled 35 runs in the 1st inning this season and are 11-7 when scoring in their first trip to the plate (also 19-5 when scoring the game’s first run).
Pollock owns a team-best .421 batting avg. in the 1st inning this season, in addition to 6 walks and 6 sac. bunts, while Lilley’s 1st-inning production now includes 12 hits, 3 walks, 6 HBPs and 15 runs scored.
The visitors added two more runs in the next inning, with Connolly’s triple providing the big hit. Freshman DH Ryan Smith reached with 1-out when he sent a 1-2 pitch through the left side of the infield. Connelly then drilled a 1-1 pitch deep into the left-center gap and motored all the way to third before scoring when the lefthanded-hitting Lilley smacked an 0-2 pitch over the third baseman’s head.
The Notre Dame offense has compensated for inconsistent run production this season by showing the ability to score in bunches and that proved to be the case in the 4th, as six more Irish runners crossed home plate. Dressman led off by smacking a single off the third baseman’s glove (2-2 pitch) and moved up on a pair of groundballs, the second of which saw Smith reach when the shortstop Todd Frazier bobbled the ball. Connolly then blooped a 1-1 pitch into center field for an RBI single and Lilley chased home two more runners when he pulled on 0-1 pitch down the rightfield line, with that double ending the day for sophomore RHP Matt Giannini (3.1 IP, 7 R/5 ER, 6 H, 2 BB, 2 Ks).
Rutgers opted to bring in lefthander Matt Paterson to face Pollock – who entered the day batting .500 for the season vs. LHPs (16-for-32) – and the freshman first baseman responded by raking a 2-2 pitch into left field, leaving runners on the corners. Brezovsky then walked on four pitches and Weglarz sent the next pitch through the left side for a two-run single and 8-0 lead.
Switch-hitting senior first baseman Mike Dury was ready to bat from the right side, but he stayed on the left as RHP Jason Downey entered the game. Dury jumped all over the first pitch from Downey, sending a single up the middle to cap the team’s 13th “big inning” (5-plus runs) of the season, including five in the past four games.
Rutgers dented the big deficit with Frank Meade’s solo shot in the 5th and a two-run blast by Frazier in the 7th. But the Irish left no doubt by scoring three times in both the 8th and the 9th. Veteran righthander OJ DeChristafano lost Connolly and Lilley on four-pitch walks to start the 8th, followed by a strikeout, flyout and wild pitch that allowed Connolly to score. Weglarz then worked ahead in the count (2-0) before clearing the leffield fence for his third home run of the season and 14th of his career.
The Irish now have homered in four straight games, after having no back-to-back games with HRs previously this season.
Lilley’s other two games in his career with more than 2 RBI include game-3 of the 2006 series at Seton Hall (6 RBI, with a pair of HRs) and three earlier that season in game-2 vs. St. John’s.
Notre Dame 1-2-0 6-0-0 0-3-3 – 15 13 1
Rutgers 0-0-0 0-1-0 2-0-0 – 3 9 1
Home Runs: Frank Meade, RU (solo in 5th; 4th of season); Todd Frazier, RU (1 on in 7th; 15th of season), Matt Weglarz, ND (1 on in 8th; 3rd of season/14th of career).
Triple: Ryan Connolly (ND).
Doubles: Brett Lilley (ND), Todd Frazier (RU), A.J. Pollock (RU).