May 24, 2006
CLEARWATER, Fla. – The Notre Dame baseball team’s “Killer B’s” have played key roles throughout the 2006 season and each of those players filled a vital part in Wednesday’s late-night win over West Virginia at the BIG EAST Championship. Matt Bransfield and Ross Brezovsky hit early home runs while Jeremy Barnes again was a leading force, posting his second straight three-hit game and factoring into five of the team’s runs. The production from those three players provided Jeff Samardzija more than enough run support to pick up his eighth win of the season and 21st of his Notre Dame career, in the pivotal 12-4 victory for the 18th-ranked Irish at Bright House Networks Field.
(Note: this recap now includes updated ND notes and pregame notes (with updated bio. capsules) linked above … check und.com later for a quote sheet from the first two days of action at the tournament – with comments from coach Paul Mainieri and players Wade Korpi, Jeff Samardzija, Jeremy Barnes, Kyle Weiland, Matt Bransfield and Ross Brezovsky).
Top-seeded Notre Dame (43-14-1) – which now has played nine straight games away from home and has been on the road for 12 of the past 13 days – will enjoy a day off from competition on Thursday before attempting to win its four-team bracket in Friday’s action. West Virginia (36-21), the No. 5 seed, and 4th-seeded St. John’s will meet on Thursday, with the winner of that 7:00 game then needing to beat the Irish twice on Friday (at 1:00 and later that night, if necessary) to advance to Saturday’s 1:00 final game (live on ESPN-U). Notre Dame would need to win just one of those games to qualify for the title game and its chance at a fifth straight BIG EAST tournament title (note that the tournament is not double-elimination once play reaches the final round, as the winners of each bracket will decide the championship in a single game even if one or both teams have yet to lose). Third-seeded Louisville sits in the catbird seat of the other four-team bracket, after holding on for a 12-10 win over 2nd-seeded Connecticut.
An early mistake from Samardzija (8-2) yielded a two-run, two-out home run off the bat of Stan Posluszny but the junior righthander quickly snapped into form, ultimately logging eight full innings while allowing four runs on nine hits and just one walk. Samardzija – who will be looking to avoid a different kind of hit from Posluszny’s brother Paul next fall (when the All-America linebacker and his Penn State teammates take on the ND football team) – struck our six WVU batters and located 72 of his 105 pitches for strikes while pushing his career record with the Irish to 21-7, tying former teammate Chris Niesel for 13th on the ND career wins list. He allowed just 2-of-8 leadoff batters to reach and totaled 17 of his outs via Ks, groundballs (10) or infield popups.
Barnes had batted 3-for-4 with a pair of RBI in the opening win over South Florida and the freshman second baseman kept on cranking versus the Mountaineers, batting 3-for-5 with three RBI and two runs scored from the 3-spot in the batting order. Junior catcher Sean Gaston (3-for-4, RBI, R) pushed his hit total in the tournament to five while Brezovsky’s solid day included having a hand in four of the Irish runs (2-for-5, 2 R, 2 RBI).
Notre Dame extended its record-setting win streak in the BIG EAST Tournament to nine games while enjoying an efficient and clutch-hitting day at the plate. The Irish totaled their 12 runs on 13 hits, stranded just eight of 21 baserunners and his 6-for-13 with runners in scoring position.
Craig Cooper – who already has reached base six times in the tournament – went 2-for-5 with a walk, leaving his season batting average at .427. The senior first baseman has been a common sight on base when leading off the game for the Irish offense and that again was the case versus WVU, as Cooper went the other way on a 2-2 pitch from sophomore lefthander Mark Yurish for a single into right field. He now has reached nearly two-thirds of the time (.653 on-base pct.; 32-of-49) in his first-inning leadoff plate appearances while his overall .528 season on-base pct. remains just shy of the ND record (.531).
Barnes came through two batters later, scoring Cooper from second on a first-pitch single into right field. It marked the 46th RBI of the season for Barnes, second-most ever by a Notre Dame freshman behind eventual All-America infielder Brant Ust’s 54 in 1997. Bransfield then delivered the team’s third opposite-field hit of the inning, depositing a 2-2 pitch over the rightfield fence for his sixth home run of the season and 18th of his career.
WVU answered the early 3-0 deficit with a pair of runs. Samardzija plunked 3-hole hitter Justin Jenkins with a first-pitch offering and Posluszny then hit his 10th home run of the season, sending a 2-2 pitch to right-center for a 3-2 game.
The Irish came right back with three more runs in the 2nd inning. Brezovsky turned on a 1-0 pitch from Yurish. The lefthanded-hitting sophomore (who again started on DH) left no doubt on his third home run of the season and fifth of his Irish career, easily clearing the berm beyond the rightfield fence for the 1-out solo shot. Cody Rizzo then coaxed a full-count walk and Yurish lost Cooper on four pitches, with both runners moving up on a two-out passed ball. Barnes then smacked a 2-1 pitch up the middle, for a 6-2 lead that ended the night for Yurish (6-3; 1.2 IP, 6 R/5 ER, 5 H, 2 BB, 3 Ks).
Samardzija and WVU junior righthander Levi Maxwell put eight straight zeroes on the board before the Mountaineers made things interesting in the 6th. A single by Kyle Matuszek and Casey Bowling’s double put two runners in scoring position for David Carpenter, who topped a swinging bunt down the third-base line. Samardzija’s tremendous athleticism may have worked against him as he hustled to the ball and tried to quickly flick a throw home for the tag play – but the ball sailed wide of Gaston as two runs came home. Carpenter was credited with an RBI and the second run ended up being earned when Samardzija balked moments later.
The play of the game followed after the balk, as Michael Burger sent a sharp linedrive into rightfield. Rizzo already had made several sparkling defensive plays during his career at the BIG EAST Tournament and he added to that showcase on Wednesday night, throwing a strike to the plate as Carpenter was tagged out for a dramatic double play that kept the score 6-4. The play would not have been completed if not for a stellar job by Gaston, who blocked the plate as the ball was arriving and quickly applied the tag.
Four runs in the 7th inning broke open the game for the Irish. The entire sequence saw five batters reach with 2-outs on the board, including consecutive hit batters on 2-strike counts (Gaston on a 2-2, Alex Nettey on a 3-2). A wild pitch advanced the runners and Brezovsky beat out a groundball that was smothered by the shortstop Doug Nelms.
Rizzo is batting just .261 this season but repeatedly has come through in the clutch, now hitting at a .300 clip with 2-out and .344 with runners in scoring position. Greg Lopez added an RBI double in the 8th and Gaston followed with a run-scoring single for the final margin.
NOTES – Samardzija owns a 6.11 ERA in the first two innings this season but has yielded just a 2.54 from the 3rd-5th innings … the two-sport star now is 3-0 with a 3.38 ERA in four career appearances vs. WVU (2 GS, 18.2 IP, 20 H, 3 BB, 12 Ks) … he has totaled just one walk in his past two starts this season, spanning 16.1 innings (13 Ks) … Cooper is batting 9-for-15 vs. WVU in his career (.600, 4 RBI, 4 R, 2B, BB, SB) … ND now leads the WVU series 21-10 (4-2 in the BET), with seven straight wins vs. the Mountaineers … the game was ND’s 50th in BIG EAST Tournament play (36-14; .720) … Baseball America has updated its prospect list for the upcoming Major League draft and Samardzija has climbed to No. 37 on that list (for college and high school players) … he previously was No. 40 among BA’s college prospects (as of early April) … BA also rates Samardzija as the 2nd-best athlete among draft-eligible college players, behind Texas CF Drew Stubbs … another BIG EAST player, Villanova’s Kevin Mulvey, is No. 30 on the current BA list and projected to go to the Dodgers with the 26th overall pick (Samardzija outdueled Mulvey in the final week of the regular season) … Barnes could be on his way to joining former Seton Hall DH Mo Vaughn, former St. John’s 3B Mike Dzurilla and recent Rutgers standout RHP Bobby Brownlie as the only freshmen named MVP of the BIG EAST Tournament (in 22 years of the event) … the Irish failed to start 2-0 at their first six BETs and were just 12-12 in those events but ND now has opened 2-0 at each of the past five, compiling a 14-2 record in that stretch (wins in 12 of the past 13 games) … the opening win over USF extended a noteworthy streak, as the Irish have avoided going 0-2 at all 22 postseason tournaments during the 12-year Paul Mainieri era (12 conference tournament and eight NCAA regionals, plus the 2002 super regional and College World Series) … the Irish have gone 0-2 at a postseason tournament just twice all-time, over a span of 43 events (36 straight with no 0-2 starts) … Cooper hit his 49th career double, tying Paul O’Toole for 11th in ND history … Cooper’s season run total (76) now is tied for 5th in the ND record book, trailing only Pat Pesavento (88 in ’89, 81 in ’88), Dan Peltier (81 in ’89) and Steve Stanley (76 in ’02) … his 188 career runs move him past Scott Sollmann into 8th place on that ND list (O’Toole is next, with 191) … Cooper’s 88 hits rank 13th in the ND record book while his 256 career hits are one behind Peltier for 8th in ND history … his 35 walks this season have pushed his career total to 108 (still 11th on that ND list, one behind Jeff Wagner) …
#18 Notre Dame (43-14-1) 3-3-0 0-0-0 4-2-0 – 12 13 1
West Virginia (36-21) 2-0-0 0-0-2 0-0-0 – 4 9 1
Home Runs: Matt Bransfield, ND (1 on in 1st; 6th of season, 18th of career); Stan Posluszny, WVU (1 on in 1st; 10h of season); Ross Brezovsky (solo in 2nd; 3rd of season, 5th of career).
Doubles: Craig Cooper (ND), Greg Lopez (ND), Casey Bowling (WVU).