May 25, 2005
SOMERSET, N.J. – Freshman third baseman Brett Lilley (North Canton, Ohio) has continued Notre Dame’s 10-year domination of the BIG EAST baseball rookie-of-the-year award, becoming the fourth Irish newcomer to receive that honor in the past decade.
Lilley, who also earned 3rd-team honors, was one of four Notre Dame players honored at Wednesday night’s BIG EAST Championship banquet. Senior first baseman Matt Edwards (Mechanicsville, Va.) earned 1st-team honors for the second time in his career while junior lefthander Tom Thornton (Middleboro, Mass.) was a 2nd-team pick and junior outfielder Craig Cooper (Plainview, N.Y.) – who repeated as the BIG EAST batting champion – was a 3rd-team selection.
Notre Dame players now have combined for 56 all-BIG EAST honors during 10 seasons in the league, with the 3rd-team designation making its debut in 2001. Lilley is the seventh ND freshman ever to earn all-BIG EAST honors and the program’s fourth third baseman to be so honored.
Edwards – the program’s first player ever to earn all-BIG EAST honors as a first baseman – becomes the seventh Notre Dame player to earn 1st team all-BIG EAST honors in multiple seasons (also in ’03, as a 3B/1B), joining 2B/CF Randall Brooks (’96-’97), DH Jeff Wagner (’96-’99), infielder Brant Ust (’97-’99), RHP Aaron Heilman (’99-’01), CF Steve Stanley (’01-’02) and 2B Steve Sollmann (’01, ’04) in that elite group. Edwards has the option of applying for a fifth year of eligibility in 2006 and could join Wagner, Ust and Heilman as the program’s only BIG EAST 1st-team honorees in three-plus seasons.
Thornton’s all-BIG EAST honors ostensibly arrived a year late, as he turned in a more consistent and statistically impressive season in 2004 (when he was overlooked even for 3rd team all-BIG EAST). He becomes the 11th different Notre Dame pitcher to earn all-BIG EAST honors, joining a group that includes current big-leaguers Heilman and Brad Lidge.
(Note: Thornton has been announced as ND’s starter for Thursday’s first-round BIG EAST Tournament game vs. Boston College while the Eagles are expected to counter with senior LHP Mike Wlodarczyk. Thornton and Wlodarczyk both had impressive complete-game wins during the ND-BC series in early April).
Cooper earlier was a 2nd-team all-BIG EAST pick in 2004 (when he also led the league in batting) and becomes just the third Notre Dame outfielder to be an all-BIG EAST pick in multiple seasons (outfield typically is one of the most competitive positions for all-conference honors). Stanley was a 2nd-team selection in 1999 and 1st team in ’01 and ’02 while Brian Stavisky was a 2nd-team in ’00 and ’01 (at RF) and again in ’02 (at LF). Cooper would have a chance to match Stanley and Stavisky with a third all-BIG EAST season in 2006.
Lilley’s midseason switch from second to third base helped turn Notre Dame’s season around, with the Irish going 19-8-1 the rest of the way after playing .500 ball (14-14) before Lilley’s move to the hot corner. He has totaled just seven errors in his 28 games at third base (23 error-free games), after four of his teammates had combined for 18 third-base errors in the first half of the season.
Lilley follows Wagner (1996), Ust (’97) and Steve Sollmann (’01) as the program’s fourth player to earn BIG EAST rookie-of-the-year since Notre Dame joined the conference in 1995-96. Rutgers (2) is the only other team with multiple BIG EAST rookies of the year during the past 10 seasons. Notre Dame also ties Seton Hall and Villanova for the most rookie-of-the-year recipients in the 21-year history of BIG EAST baseball.
Wagner, Ust and Steve Sollmann were 1st team all-BIG EAST selections as rookies while just three other Notre Dame freshmen previously collected all-BIG EAST honors (each 2nd team): Heilman (’98), Stanley (’98) and Stavisky (’00).
Lilley leads the BIG EAST with a .506 on-base percentage while also ranking 6th among the league’s players in walks (34) and 12th in batting average (.354), with each of those numbers leading all BIG EAST players. He also ranks 7th among BIG EAST players in total runs scored (51) and finished among the league leaders in walks during conference games (7th, 14) and conference on-base pct. (7th, .460).
Despite splitting time at second and third base (a position he had never played in his baseball career), Lilley made just one error in the 24 BIG EAST games this season, yielding a .990 fielding percentage spanning 103 fielding chances.
Lilley currently leads the Irish in on-base pct. (.506; would rank 7th in ND history), hit-by-pitch (25; 2nd in ND history, 19th in NCAA history) and sacrifice bunts (9), also ranking 2nd in batting avg. (.354), hits (67), runs (51) and walks (34), 3rd in stolen bases (9) and 4th in total bases (72). The spunky lefthander joins Edwards as the only players to start all 56 games (Greg Lopez is the only other with 56 GP), also ranking 2nd on the team with 18 multi-hit games and 4th with seven multi-RBI games. His other season stats include 23 RBI, 5 doubles, a .381 slugging pct., 27 strikeouts, 12 errors and a .954 fielding pct. – plus a .333 batting avg. in BIG EAST games (20 R, 6 HBP). His 45 error-free games in 2005 include a 21-game span without an error (96 fielding chances) from March 24-April 21 (spanning time at 2B and 3B).
When looking at situational hitting, the lefthanded-hitting Lilley grades out as possibly Notre Dame’s most clutch hitter in the 2005 regular-season – leading the team in 2-out batting (.415) and batting with runners on base (.415) while ranking 2nd on the team in batting with runners in scoring position (.407), 3rd in leadoff on-base pct. (.492) and 5th in 2-out RBI (11). He also is the team’s runaway leader in the “Red Ratio” that measures plate discipline, with a +32 (34 BB + 25 HBP – 27 Ks).
Lilley was hit-by-pitch four times (one shy of tying NCAA record) in the early-season win at Central Florida, became the first ND freshman ever to post a 5-hit game in a home opener (vs. Cincinnati, 2 RBI, R, 2 SB) and hit 2-for-4 with a key opposite-field double to help upset #17 USC (13-6; 2 RBI, R, SAC).
Previous Notre Dame 3B to earn all-BIG EAST honors include: Ust (1st team, ’98), Andrew Bushey (1st team in ’01, 3rd team in ’02) and Matt Macri (1st team, ’04). Edwards earned 1st-team honors in ’03, after splitting time at 1B and 3B.
Here are notes on the other Notre Dame honorees:
Matt Edwards – leads all BIG EAST players in overall RBI (62) while ranking 2nd in home runs (13) and walks (42), 3rd in total bases (134), 4th in runs (55), doubles (18), on-base pct. (.480), slugging pct. (.654) and OPS (1.134 on-base plus slugging), and 6th in batting (.366) and hits (75) … in conference games only, he finished 4th in doubles (8), 5th in RBI (20), 6th in walks (15) … ND team leader in nine categories: batting avg. (.366), slugging pct. (.654), home runs (13), RBI (62), runs (55), hits (75), doubles (18), walks (42) and total bases (134) … joined Lilley as only players to start all 56 games (Lopez is only other to play in all 56) … also ranks 2nd on team in on-base pct. (.480) and 5th in stolen bases (6) … leads team with 23 multiple-hit games (2 w/ 4 hits, 5 w/ 3 hits) and 2nd on team with 15 multi-RBI games (1 w/ 5 RBI, 2 w/ 4 RBI, 5 w/ 3 RBI) … his other ’05 stats include 6 HBP, 26 Ks, a triple and 13 errors … leads team in 2-out RBI (19) and leadoff on-base pct.(.657) … also 3rd in batting with runners on base (.340), 4th with runners in scoring position (.349) and 5th with 2 outs (.309) … batting .374 vs. RHPs (2nd-best on team), .340 vs. LHPs (3rd) … ranked 2nd on team with .529 batting in final week of regular season (9-for-17, 5 RBI, 5 R, 2 2B, 7 BB, 2 Ks, SB, 2 Es) … hit .329 in ’05 BIG EAST regular-season games (20 RBI, 2 HR, 8 2B, 15 BB) … a .319 career hitter in all games vs. BIG EAST teams (89-for-279, 67 RBI, 10 HR) … ranks 5th in ND history with 189 career RBI, 7th with 33 HRs, 11th with .576 slugging pct. and 48 doubles, 14th with 102 walks and 17th with a .348 career batting avg. … needs 2 doubles to become 10th player in ND history with 50 doubles in his career … needs 5 hits to become 4th ND player with 80-plus hits and 40-plus walks in same season (Marci, in ’04, was first to do so since 1989) … had rare stretch of 12 straight games with at least one walk (21 total BB) from April 29-May 18, ultimately drawing 23 walks in final 15 games of regular season … posted his second 4-hit game of ’05 in regular-season finale, vs. West Virginia (RBI, R, 2B, SB) … ranks 3rd on team with +22 Red Ratio/plate-discipline ratio (42 BB + 6 HBP – 26 Ks) … owns a .407 career batting avg. with 8 RBI in BIG EAST Tournament play (11-for-27, HR, 2B, 5 BB) … 2nd on team with .314 batting in all ’05 road games (33-for-105, 29 RBI, 6 HR, 8 2B, 19 BB) plus team-best .420 in ’05 home games (42-for-100, 33 RBI, 7 HR, 3B, 10 2B, 23 BB … has logged 96 consecutive starts with the Irish and has played in 178 of 179 games during the past three seasons (starting 176), since returning from broken leg that halted his freshman season early in ’02 … first ND player since ’98 to hit 3 HR in game (vs. Western Michigan on 3/29; 6 RBI, 2 IBB) … launched grand slam vs. Texas-San Antonio and homered next day vs. Southwest Missouri, as part of all-tournament performance at the Alamo City Irish Baseball Classic.
Tom Thornton – season-long leader of a 2005 ND pitching staff that has coped with the departure of three key regulars (Grant Johnson, Chris Niesel and Joe Thaman) and the injury limitations of three current pitchers (Jeff Manship, John Axford and Jess Stewart) … enters postseason with impressive streak of surrendering just 2 walks in his previous 47.1 IP (avg. of 0.38 BB per 9 IP) … ranks 4th among BIG EAST pitchers in total innings (86.0), 6th in complete games (4) and 9th in wins (6-5) … during BIG EAST games only, he finished 13th among the league’s pitchers with a 2.83 ERA, also ranking 4th in wins (5-2) and 5th in innings (54.1) … first ND pitcher in 11-year Paul Mainieri era to log three straight 9-inning complete games (vs. BC, UConn and Villanova) … leads team in starts (14) and IP (86), also 2nd in wins (6) and 3rd in Ks (36) and K/BB ratio (2.1) … situationally, he leads the staff in groundouts (107) and IP per outing (6-1) also ranking 2nd in low walks per 9 IP (1.8), and 3rd in groundouts per 9 IP (11.2) and opp. 2-out batting (.233) … has allowed 42% of leadoff batters to reach and .314 batting with runners on base … his other 9-inning averages include 10.4 hits and 3.8 Ks … his other ’05 stats included a 4.50 ERA, 99 hits allowed, 17 walks, a .296 opp. batting avg., 7 hit batters and just a single wild pitch … posted a 4-0 record and 2.25 in 2005 home games (15 Ks, 5 BB, 38 H in 36 IP) … bounced back from 1-3 start to win 4 of next 5 decisions … his top ’05 outings include no-decision at UCF (5 IP, 5 H, R, 3 BB, 3 Ks), the 9-inning CG wins vs. BC (3-2; 8 H, 1 ER, 5 Ks), UConn (7-1; 6 H, 4 Ks) and Villanova (5-2; 10 H, BB, 2 Ks), and the win over WVU on final weekend of the regular season (5-1; 6 IP, 7 H, R, BB, K) … the other nine ND pitchers who have been all-BIG EAST include: Darin Schmalz (2nd team in ’96 and ’97), Lidge (1st team, ’98), Heilman (2nd team in ’98; 1st team in ’99-’01), Alex Shilliday (2nd team, ’98), Danny Tamayo (1st team, ’01), J.P. Gagne (3rd team in ’01 and ’03), Niesel (1st team in ’03, 2nd team in ’04), Johnson (1st team, ’04) and Ryan Doherty (2nd team, ’04).
Craig Cooper – earlier tabbed for national hitter-of-the-week honors, as selected by the National College Baseball Writers of America, capping off an award-filled past few days that also saw him named the BIG EAST player of the week for the first time in his career after repeating as the BIG EAST batting champ (the second player ever to do so, and first in nearly 10 years) and surging near the top of the BIG EAST record book list for career batting average in conference games … led the BIG EAST with .403 batting in ’05 conference games, ending up 16 points ahead of second-place finishers Doug Nelms of West Virginia and Dan McDonald of Seton Hall (both hit .386) … also led the league in batting as a sophomore (.470, in ’04), joining former Boston College player Kevin Penwell (’95 and ’96) as the only repeat batting champions in the 21-year history of BIG EAST baseball … recent run-producing tear landed him in the No. 2 spot on the BIG EAST overall RBI charts (55), trailing only his teammate Edwards (62) … in addition to returning atop the BIG EAST charts for conference batting avg., he also repeated as the league’s leader for on-base pct. in conference games (.529, after .471 in ’04) while finishing 8th in league slugging pct. (.582), 6th in RBI (19) and 10th in doubles (6) and walks (12) … only four players in the league finished with a higher OPS (on-base plus slugging) during 2005 BIG EAST games than Cooper’s 1.111: Pittsburgh sophomore 2B Jim Negrych (1.311) and junior CF Ben Copeland (1.205), Cooper’s classmate and fellow junior OF Cody Rizzo (surged to 1.111; .514 OB, .648 slugging) and WVU junior 1B Stan Posluszny (1.122) … hit 13-for-22 (.565, 13 RBI, 8 R, 2 HR, 3 2B, 2 BB, HBP, 2 Ks) and extended his career-best hitting streak to 10 games as the Irish won four straight BIG EAST games during final week of regular season (one at Pittsburgh and a three-game series vs. West Virginia) while gaining a midweek split with a USC team that was ranked as high as 17th in the national polls … ranks 3rd in BIG EAST record book for career batting avg. in BIG EAST games, at .420 (68-for-162) … the only players in BIG EAST history to hit at a higher clip in conference action for their career are former Rutgers player Joe Cirrone (.443, 51-for-115; ’97-’00) and former Seton Hall standout Marteese Robinson (.432, 83-for-192; ’85-’87) … joins Cirone as the only players in the past 18 seasons to hit above .420 or higher in their BIG EAST career … made rare leadoff start in series finale at Pittsburgh and opened game with HR, later adding 3-run shot in 21-1 win (3-for-5, 5 RBI, 4 R, BB) … also hit 3-for-5 to help upset USC (13-6, 2 RBI, R, 2B) before shifting to the 3-hole for the WVU series (6-for-9) … 5th recent ND player to earn a national player-of-the-week honor and program’s 19th to receive BIG EAST player-of-the-week honors … batting .487 (18-for-37) with 16 RBI (8 R, 5 2B, 2 HR, 3 BB, HBP, 4 Ks, SAC, SB) during his current 10-game hitting streak, 2nd-longest by an Irish player in 2005 behind a 15-game midseason streak from Alex Nettey … ranks 2nd among ND players in six categories – slugging pct. (.533), RBI (55), HR (7), 2Bs (13), stolen bases (14) and total bases (97) – also ranking 3rd in batting avg. (.335), on-base pct. (.458), runs (41), hits (61) and walks (29), 4th in HBP (14) and games played (53), and 5th in sac. bunts (4) and starts (51) … ranks among the team’s top clutch hitters, batting a team-best .435 with runners in scoring position while also ranking 2nd on the team in 2-out batting (.393) and batting with runners on base (.373), 3rd in 2-out RBI (14), and 5th in leadoff on-base pct. (.442) … in addition to Brooks, Stanley and Stavisky, the only other ND outfielders to be all-BIG EAST picks are CF Scott Sollmann (’96, 1st team) and RF Kris Billmaier (’03, 3rd team).