May 23, 2004
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Javi Sanchez had hit just seven career home runs- and only one at Eck Stadium – during his four seasons with the Notre Dame baseball team, prior to Sunday’s final game of the 2004 regular-season slate. But is was only fitting that the spirited leader of the Irish squad would homer on second day, connecting on a game-tying blast in the sixth inning before watching his teammates score again en route to a 2-1 victory over Virginia Tech.
Notre Dame (46-10) set the team record for regular-season wins (besting the 45-9-1 mark by the top-ranked 2001 team) while becoming just the third BIG EAST Conference baseball team ever to post 20-plus wins in conference play (ND’s 1999 team was 20-5 while the ’01 squad was 22-4).
The Irish closed the regular season with a 12-1 run and now own an .826 season winning percentage that would rank fifth-best in the program’s 112-year history and best since the 1922 team went 19-4 (.826). Notre Dame also returned to 36 games over .500, a record that the ’04 team holds with the 2001 ND squad.
Sunday’s action also determined Notre Dame’s next opponent, as the Irish will open play in the four-team, double-elimination BIG EAST Tournament versus Boston College in the early game (3:30 EDT, 2:30 in South Bend) on Thursday, May 27, at Commerce Bank Ballpark in Bridgewater, N.J. Boston College slipped into a fourth-place finish after losing again at Seton Hall (6-5) while St. John’s turned in a bit win over Pittsburgh (17-5) to finish tied with the Panthers in second place (SJU technically claims the No. 2 seed, based on the head-to-head advantage).
If Notre Dame beats BC, the Irish will face the SJU-Pittsburgh winner in Friday’s winners game (3:30), with the first-day losers meeting earlier on Friday at noon. Another elimination game also will be played Friday night (7:00), with the championship game(s) slated for Saturday at 3:30 and 7:00 (if necessary).
Notre Dame ends the regular season with the third-most wins among 287 Division I teams, with only Texas (48-11) and East Carolina (47-9) owning more victories (Texas was able to play more than 56 games due to a three-game exempted series in Hawaii).
Sanchez and his classmates have joined their class-of-2003 predecessors in sharing the Notre Dame record for most wins during a four-year career (190-59-1). The class of 2004’s current four-year winning percentage (.762) also is on pace to best the ND record held by the class of 1993 (.758/185-59).
Sophomore lefthander Tom Thornton logged no decision despite another solid outing, after allowing the Hokies lone run on six hits and no walks over five innings. Thornton struck out just two batters but also rolled up 10 groundball outs while locating 66 of his 99 pitches for strikes.
Freshman righthander Jess Stewart (7-1) was the pitcher of record when the Irish took the lead in the 6th, after allowing a pair of hits and inducing a double-play ball in the top of the frame. Senior lefthander Joe Thaman then came on to retire six of the seven batters he faced (H, K) while sophomore closer Ryan Doherty struck out two and served up a game-ending groundout for his 11th save of the season.
Doherty has converted all but one of his 12 save chances and now is tied with John Corbin (’00) for second on the Notre Dame single-season saves list, behind former teammate J.P. Gagne’s 13 in 2003.
The Irish pitching staff quickly shook off Saturday’s 11-10 loss and now has logged six dominant results in the last seven games (1-0, 7-1 and 5-3 vs. Rutgers, 4-0 and 3-2 vs. Central Florida, and 9-0 and 2-1 vs. Virginia Tech) while dropping the team ERA to 3.45.
Sanchez has not racked up a high home run total in his Irish career but most of his blasts have come in timely fashion, including Sunday’s solo shot. The Irish catcher led off the bottom of the 6th by working ahead in the count (2-1) before pulling the ball down the leftfield line and over the fence for a 1-1 game. It was just his second home run of 2004 and first since the fifth game of the season on Feb. 28, when he tied the game at Florida Atlantic (1-1) in a 3-2 win for the Irish. It also marked just his second career home run t Eck Stadium and first since the 2002 win over Central Michigan (10-9).
Junior leftfielder Steve Andres (who also went 2-for-3 as ND’s only player with multiple hits) followed with a four-pitch walk versus senior righthander Josh Biber (5-1), who went the distance for the hard-luck loss (8 H, 3 BB, K). Another sophomore outfielder, Craig Cooper, continued his hot hitting by sending a 2-2 pitch through the left side and Matt Edwards then dropped a single into left field – but Andres was thrown out at the plate (the fourth time in the series the Hokies stopped a run at home).
Freshman centerfielder Danny Dressman – who had entered the game moments earlier as a defensive replacement – then nearly sliced an opposite-field single into the left-center gap but centerfielder Nate Parks slanted in for the catch while Cooper tagged up to complete the go-ahead sacrifice fly.
Virginia Tech (29-27, 11-15) had claimed the lead in the 4th, after Mat Foley’s one-out single to center field, a groundout and Warren Schaeffer’s RBI double down the leftfield line.
Andres pulled a leadoff double down the rightfield line in the 2nd and moved up on Cooper’s walk and a sacrifice bunt from Edwards – but the Hokies threw him out at the plate on a groundout to the right side. Andres also had a leadoff single in the 4th and advanced on Cooper’s bunt but Biber delivered a strikeout and flyout to strand the runner at second.
Thaman’s impressive outing included a pair of groundouts and two foulouts, with his strikeout in the 8th completing a 10-pitch inning.
Both teams hit 2-for-12 with runners on base and 1-for-7 with them in scoring position but the Irish put five leadoff runners on base (compared to just two for the Hokies).
GAME NOTES – Doherty struck out the first batters he faced (both swimming at 1-2 pitches) before pinch-hitter Sheldon Adams grounded out to Edwards at first … the Irish logged their 24th error-free game of the season and the 8th in the 12 games since 2B Steve Sollmann returned from injury … sophomore SS Greg Lopez continued to make several slick-fielding plays up the middle while logging his 39th error-free game of the season (15 straight) while 3B Matt Macri now owns 47 error-free games … Sanchez’s other timely home runs (in addition to those vs. CMU, FAU and VT) include the following: a 2-run blast in the 7-4 win over Michigan in ’02 (at Fifth Third Ballpark in Grand Rapids), another 2-run HR in the tight ’02 BIG EAST Tournament loss to Rutgers (4-3), a game-tying shot (3-3) vs. Stanford in the ’02 College World Series (5-4 loss) and a 2-run HR that forged a 9th-inning tie (6-6) at Jacksonville in ’03 (8-6 loss) … the six members of the senior class – Sollmann, Sanchez, Thaman, LHP Cody Wilkins and infielders Zach Sisko and Tim Murray – were honored prior to the game … just two previous BIG EAST teams have managed to even reach 19 league wins (the 1999 Rutgers team was 19-7, the ’02 RU team 19-6).
SERIES STATS – The Irish offense will be looking to bottle several strong moments from the VT series and ride that momentum for the postseason, as six of the nine starters combined to bat .350 or higher in the series: Cooper (.667, 6-for-9/667, 5 RBI, HR, 2 2B, 1.222 slugging, 3 BB, .750 OB, 1.972 OBS, SAC, SB), Macri (.571, 8-for-14, 2 RBI, 5 R, 2 HR, 2B, 1.071 slugging, BB, K, SB, 2 Es, 600 OB, 1.671 OBS), Sanchez (5-for-10, 4 RBI, 4 R, 3 2B, 1.100 slugging, BB, 500 OB, 1.600 OBS), Andres (4-for-10, R, 2B, RBI, BB, 2 Ks), Lopez (.364, 4-for-11, R, 2B, RBI, BB) and Sollmann (.364, 4-for-11, 3 R, RBI, 3 BB, HBP, 4 SB) … the Irish hit .381 in the series (well above the overall .315 season avg.), with a 21-12 scoring edge, .588 team slugging, .462 team-on-base and a +11 in the walks (15) plus hit-by-pitch (3) minus Ks (7) margin … Macri’s two errors in game-2 two were ND’s only of the series (.983 fielding pct.) while the staff posted a 3.33 ERA and .262 opp. batting avg. in the series (22 Ks, 8 BB, 27 H in 27 IP) … top hitters for the week (including the UCF games) again were Macri (.476, 10-for-21, 7 R, 2 RBI, 2 HR, 3B, 2 2B, 2 BB, 2 Ks, SB, .952 slugging, .522 on-base, 1.474 OBS) and Cooper (.461, 6-for-13, 5 RBI, 4 R, HR, 2 2B, 6 BB, 2 Ks, SAC, SB, .846 slugging, .632 on-base, 1.478 OBS) while Sanchez surged to a .412 hitting week (7-for-17, 4 R, 3 2b, HR, 6RBI, 2 BB, SF, SB, .765 slugging).
TEAM RECORD BOOK UPDATE – Here’s where the 2004 Irish rank in the ND record book as they enter the postseason: 4th in runs per game (8.00, most since ’94), hits per game (10.77, just behind the 10.79 in ’02) and on-base pct. (.413, most since ’94); 2nd in pitchers K-to-walk ratio (2.62) and low walk avg. (2.70 BB/9 IP), both behind the ’01 staff (2.92 K/BB, 2.48 BB/9 IP); and 2nd in fielding pct. (.968, behind the ‘970 in ’03) … the .247 opp. batting avg. ranks 5th-best since ’71 (2nd since ’92) … ND’s 95 times hit-by-pitch blew away the old record (75) by midseason and ranks 11th in NCAA history … four previous ND teams have posted more total wins: 50 in 2002, 49 in ’01 and 49 in ’89 and ’92.
PITCHING RECORD BOOK UDPATE – Junior RHP Chris Niesel enters the postseason ranked 2nd in ND history with an .870 career win pct. (20-3, trailing only the .917/22-2 posted by Herb Kelly from 1912-14), also owning the best career K-to-walk ratio in ND history (4.20) while ranking 4th in lowest career walk avg. (1.88 BB/9 IP), 7th in strikeouts (227, nine behind Alan Walania), 8th in starts (42, one behind Chris Michalak) and 10th in innings (258.0) … Niesel’s 4.59 season K-to-walk ratio would rank 7th in ND history (just above his 4.59 in ’03) … Doherty now has enough innings to rank him near the top of several ND career categories, including the program’s best ratios of Ks per 9 IP (13.12, ahead of Dan McGinn’s 12.66 from ’64-’65) and fewest hits allowed per 9 IP (5.58, below McGinn’s 6.27) … Doherty also now ranks 2nd in ND history for career ERA (2.41, just behind All-American Nick Palihnich’s 2.36 from ’59-’61), plus 3rd in K-to-walk ratio (3.96, behind Walania’s 4.00) and saves (12, behind Corbin’s 20 and Gagne’s 19) and 4th in low walk avg. (1.88/9 IP) … Doherty’s season K avg. (12.48/9 IP) would rank 2nd in ND history (behind Frank Carpin’s 12.48 in ’58) while his 4.65 hits/9 IP in 2004 is on pace to best Ed Lupton’s standing record of 4.83 in ’63 … Doherty’s 27 appearances this season rank 8th in the ND record book … junior RHP Grant Johnson’s 1.58 season ERA would rank 8th in ND history while his 5.52 hits/9 IP also ranks 8th … four ND pitchers own season opp. batting averages that would rank in the ND record book (state kept since ’91): Doherty (1st at .148), Johnson (3rd at .171), freshman RHP Jeff Samardzija (6th, .199) and Thaman (9th, .205).
POSITION PLAYERS RECORD BOOK UDPATE – Sollmann enters the ’04 postseason ranked 2nd in the ND record book for career hits (296), plus 3rd in fielding assists (600), 4th in stolen bases (83), runs (207) and at-bats (814), 8th in batting avg. (.364) and 10th in games started (212) … Macri and Sollmann are tied for 9th with 12 career triples … Sollmann’s 101 career walks leave him eight shy of that top-10 list … sophomore OF Cody Rizzo’s 47 career HBPs easily are the ND record while Sanchez’s 25 rank 8th (he also ranks 8th with 806 putouts) … Macri’s impressive all-around season includes a .691 slugging pct. (11th in ND history, best since Jeff Wagner’s .720 in ’99), 70 runs scored and 143 total bases (both 10th) … Macri’s seven triples in ’04 rank 6th in the ND record book (best since ’97) while his 12 HRs are two shy of that top-10 list … Andres (39) needs five more walks to crack that ND season top-10 … Rizzo’s 19 HBPs in ’04 trail only his 28 from ’03 in the ND record book, with Sanchez’s 13 ranking 8th … Lopez (165) is 10 assists shy of reaching that season top-10 list.
Virginia Tech 0-0-0 1-0-0 0-0-0 – 1 9 0 (46-10, 20-6 BIG EAST)
#6 Notre Dame 0-0-0 0-0-2 0-0-X – 2 8 0 (29-27, 11-15 BIG EAST)
Josh Biber (L, 5-1) and Jed English.
Tom Thornton, Jess Stewart (6; W, 7-1), Joe Thaman (7), Ryan Doherty (9; SV, 11).
Home Run: Javi Sanchez (solo in 6th; 2nd of season)
Doubles: Steve Andres (ND), Warren Schaeffer (VT).