March 6, 2004
SAN ANTONIO, Texas – The seventh-ranked Notre Dame baseball team overcame several early obstacles to complete a 12-11, 11-inning win over Southern Illinois in Friday’s opening-round action at the Alamo City Irish Baseball Classic. The Irish twice were down to their final out with no runners in scoring position but responded with a game-tying run in the bottom of the 9th and two more runs in the 10th to again tie the score, before winning in the 11th.
Notre Dame (7-0) – which continues on the program’s best start since the 1960 team opened 9-0 – did not even arrive in San Antonio until 1:00 a.m., due to the fierce winds in the Chicago area that delayed the outgoing flight, with most of the players (fresh off midterm week) reporting to the field at 10:00 a.m. after just six hours of sleep.
The late arrival could have played a part in the slow start for the Irish, with junior ace pitcher Chris Niesel forced from the game after three innings (the shortest start of his Notre Dame career) while the Notre Dame offense failed to register a hit until the fourth inning, versus sophomore lefthander Eric Haberer.
The slow start actually fits Notre Dame’s 2004 pattern, as the Irish are batting just .218 with 10 runs scored in the first 1st-3rd innings of games this season, compared to .429 with 65 runs after the 3rd inning. That pattern continued versus a Southern Illinois squad (0-10) that has faced a tough slate to open its season, as Notre Dame responded with 20 hits over the game’s final eight innings (led by seven different players with multiple hits).
The Salukis held early leads of 5-0 and 9-3 and were poised for a 9-8 win, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. P.J. Finigan – SIU’s starting shortstop – jumped ahead versus Matt Macri but the junior third baseman sent an 0-1 pitch up the middle to keep the Irish alive. Finigan then owned an 0-2 edge on Steve Andres but the lefthanded DH was not fooled on a third straight changeup, slicing an opposite-field double into the left-center gap. Macri was running on the play and motored all the way around to force extra innings.
SIU answered with two runs in the top of the 10th but Notre Dame again fought back with two outs, this time with Steve Sollmann on first base. Clutch singles from junior first baseman Matt Edwards (a first-pitch shot up the middle) and senior catcher Javi Sanchez (a 2-1 ball hit to the left side) loaded the bases before sophomore rightfielder Cody Rizzo – who had struck out in the ninth – gained redemption versus Finigan by tying the score by sending the first pitch he saw into left field for a two-run single.
Five different players – Andres, Macri, Edwards, Sanchez and Rizzo – all delivered hits with Notre Dame down to its final out.
Sophomore Craig Cooper was an unlikely hero in the 11th, after enduring a case of the flu that had limited him to earlier pinch-runner duties. In the game as a righthanded DH, Cooper greeted righthander Tyler Norrick with a double to right-center (on a 1-1 pitch). SIU then misplayed a sacrifice bunt from Greg Lopez and Cooper scampered home moments later with the winning run, on a wild pitch.
Senior lefthander Joe Thaman and freshman righthander Jeff Samardzija both logged 2.1 solid innings, in relief of Niesel and freshman Dan Kapala. Thaman retired all seven batters he faced while Samardzija also set down the first seven before walking the final batter he faced. Sophomore closer Ryan Doherty (2-0) then recorded the final five outs to close the multi-comeback day.
The Irish defense posted its fourth error-free game of the season, boosting Notre Dame’s team fielding percentage to an eye-popping .989 that includes just three errors (only one of those by the starting infielders and outfielders).
Notre Dame’s 9th-inning rally was set up by three runs in the 8th. Macri sent Bryan Rueger’s first pitch of the inning through the left side before Andres singled to center and Lopez added an RBI single through the left side. Three batters later and with Finigan on the mound, freshman centerfielder Danny Dressman stroked a two-out, first-pitch double to right-center that plated a pair of runs for a 9-8 game.
Sanchez’s 4-for-6 day included breaking up Hagerer’s no-hitter with a single to left-center in the 4th. Rizzo then was hit by a pitch (for the 31st time in young career), Macri added an RBI single through the left side and Matt Bransfield legged out an RBI single to the shortstop. A passed ball allowed Macri to score a second unearned run, cutting SIU’s lead to 5-3.
The Salukis put four more runs on the board in the 5th but Sanchez again sparked the Irish with a leadoff double in the 6th. Rizzo followed with an RBI single up the middle, Andres delivered a pinch-hit single to right and Lopez singled through the left side for a 9-5 game.
NOTES: ND is playing in San Antonio for the 8th time in the 10-year Paul Mainieri era … the Irish are 13-1 in their last 14 regular-season tournament games and have avoided an 0-and-2 start in 21 of the last 22 regular-season tournaments … Mainieri and 10th-year SIU head coach Dan Callahan were teammates at the University of New Orleans … ND now is 22-3 as the host team in San Antonio tournaments, with wins in the last 13 … the ND hitters own a .363 team batting avg., plus another impressive number with nearly as many walks + HBP (25+14) as strikeouts (40) … the Irish are averaging 11.4 runs per 9 innings (75 in 59) … ND now has posted 20, 19 and 18-hit games in the young ’04 season … ND has dominated the scoring column this season in the 7th-8th innings (21-1 combined; 10-0 in 7th, 10-1 in 8th) … the Irish are 11-1 in their last 12 one-run games (spanning the ’03 and ’04 seasons) … SIU pushed across a run in the 1st, marking just the fourth 1st-inning run allowed by Niesel in his ND career.
SOUTHERN ILLINOIS 1-0-4 0-4-0 0-0-0 2-0 0 – 11 13 2
#7 NOTRE DAME 0-0-0 3-0-2 0-3-1 2-1 1 – 12 20 0
Eric Haberer, Jason Chavez (6), Bryan Rueger (6), P.J. Finigan (8), Tyler Norrick (11; L, 0-1) and Nathan Emrick, Brendan Lutz (8).
Chris Niesel, Dan Kapala (4), Joe Thaman (5), Jeff Samrdzija (8), Ryan Doherty (10; W, 2-0) and Javi Sanchez.
Triple: Finigan (SIU)
Doubles: Danny Dressman (ND), Sanchez (ND), Steve Andres (ND), Craig Cooper (ND), Tyler Schooley (SIU), Cory Newman (SIU).