March 2, 2007
DELAND, Fla. – The Notre Dame baseball team jumped out to a 4-0 lead but homestanding Stetson chipped away before scoring the decisive two runs in the bottom of the seventh, as the Hatters edged the Irish, 5-4, in opening-day action at the Stetson Invitational. Notre Dame – which has started 2-5 for the second straight season, while facing a challenging early slate – next faces Iowa and 7th-ranked Nebraska in doubleheader action on Saturday, as the Irish will play the first three games of the tournament in a span of 24 hours.
Doubles from Brett Lilley and Ross Brezovsky highlighted Notre Dame’s four-run outburst in the top of the first, with Jeremy Barnes and Tony Langford adding RBI singles and Michael Wright coaxing a bases-loaded walk. Notre Dame junior righthander Joey Williamson struggled with his control and was unable to pitch out of the second inning – but senior righthander Dan Kapala came on to log 3.2 innings of strong relief that helped maintain the lead. Sophomore righthander Brett Graffy (0-2) ultimately suffered the loss, after allowing the two runs in the sixth.
The Irish played error-free for the first time this season but a first-inning passed ball proved costly, allowing an unearned run to score. Friday’s game marked the third time this season that unearned runs have provided Notre Dame’s margin of defeat, with the Irish holding middle-inning leads in each of those frustrating losses.
Notre Dame opened the game by sending 10 batters to the plate, sparked by Lilley’s double pulled down the rightfield line. Lilley then moved up on Danny Dressman’s 24th career sacrifice bunt and scored when Barnes sent a 1-1 pitch into right-center. A stolen base and the errant throw by the catcher put Barnes on third, with righthanded ace Corey Kluber then plunking Mike Dury before Langford went the other way on an 0-1 pitch – drilling the ball by the first baseman for the 2-0 lead. Brezovsky followed with an RBI double down the rightfield line and Matt Weglarz walked to load the bases before Wright earned a two-out walk to force home the fourth run.
Stetson (10-3) – which is on the fringe of the national top-25 rankings and already owns wins over LSU (2), South Florida and Louisville (2) – became the first Notre Dame opponent to score a first-inning run this season, with a five-pitch leadoff walk coming back to bite Williamson. Casey Frawley’s bunt and a groundout moved Shane Jordan to third base, with the run then scoring on the passed ball.
Williamson left the game with one out in the second inning and ultimately was charged with two runs (one earned), after allowing six of his 10 batters faced to reach base (on three walks, two hit batters and a single). Stetson cut the lead to 4-2 when Shane Jordan was hit by an 0-1 pitch – but Kapala came out of the bullpen to leave his three inherited runners stranded on base. Fawler struck out looking at a 1-2 pitch and Braedyn Pruitt hit a rightside groundout to end the threat and leave the Irish with a two-run cushion.
Kapala impressively located 76% of his pitches for strikes (37 of 49) and at one point fired a first-pitch strike to eight straight batters. He went on to allow one run on two hits in 3.2 innings, striking out three of his 13 batters faced. The Hatters cut the lead to 4-3 in the third, after Brian Pruitt’s one-out double, a Justin Bass single through the left side and Adam Tindle’s sacrifice fly.
The Irish still clung to the lead when Stetson staged the decisive rally in the seventh. Kevin Johnson’s bad-hop single carried away from shortstop Jeremy Barnes and the leadoff batter then stole second before taking third on Jordan’s single into center field. Frawley sent the next pitch through the left side of the infield – tying the game – and Braedyn Pruitt then placed the go-ahead single through the right side.
Brezovsky hit 2-for-3 with a double, RBI and walk – pushing his team-best season batting average to .381.
Notre Dame (2-5) 4-0-0 0-0-0 0-0-0 – 4 5 0
Stetson (10-3) 1-1-1 0-0-0 2-0-X – 5 7 1