March 26, 2005
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Sophomore righthanders Jeff Samardzija and Derik Olvey logged strong starts while the Notre Dame offense rediscovered its clutch hitting and run production, as the Irish swept a BIG EAST doubleheader from Seton Hall (8-2, 4-1) in Saturday-afternoon action at Eck Stadium.
Notre Dame (11-9, 3-1 BIG EAST) will head into next week’s three-game series at Rutgers tied with the Scarlet Knights and Boston College atop the conference standings while Georgetown (which rallied to earn a split with the Irish on Thursday) is tied with Villanova at 2-2, followed by St. John’s and Connecticut (both 1-1). Seton Hall (5-13, 1-3) fell into an early hole in the 10-team BIG EAST standings, tied with Pittsburgh and West Virginia.
Senior third baseman Matt Edwards (3-for-6, 2 RBI) was the only Irish player with more than two hits in the doubleheader but Notre Dame’s offense enjoyed a significant boost in its efficiency, after stranding 20 runners in the tough loss to Georgetown (9-8, in 12 innings). Notre Dame put just five leadoff batters on base in the SHU doubleheader and hot only .269 in the two games, but the Irish hit at a higher clip when it mattered most – with runners in scoring position (.300, 6-for-20) and with two outs (.462, 6-for-13).
The Irish pitching staff enjoyed possibly its best two-game stretch of the season, posting a 1.12 team ERA in the doubleheader while holing the Pirates to a .190 team batting average. The Notre Dame pitchers also logged a 2.8 strikeout-to-walk ratio (11 Ks, 4 BB), allowed just 11 hits in 16 innings and did not hit a batter or uncork a wild pitch.
Notre Dame’s staff entered BIG EAST play with a 5.76 staff ERA but the Irish pitchers totaled 29 shutout innings (out of 35) over the course of the Georgetown and Seton Hall doubleheaders.
Samardzija (3-0) – whose career-best eight strikeouts vs. the Pirates marked the first time an ND pitcher had more than five Ks in a game this season – scattered five hits and two walks in a complete-game effort while yielding two runs in the final moments of the seven-inning opener. The two-sport standout logged a high first-pitch strike efficiency (76 of his 117 total pitches went for strikes) and kept the ball low in the zone to quiet the SHU batters.
Olvey (1-1) faced just 18 batters over the first five innings of the nightcap, allowing four hits and a walk (with two Ks) while seeing the Irish defense turn a pair of double plays.
A third sophomore righthander, Dan Kapala, closed the day with three strong innings for his first save of the season and second of his career. The 6-foot-5, 225-pounder was pressed into extended duty after All-America closer Ryan Doherty was needed for a career-long outing (4.0 IP) in the 12-inning loss to Georgetown. Kapala worked out of an inherited jam in the 7th to preserve a narrow Irish lead and ultimately faced just 11 batters, with a strikeout and walk (another batter reached via error).
Notre Dame plated its 22nd first-inning run of the season in the opener. Junior centerfielder Alex Nettey popped up a bunt on the left side and the ball hit off the outside edge of the grass in foul territory before taking a freak bounce into fair territory (the ball originally was called foul before the Irish leadoff hitter was awarded first base on the unusual single). Brett Lilley then reached on a fielder’s choice and motored all the way around to score when Edwards drove a 1-1 pitch into the right-center gap for an opposite-field double.
Edwards drew a full-count walk in the 4th to start a sequence that produced four more Irish runs. Junior first baseman Matt Bransfield – returning to action after suffering a broken hand in the season opener – then bunted the runner over before a wild pitch and a hit batter (junior rightfielder Cody Rizzo) left runners on the corners.
Freshman lefthander Dan Merklinger (0-1) – who ultimately was tagged for three runs (two earned) on two hits and a walk (2 Ks) – left after plunking Rizzo, who then stole second with another freshman lefthander Luis Fernandez on the mound. A wild pitch advanced the runners for a 2-0 lead and Rizzo scored moments later on an error by shortstop Anthony Seratelli. Freshman leftfielder Tony Langford followed with a double to left-center and sophomore righthander Mike Young then entered as the second reliever of the inning.
Another error by Seratelli brought home the fourth Irish run and Greg Lopez added a sacrifice fly to cap the big inning.
Notre Dame came right back to score three in the 5th for an 8-0 cushion. Edwards again started things on a full count, sending a one-out single up the middle before moving up on a groundout and Rizzo’s RBI single to left (Rizzo took second on a misplay in the outfield).
Junior pinch-hitter Steve Andres then pulled an 0-1 pitch into the left-center gap for a run-scoring double, Danny Dressman was hit by a pitch and Gaston singled to left-center for the big lead.
Seton Hall averted the shutout in the top of the 7th, using two hits, two walks and a passed ball to push across a pair of runs before Samardzija ended the game with his eighth strikeout.
Junior righthander Tim Sabo (0-4) was the hard-luck loser in the second game, allowing two runs on four hits and two walks in 6.0 innings (2 Ks).
Notre Dame claimed another early lead by scoring in the 2nd inning of the nightcap. Rizzo reached with one out when he was hit by a 1-0 pitch and stole second before Langford scorched an 0-2 pitch down the leftfield line for an RBI single.
The Irish added a run in the 6th, sparked by Nettey’s leadoff double deep to the gap in left-center (on a 1-0 pitch). Lilley then nearly beat out a sacrifice bunt and Edwards sent the next pitch off the leftfield wall for an RBI double and the 2-0 lead.
Seton Hall again averted the shutout with an unearned run in the 7th, after three straight plays in which the Irish could have recorded an out. Rizzo was unable to track down a single and the shortstop Lopez failed to handle a dipping linedrive (for a tough error) before Gaston let a bunt single roll down the third-base line to load the bases with no outs.
Kapala then relieved senior lefthander Scott Bickford and rolled up a leftside groundball that allowed the run to score. With the tying run on third base, Kapala induced pinch-hitter John Walsh into a foulout down the rightfield line (the second baseman Lilley quickly hustled the ball back to the infield) and pinch-hitter Anthony Perrone grounded out to Lilley to end the threat.
Moments later, Rizzo was hit by a pitch for the third time in the doubleheader and the Irish went on to manufacture two key insurance runs. Rizzo moved up on a delayed steal and groundout before scoring for a 3-1 lead. Lopez then drew a full-count walk and Nettey earned a free pass on four pitches before Lilley sent a 1-1 pitch through the right side for an RBI single.
NOTES: Rizzo’s 8 HBPs this season give him 57 in his career, already 11th in NCAA history … as a team ND (52) almost is halfway to the team HBP record set in ’04 (106, 5th in NCAA history) … the Irish batters are on pace for 139 HBPs in the 56-game regular season (the NCAA record is 125 HBPs in a season, by Nevada in 1997) … despite totaling just 14 hits in the doubleheader, ND had 11 other batters reach via walks (7) or HBPs (4) … the Irish had their second error-free game of the season in the opener … Nettey is the first ND player with a double-digit hitting streak this season while Edwards is riding a 9-game hitting streak and has hits in 17 if the last 18 games … Edwards (29) is averaging 1.38 RBI per game and would total 77 at that pace in the 56-game regular season … the only ND players who have totaled more than 80 RBI in a season are Dan Peltier (93, in ’89), Eric Danapilis (85, in ’93) and Robbie Kent (82, in `94) … Lilley and Edwards now are the only ND players to start every game this season … Samardzija’s outing was just shy of his career-best 7.1 IP vs. St. Johhn’s in ’04 … the ND staff now has allowed 74 runs in the 5th-7th innings (avg. of 10.7 per 9 IP) but just 71 in all other innings (avg. of 5.1 per 9 IP).
Seton Hall 0-0-0 0-0-0 2 – 2 5 4
Notre Dame 1-0-0 4-3-0 X – 8 8 0
Dan Merklinger (L, 0-1), Luis Fernandes (4), Mike Young (4), Pete VandenBout (7) and Matt Skopak.
Jeff Samardzija (W, 3-0) and Sean Gaston, Nick Mainieri (6).
Doubles: Matt Edwards (ND), Tony Langford (ND).
Seton Hall (5-13, 1-3 BIG EAST) 0-0-0 0-0-0 1-0-0 – 1 6 0
Notre Dame (11-10, 3-1 BIG EAST) 0-1-0 0-0-1 2-0-X – 4 6 2
Doubles: Alex Nettey (ND), Edwards (ND).