May 22, 1999
TRENTON, N.J. — Senior righthander Rob Corraro rose to the occasion by tossing a seven-hitter and the Providence offense received contributions from all nine starters, as the No. 3-seeded Friars knocked off top seed Notre Dame, 8-4, in a BIG EAST Baseball Championship elimination game Saturday afternoon at Waterfront Park.
Providence (45-14) – which is nearing the end of its 76th and final season of varsity baseball – established a team record for victories, surpassing the 44-15 mark in 1995. The win sends PC into a Saturday night rematch with No. 2 seed Rutgers, with the winner of that game advancing to Sunday’s championship game versus the St. John’s-Seton Hall winner (RU beat PC, 11-4, on Friday night).
The Friar’s claimed a 3-2 lead in the second inning and then held off the Irish the rest of the way. A two-run shot by Irish freshman catcher Paul O’Toole provided a 5-4 game in the seventh inning, but the Friars responded with a run in the eighth and a two-run triple by junior centerfielder Jason Hairston in the ninth.
Notre Dame (42-16) continued to struggle at the plate while dealing with lingering injury problems. Junior All-American Brant Ust drew his third straight start at designated hitter due to a knee injury, forcing sophomores Alec Porzel (shortstop) and Ben Cooke (second base) and freshman Matt Strickroth (right field) into unfamiliar positions.
The Irish now await Monday’s announcement of the 64-team NCAA Championship field, which will be carried live on ESPN at 3:00 p.m. eastern. Notre Dame will play host to the four-team NCAA South Bend Regional, to be held May 28-30 at Frank Eck Stadium.
The unavailability of junior righthander Scott Cavey also forced the Irish into some tough pitching decisions. Cavey, who had combined with sophomore Aaron Heilman as Notre Dame’s most productive pitchers over the final month of the season, did not pitch during the tournament due to a tender elbow but could return in time for the NCAAs.
Notre Dame head coach Paul Mainieri had indicated on Friday night that Heilman would be Saturday’s starter but the Irish had a change of heart and sent senior lefty Chris McKeown to the mound, with Heilman available for the potential Saturday night game and junior lefthander Tim Kalita on deck for a possible title game.
“Due to Cavey’s tender elbow, we knew that McKeown would have to start a game at some point during the tournament and felt he matched up better versus PC’s lefthander hitters,” explained Mainieri, in reference to the four lefties in the Friars starting lineup.
“Chris did exactly what we hoped hed do. He kept his team in the game and pitched very courageously. But if you can’t score seven or eight runs in a game like that, you dont deserve to win.”
McKeown (3-2) tossed five and one-third innings while allowing four runs (three earned) on 10 hits and three walks, with five strikeouts. PC’s three-run third inning would have been averted if not for Porzel’s misplay on a one-out, double-play groundball off the bat of Angelo Ciminello, with Neal McCarthy scoring from third base on the play.
Hairston then beat out a sacrifice bunt back to the mound and leadoff hitter Mike Scott, the BIG EAST Rookie of the Year, capped the inning by sending a 2-2 pitch into center field for a two-run single.
Saturday’s loss marked Notre Dame’s earliest tournament exit in four BIG EAST seasons. The Irish – who dropped an 11-3 game to Seton Hall on Friday night – also lost consecutive conference tournament games for the first time since 1988.
Corraro (8-3) – who was touched for 12 hits and six runs in a 6-5 loss at Notre Dame on April 1 – got his revenge by holding Notre Dame to seven hits, one walk and a hit batter while striking out four. The Irish put the ball in the air versus Corraro, whose marathon 142-pitch outing included 16 flyouts and six groundouts.
Each of Notre Dame’s last three losses in BIG EAST Championship action have seen the opposing pitcher log a complete game. Rutgers’ Mike Mundy tossed 125 pitches while holding the Irish to six hits in the 1998 title game (a 12-0 RU win). Seton Hall’s Damon Ponce de Leon handed the Irish their first loss of the 99 tournament (11-3), thanks to a 131-pitch, nine-hit effort.
Notre Dame opened the scoring in the first inning, when O’Toole picked up his first hit of the tournament with a double to right-center, stole third and scored on wild pitch. Porzel then walked on a full count and Ust sent a 2-2 single through the left side before Porzel scored on Matt Nussbaum’s groundout.
PC stretched to a 5-2 lead in the sixth, with Mike O’Keefe single scoring Scott and Keith Reed plating Paul Costello with a sacrifice fly. Corraro hit Cooke with a 1-1 pitch in the seventh and O’Toole followed two batters later with a first-pitch, two-out shot down the rightfield line for his fifth home run of the season.
Hairston stroked a leadoff double in the eighth and scored on O’Keefe’s groundball. David Conway and Jaime Athas then hit two-out singles in the ninth before scoring on Hairston’s triple to left-center.
PAUL MAINIERI: “Not having Scott Cavey available really hurt us throughout the tournament. He had been one of our two most effective pitchers in recent weeks and his absence placed some added pressure on our staff. We would not have stuck with Alex Shilliday as long last night, but we had to save McKeown for today. … I think the key play was the potential double play ball in the second inning that ended up being an error and no outs. Weve had a lot of guys playing out of position and frankly have guys in the lineup who might not be playing in certain situations if we had guys like Jeff Wagner and Jeff Perconte healthy. In the end, we just couldnt overcome all the injuries. … We were playing this tournament to win it, not just to get two or three wins. That would have been the case even if we were’nt assured of an NCAA bid – we would have been trying to win it all no matter what. This tournament wasn’t any less important to us and it hurts just as much as the previous years. The way we set the pitching gave us the best chance to win the whole thing and we were set up for the final two ballgames with Heilman and Kalita. … Many people may not realize how hard it is to win the BIG EAST baseball tournament and one thing you have to do is get clutch hits and score a lot of runs. We have not done that for our last eight games now and that’s something we need to correct before the NCAAs.”
PROVIDENCE 0-3-0 0-0-2 0-1-2 8 15 2NOTRE DAME 2-0-0 0-0-0 2-0-0 4 7 1
Chris McKeown, John Corbin (6) and Paul O’Toole. Rob Corraro and David Conway.
NOTRE DAME BASEBALL NOTES (May 22, 1999)
* Notre Dame has totaled just 32 runs and 59 hits in its last eight games (average of 4.0 runs and 7.4 hits per game).
* Saturdays loss marked Notre Dames earliest tournament exit in four BIG EAST seasons. The Irish lost consecutive conference tournament games for the first time since 1988 (when playing as a member of the Midwestern Collegiate Conference).
* The Irish put the ball in the air versus Rob Corraro, whose 142-pitch outing included 16 flyouts.
* Each of Notre Dame’s last three losses in BIG EAST Championship action have seen the opposing pitcher log a complete game. Rutgers Mike Mundy tossed 125 pitches while holding the Irish to six hits in the 1998 title game (a 12-0 RU win). Seton Halls Damon Ponce de Leon handed the Irish their first loss of the 99 tournament (11-3), thanks to a 131-pitch, nine-hit effort.