March 18, 2003

Notre Dame junior second baseman Steve Sollmann (Cincinnati, Ohio) earned his second BIG EAST player-of-the-week honor of the young 2003 season while Irish sophomore righthander Chris Niesel (Plantation, Fla.) was named BIG EAST pitcher of the week, after both played key roles in the team’s successful Spring Break trip to Jacksonville, Fla., for the Kennel Club Classic (6-1 team record).

Sollmann joined teammate and senior rightfielder Kris Billmaier with team-leading totals during the six-game week in batting average (.478), hits (11-for-23), total bases (17) and slugging percentage (.739), plus six RBI, seven runs, three walks , a home run, triple and double, two sacrifice bunts, four stolen bases, just one strikeout and no errors in 28 fielding chances. His three-run, inside-the-park home run accounted for all of ND’s scoring in the 3-2 win over Eastern Illinois and he totaled four multiple-hit games, boosting his season total to nine games with two-plus hits (including his third and fourth three-hit games of the season during the Jacksonville trip).

Niesel logged his second consecutive dominant outing on the Spring trip to help Irish overcome missed offensive chances and four errors, in the 3-2 win over Eastern Illinois. He posted nine strikeouts and eight groundball outs (plus two popups and infield lineout) vs. EIU while allowing two hits, two walks and a pair of unearned runs (in the 8th). The Panthers managed to hit just six balls out of the infield vs. Niesel, with four flyouts to right field and a pair of singles through the infield. He allowed just two baserunners in the first six innings (facing the minimum in five of those innings), with his classic control resulting in 75 of his 105 total pitches going for strikes.

As Notre Dame (ranked 19th in the Baseball America poll and 25th in the USA Today/ESPN coaches poll) readies for its first BIG EAST Conference series this weekend at Villanova, Sollmann ranks among the league leaders in several overall categories: 1st in triples (2), 2nd in hits (24), runs (15) and stolen bases (9), 4th in total bases (33), 5th in on-base pct. (.492) and slugging pct. (.589), and 6th in batting avg. (.429). He has struck out just three times all season while making only one error.

Billmaier leads all BIG EAST players in total bases (38) while ranking 2nd in RBI (15), 3rd in home runs (3) and slugging pct. (.623), 4th in doubles (5), 7th in hits (22) and 8th in runs (12). Sophomore 3B/1B Matt Edwards ranks 5th among BIG EAST players in RBI (13) and 10th in doubles (4).

Niesel – who has won 23 of his last 25 overall decisions, dating back to his senior year of high school – ranks 2nd among BIG EAST pitchers in lowest opponent batting avg. (.198), 3rd in innings (26.0) and 5th in strikeouts (21). His classmate John Axford ranks 7th among BIG EAST pitchers in ERA (2.62) and wins (3-0), 7th in strikeouts (20) and 8th in innings (24.0) while senior closer J.P. Gagne ranks 2nd in saves (3) and 5th in appearances (7).