March 30, 2007
PITTSBURGH – The Notre Dame baseball team traditionally has found wins hard to come by at the University of Pittsburgh’s Trees Field and that continued to be the case on Friday night, as the Irish suffered another frustrating road loss at the hands of the Panthers, 4-2, in the opener of a three-game BIG EAST series. Notre Dame still holds a decisive 26-9 overall lead in the series versus Pittsburgh, but the Irish now are just 6-6 at Trees Field (compared to 20-3 vs. Pitt at all other sites) and have lost five of the past six games played at the Panthers’ home facility.
Notre Dame (12-13; 1-3 BIG EAST) – which saw its six-game winning streak versus Pitt come to an end – was fresh off a seven-game homestand in which the Irish hit .364 as a team and averaged 13 hits per game, but Friday’s action produced just four hits for the visitors. Lefthander Rob Brant (2-3) picked up his second career win over the Irish, after allowing two runs on three hits and a pair of walks over 7.1 innings, with six strikeouts. Righthander Kyle Landis then came on for his first save of the season, retiring five of the six batters he faced (four by strikeout) to close out the close win.
All six of Notre Dame’s all-time losses at Trees Field have been decided 1-3 runs, with an average margin of just two runs in those tough defeats.
Sophomore righthander David Phelps (4-2) received minimal run support while suffering just his second loss of the season, in seven starts. Phelps allowed four runs on eight hits and two walks through 6.2 innings, with three strikeouts. He located 67 of his 105 pitches for strikes while seeing his ERA rise from 0.92 to 1.58, which still would rank as the best season mark by an Irish pitcher since the early 1980s. Current big-leaguer Aaron Heilman is the only Notre Dame pitcher since 1982 to post an ERA under 1.75 (Heilman had a 1.61 ERA in 1998 and 1.74 in 2001).
Pittsburgh (10-12; 4-3 BIG EAST) scored in its first trip to the plate and later added three runs in the pivotal bottom of the 5th, as an error and some close plays all went against the Irish. Leadoff batter Sean Conley (4-for-4) had half of Pitt’s hits while scoring two of his team’s runs.
Notre Dame was poised for a big inning in the 6th, instead settling for a pair of runs that sliced the lead in half. Freshman rightfielder Brayden Ashdown started a bases-loaded situation by sending an opposite-field single down the rightfield line, followed by Brett Lilley’s walk and A.J. Pollock beating out an attempted sac. Bunt to the left side. Two batters later, Eddy Mendiola drove a ball to deep right-center that tipped off the centerfielder’s glove for a two-run double. Ashdown scored easily on the play and Lilley was safe as he slid in – but Pollock was hot on his heels and was tagged out by the catcher Nick Mullins for the second out. Brant then induced a flyout to maintain the two-run cushion.
Pollock’s 2-for-3 day moved the freshman third baseman’s season batting average to .410, putting him atop the team batting charts (among players with 25-plus ABs) while Lilley dropped to .394 with his 0-for-2 game.
Mendiola made his first start of the season, with the sophomore serving as the DH while batting in the cleanup spot. His 1-for-4 game still leaves Mendiola with a .571 season batting average (8-for-14) in limited duty, including 5-for-6 as a pinch-hitter.
Pittsburgh (10-12; 4-3 BIG EAST) claimed the early lead after Conley’s opposite-field leadoff double to left field, Peter Parise’s sac. bunt and Morgan Kielty’s run-scoring groundout to the right side. The Panthers then padded their lead in the 5th, as Jordan Herr reached on a five-pitch walk and Conley beat out his own attempted sac. bunt. Catcher Matt Weglarz snapped a throw to first base but Conley hustled to the bag, leaving two runners on base with just one out. Weglarz then snatched the second out when he caught Herr with too big a lead off second and fired the ball to the shortstop Lilley for the timely pickoff play.
The Irish nearly were out of the inning but Parise coaxed a full-count walk, followed by a pickoff try by Phelps as Lilley’s tag on Conley was just a tad too late to secure the third out. Three-hole hitter Gary Buchern – Pitt’s top hitter – then made the series of close calls prove costly, as he dropped an RBI single into center field for a 2-0 lead. Moments later, Kielty worked ahead in the count before sending a 3-1 pitch down the leftfield line for an opposite-field, two-run double that ultimately provided the winning margin.
The Irish threatened again in the 8th, with Ashdown drawing a leadoff walk before Lilley was called out on a bang-bang play that nearly resulted in an infield single. The Panthers then brought in Landis to face the righthanded-hitting Pollock, who quickly adjusted to the pitching change with a single up the middle. With the tying runs aboard, Landis worked out of the jam by delivering a strikeout and infield popup to maintain the 4-2 lead.
Lilley (8 games) and senior first baseman Mike Dury (7) both saw their hitting streaks come to an end while senior centerfielder Danny Dressman’s 0-for-4 game included a pair of rare strikeouts, after he had totaled just four Ks in the first 24 games of the season. Pollock now leads the Irish with 13 multiple-hit games, including five straight and 10 in the past 12 games. He is hitting .533 (16-for-30) over the course of the past seven games, boosting what was an already impressive .340 season batting average by 70 points in that span.
Notre Dame (12-13; 1-3 BIG EAST) 0-0-0 0-0-2 0-0-0 – 2 4 1
Pittsburgh (10-12; 4-3 BIG EAST) 1-0-0 3-0-0 0-0-0 – 4 8 2
Doubles: Eddy Mendiola (ND), Sean Conley (PITT), Morgan Kielty (PITT).