April 23, 2004
Cody Rizzo’s 9th-inning home run made the difference in the 4-3 nightcap as the fourth-ranked Notre Dame baseball team earned a split with host Seton Hall in BIG EAST baseball doubleheader action Friday afternoon at Carroll Field.
Notre Dame (32-6, 12-3 BIG EAST) bounced back from the frustrating 4-2 opener but the Irish then encountered multiple missed opportunities in the second game. Just three of ND’s first 13 baserunners scored in the nightcap, with four erased on double plays while two others were thrown out on the bases after a tag at home and a pickoff play at second base (four others officially were left on-base).
Seton Hall (11-25-1, 5-10) ended its 10-game losing streak versus the Irish, thanks to a two-hit pitching performance by junior righthander Jake Haggerty (3-3). Sophomore DH Matt Bransfield’s two-run double had given the Irish a 1st-inning lead and Haggerty allowed a double by the next batter Steve Andres before retiring the final 19 to make his team’s four runs hold up (his other totals included nine strikeouts and just one walk, in 90 pitches).
Despite the loss, Notre Dame remains among the nation’s top five leaders in fewest losses, joining Texas (40-5), Stanford (31-5), Albany (24-5) and East Carolina (33-6) as the only teams with six or fewer losses (out of 287 in Division I baseball).
Notre Dame sophomore lefthander Tom Thornton (5-2) and junior righthander Chris Niesel (no decision) both pitched well enough to pick up victories but the nation’s 13-ranked scoring offense endured an off day, after totaling 64 runs in ND’s previous five games (nine-plus runs in each). Niesel allowed two runs on eight hits and two walks, with five strikeouts in his 90-pitch outing.
The Irish quickly made their exit from the garden state after the SHU doubleheader, embarking on a bus ride to Pittsburgh before a late-night arrival and an off-day on Saturday. Freshman righthander Jeff Samardzija – who will participate in Saturday’s Blue-Gold ND football scrimmage – is slated to rejoin the Irish baseball team Saturday night and then pitch the seven-inning opener vs. Pittsburgh on Sunday (please note that the ND-Pittsburgh doubleheader begins at 11:00 a.m. local time in Pittsburgh, at the on-campus Trees Field). Junior RHP Grant Johnson then is the scheduled starter for the second game vs. the Panthers.
Rizzo – who opened the day in right field before also starting in center – was the star of the second game, with a 5th-inning double and run scored before adding a 7th-inning RBI groundout and the decisive home run in the 9th. Rizzo dug in for his final at-bat with two outs in the top of the 9th, taking the first two pitches from sophomore righthander Tim Sabo before smacking a 2-0 fastball down the leftfield line. The ball tucked inside the foul pole for Rizzo’s second home run of the season, with the first coming in Wednesday’s win over Toledo.
Niesel’s 18-3 career record (in 36 starts) could include several more victories, with six solid innings on Friday putting him in position to be the winner when the Irish scored twice in the 7th for a 3-2 lead. But SHU quickly tied the game in the bottom of the 7th and Rizzo’s home run then made a winner of senior lefthander Joe Thaman (3-1; 2 IP, R, 3 H).
Sophomore closer Ryan Doherty extending his shutout streak to 15 innings by setting down the side in the 9th (two via strikeouts) for his BIG EAST-leading seventh save of the season (already tied for sixth in the ND record book). The 7-foot-1, 220-pound righthander has converted all of his save chances this season, with his ERA now down to 0.45 and his opponent batting average dropping to .078 (5-for-64).
Doherty’s 15-inning shutout streak spans his last 14 outings, dating back to a Texas-San Antonio unearned run on March 6. He also has not allowed an earned run in his last 16 inning (15 appearances), since the March 6 win over Southern Illinois (in San Antonio), while the last 10-plus opponents to face Doherty have failed to register a hit (0-for-31, over 10.2 IP). The last hit vs. Doherty was a double by West Virginia’s Kurtis Klinton in the March 27 series opener, with WVU’s Michael Christoforo then making the final out in that game to become the first of 31 straight at-bats vs. Doherty without a hit (he also has 16 Ks and just 2 BB in that no-hit streak). His other season stats included a 4-0 record, 27 Ks and 8 BB in 20 IP (18 GP).
Thornton faced the minimum through the first three innings of the opener, thanks to four strikeouts and a double-play ball that overcame an infield fielding error. But the 6-6, 215-pound southpaw gave up a pair of two-run doubles (in the 4th and 5th), ultimately allowing the four runs on five hits and two walks while striking out six in his 77-pitch outing.
The back-and-forth second game – which ended up being a game of inches on several key plays – saw SHU’s Anthony Seratelli hit a solo home run over the rightfield fence in the 3rd before Thornton worked out of a 4th-inning jam (two runners on) with a pair of groundouts.
Sophomore rightfielder Craig Cooper’s full-count, one-out double down the leftfield line then sparked the Irish in the 5th. Rizzo dropped the next pitch into right field and hustled in for a double, with Cooper only able to take third after waiting to see the drop. Senior lefthander and 2003 all-BIG EAST performer Chris Noonan (6.2 IP, 3 R/2 ER, 4 H, 4 BB, 4 Ks) then caught a break when Cooper was tagged out at the plate on a groundball but a 1-1 wild pitch allowed Rizzo to score the tying run.
The hosts came right back to take the lead, after Santiago Chi’s leadoff single to left, Seratelli’s sac . bunt and Joe Scott’s RBI down the rightfield line(shortstop Greg Lopez was just out of position while faking a pickoff move).
SHU nearly handed Notre Dame the lead in the 6th, with Lopez drawing a leadoff walk and moving all the way to third when the third baseman threw errantly on a force play at second. But Noonan rolled up a timely double-play ball to end the threat. Niesel then returned the favor by serving up a double-play ball after a Tim Pahuta single before escaping with runners on second and third when Zach Schwitsky went down looking at a 1-2 pitch.
Senior catcher Javi Sanchez drew a one-out walk in the top of the 7th and Cooper sent the next pitch up the middle (taking second on the throw) before Rizzo’s groundout yielded a 2-2 score. Senior second baseman Zach Sisko then delivered yet another clutch hit (with two outs and facing a 1-2 count, no less), sending his own single up the middle to score Cooper with the go-ahead run (Sabo later came on to get a K with runners on the corners).
The Pirates once again answered in the bottom of the frame, as Chi beat out an infield single and took second on the errant throw. Seratelli added the RBI double to left-center but SHU gambled by going for the triple with no outs, as Lopez sent a perfect relay throw to Matt Macri to help preserve the 3-3 score.
Thaman made his own huge play in the 8th, with a runner on first and Patrick Sullivan down 0-2 in the count. Sullivan ripped the next pitch back to the box but Thaman – known as one of college baseball’s top defensive first basemen during the previous three seasons – snared the ball as he was falling backwards and (from a seated position) threw to his old spot on the field for the 1-3 double play.
Notre Dame opened the day with a pair of runs, after Macri one-out, full-count walk, a wild pitch from Haggerty, an error that allowed Matt Edwards to reach and Bransfield’s double to the right-center gap.
SHU tied the game on its own two-run double, following singles from Brandon Cohen and Joe Scott. Pahuta – a 2003 all-BIG EAST performer and a summer-league teammate of Thornton’s with the Newport Gulls of the New England Collegiate Baseball League – then jumped all over the next pitch with the game-tying double into the left-center gap.
The deciding rally in the opener came in the 5th, with leadoff man Matt Cuttruff walking on four pitches before a strikeout and caught-stealing appeared to get Thornton off the hook. But Chi doubled to left-center and an intentional walk to Seratelli backfired when Cohen’s double to right-center played both runners for the 4-2 lead.
NOTES – Niesel dropped his season ERA to 3.52 while Thornton’s bumped up to 3.25 … freshman RHP Dan Kapala closed out the first game (1.1 IP, H, BB, 3 Ks) and now has logged seven straight shutout outings over 10.2 innings (he has 11 Ks, 3 BB and 7 H in his shutout streak) … the hard-throwing Kapala has lowered his ERA from 6.00 to 3.18 (4th-best among ND pitchers with 15-plus IP) during the 10.2 scoreless innings … the staff ERA went up slightly to 3.52 … Cooper’s pair of hits in the nightcap moved him up to second on the ND batting charts (.356, behind Lopez’s .365) … Lopez’s pair of errors in the opener marked just his second multi-E game of the season … the Irish now are 20-3 in all road games this season … ND has been swept just four times in 77 all-time BIG EAST doubleheaders.
#4 Notre Dame 2-0-0 0-0-0 0 – 2 2 2
Seton Hall 0-0-0 2-2-0 X – 4 6 1
Tom Thornton (L, 5-2), Dan Kapala (6) and Javi Sanchez.
Jake Haggerty (W, 3-3) and Chris Fulda.
Doubles: Matt Bransfield (ND), Steve Andres (ND), Tim Pahuta (SHU), Brandon Cohen (SHU).
#4 Notre Dame (32-6, 12-3 BIG EAST) 0-0-0 0-1-0 2-0-1 – 4 7 2
Seton Hall (11-25-1, 5-10 BIG EAST) 0-0-1 0-1-0 1-0-0 – 3 11 2
Chris Niesel, Joe Thaman (7; W, 3-1), Ryan Doherty (9; SV, 7) and Javi Sanchez.
Chris Noonan, Tim Sabo (7; L, 0-5) and Chris Fulda.
Home Runs: Anthony Seratelli (solo in 3rd; 2nd of season), SHU; Cody Rizzo, ND (solo in 9th; 2nd of season).
Doubles: Rizzo (ND), Craig Cooper (ND), Anthony Seratelli (SHU), Joe Scott (SHU).