April 7, 2004
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Freshman righthander Jess Stewart tossed five shutout innings while the Irish offense erupted for another big inning, as the fourth-ranked Notre Dame baseball team pushed its winning streak to 11 games with Wednesday’s 9-3 win over visiting Valparaiso.
Notre Dame (24-3) continues to go where no Irish baseball team has gone before, with the current .889 winning percentage ranking ahead of the final record posted by any previous ND team that played more than 25 games (just two others – the 20-1/.952 team of 1908 and the 21-2/.913 squad of ’07 – have finished with a win pct. higher than .889). Notre Dame and the University of Albany (16-3) also currently lead all of Division I baseball with the fewest losses, after Wichita State (16-4) dropped a 13-9 game to Oral Roberts earlier in the week, while ND and Texas (32-4) are tied for the national lead in winning pct., with Texas just winning a narrow 4-2 game over a Texas-San Antonio team that handed ND its first loss of the season.
Stanford (23-4), Mississippi (25-4) and Eastern Kentucky (20-4) are the nation’s only other teams currently with four losses (EKU’s pitching coach is former ND record-setting closer John Corbin). Southern Mississippi entered the week 24-4 before dropping two games to Mississippi State.
Stewart – who had a similar solid effort in the rematch vs. UTSA during the Alamo City Irish Baseball Classic title game – dropped his ERA to 3.70 and was just inches away from improving to 4-0 for the season, after facing one batter over the minimum (16) in five innings of work. He struck out six batters and allowed four total runners to reach base (one on a single, two as hit batters and one via an error), but senior catcher Javi Sanchez nailed two attempted basestealers while Greg Lopez, Zach Sisko and Matt Edwards turned a 4-6-3 double play in the 4th.
The Irish provided just one run of support during Stewart’s five-inning, 50-pitch stint (as part of a planned rotation), with VU sophomore righthander Matt Gilkin logging his own solid five innings. Sophomore rightfielder and leadoff hitter Craig Cooper opened the scoring with one out in the 3rd, launching a first-pitch offering from Gilkin over the leftfield fence. Cooper – who did not hit a home run during his freshman season – has collected all four of his 2004 home runs during the last six games, with the previous three being opposite-field shots down the rightfield line.
Stewart’s classmate Mike Dury (2-0) narrowly served up the tying home run in the 6th – and the 6-5, 225-pound lefthander went on to be credited with the win when the Irish pushed across six runs in the bottom of the frame. VU sophomore catcher Tyler Lowell led off the 6th by pulling a 1-1 pitch down the line, with the ball clanking off the leftfield foul pole for his first home run of the season.
Valparaiso (4-18) was done in by six errors, several of which led to the final four Irish runs being unearned.
Notre Dame’s six-run 6th represented the fourth time in the last five games that the Irish have scored six-plus runs in an inning – compared to just three innings of six-plus runs in the first 22 games. Sophomore leftfielder Steve Andres started the big inning with his team-leading 23rd walk of the season (on four pitches) and then showed off his surprising speed on the bases by motoring all the way around to score on classmate Matt Bransfield’s double down the leftfield line (that ended the night for Gilkin, who ultimately was charged for three runs on four hits and three walks, with five Ks in five-plus innings of work).
Freshman righthander Chris Riley then took the mound and Bransfield came around to score on an errant pickoff try from the catcher Powell and a wild pitch (sandwiched around Edwards’ full-count walk). Sanchez then ripped the next pitch into the right-center gap and took second on the errant throw by rightfielder Kevin Perri. Lopez later sent a one-out, first-pitch single through the left side (plating Edwards) and Sanchez scored on Sean Gaston’s flyout to left-center that was credited as a sacrifice fly – with the leftfielder Kevin Kutansky dropping the ball for the inning’s third error.
Another wild pitch moved the runners to second and third and junior third baseman Matt Macri continued his recent surge by delivering with two outs, pulling a 1-1 pitch down the leftfield line to chase home two more runs.
Bransfield’s leadoff double down the leftfield line (on a full count) sparked two more runs in the 7th, with third baseman Ryan Manthei then making two errors on the same play when he bobbled Sanchez’s errant bunt and then threw wide of first base (allowing both runners to take an extra base). Lopez then came through with two outs, sending yet another hit down the leftfield line for his team-leading ninth double of the season (and sixth in the last 11 games).
Valparaiso native and freshman righthander Jeff Samardzija tossed a scoreless 7th vs. his hometown school (3 BF, H), pushing his shutout streak to 15 innings while lowering his season ERA to 0.47 (plus a .141 opp. batting avg., 10 Ks, 7 BB, 9 H in 19.1 IP). Sophomore closer Ryan Doherty later mowed down the final three batters (two on Ks), dropping his ERA to 0.66 (also .111, 16 Ks, 6 BB, 5 H, 13.2 IP).
** updated team notes included below linescore **
Valparaiso (4-18) 0-0-0 0-0-1 0-0-2 – 3 5 6
#4 Notre Dame (24-3) 0-0-1 0-0-6 2-0-X – 9 9 2
Matt Gilkin (L, 0-2), Chris Riley (6), Adam Paetznick (9) and Tyler Lowell, Troy Garrett (7).
Home Runs: Craig Cooper, ND (solo in 3rd; 4th of season); Lowell, VU (solo in 6th; 1st of season).
Doubles: Matt Macri (ND), Matt Bransfield (ND), Greg Lopez (ND), Jon Rupni (VU).
Steve Sollmann UPDATE (as announced earlier in the week) – Notre Dame senior 2B Steve Sollmann – who was injured on April 3, during an in-game collision with a teammate – had April 5 surgery on his jaw in his native Cincinnati … he was released April 6 and is slated to return to Notre Dame on April 9 (he will attend the upcoming BIG EAST doubleheaders at Eck Stadium,. vs. Boston College and St. John’s) … Sollmann then is scheduled to attend classes next week and return to Cincinnati on Friday, April 16, for a follow-up with the medical staff in Cincinnati … further information on Sollmann’s rehab status and a possible return to action will be forthcoming, with no additional information available until likely after April 16 … Sollmann’s 2-for-3 start in the Villanova series opener pushed his career hit total to 280, passing former double-play partner Alec Porzel (279) into 4th on the ND career hits list … he also tied Mike Amrhein for 6th in runs scored (195), in addition to ranking 9th in career batting avg. (.362) and at-bats (774), 7th in triples (13), 5th in stolen bases (72) and 4th in fielding assists (561, just one behind Porzel) in 202 games played/200 starts … Sollmann had pushed his season batting avg. to .294, after hitting 10-for-21 (.476) in his six games played leading up to the injury.
BIG EASTER SCRAMBLE – An unusual BIG EAST schedule kicks off tomorrow (Thursday) with five sets of doubleheaders including Boston College at Villanova … BC has announced that it will start its ace RHP Chris Lambert and tough lefty Kevin Shepard vs. the Wildcats, meaning that ND will see two different starters when five more doubleheaders are played on Saturday (the exact same scenario played itself out last season, with Lambert and Shepard facing Villanova but the ND-BC games were washed out) … ND’s 2002 CWS team had a memorable sweep of BC late in the season, with Joe Thaman achieving the rarity of grand slams in back-to-back games of that series (BC did not qualify for the ’02 or ’03 BIG EAST Tournaments, meaning the Irish batters still have faced Lambert only once) … in another scheduling quirk, Monday’s opponent (St. John’s) will have three days off before facing the Irish (SJU plays at UConn on Thursday).
FANTASTIC FIVE – The sophomore fivesome of RF Craig Cooper, LF Steve Andres, DH Matt Bransfield, SS Greg Lopez and CF Cody Rizzo (.317) continues to make big impacts in recent games … Cooper extended his career-best hitting streak to eight games (.539/14-for-26, 10 RBI, 9 R) while Andres’ career-best hit streak has climbed to 10 games (.400/12-for-30, 10 RBI, 11 R) … Cooper’s .369 season batting avg. trails only Matt Macri (.379) among ND regulars, with Andres fifth at .339 (behind Greg Lopez’s .366 and Sean Gaston’s .364) … Bransfield has hits in 12 of the last 13 games and is batting .319 overall.
LOFTY LEFTSIDERS – Sophomore SS Greg Lopez (.250 in ’03, .366 in ’04) and junior 3B Matt Macri (.273 in ’02/’03, .379 in ’04) continue to hit well above their career averages heading into ’04 … Macri posted his 21st error-free game of the season (in 24 GP), has just 5 Es all season and has made just 1 E in the last 16 games (spanning 53 chances) … … Macri edged past his classmate Matt Edwards for the team ERA lead (30-29), followed by Lopez and Matt Bransfield (72 ABs) with 22 each (Lopez totaled just 26 RBI in 50 GP/40 GS/132 ABs during the ’03 season while Bransfield had only 10 RBI in 33 GP/17 GS/71 ABs) … since going 1-for-12 in the series at West Virginia, Macri is batting 13-for-20 (.650) during the last five games (8 RBI, 12 R, 4 BB, HBP, 2 3B, 2B).
INSIDE THE NUMBERS – The Irish own solid all-around statistical numbers, with a .318 team batting avg., a 3.61 staff ERA and a .971 fielding pct. (31 Es) that would tie the ND record set in ’03 … ND’s average of 1.1 HRs per game (30 in 27 GP; with 19 in last 14) ranks with the top power teams in the program’s history (prior to the changes in bat differential), with the ’98 team averaging 1.26 HRs/gm, the ’99 team 1.15 and the ’97 team 1.10 … ND’s avg. of 8.89 runs per game would rank 2nd in the ND record book behind the 1958 team (9.24) that was one year removed from the CWS … the 11.33 hits per game is just shy of the ND record (11.35, in ’97) … a focus of the ND offense has been ratio of walks (136) plus HBPs (49) minus Ks (155), with ND now +30 in that ratio (compared to -40 in ’03) … ND’s .422 on-base pct. is 104 points higher than the team batting avg. and would rank 3rd in the ND record book (.457 in ’93, .433 in ’89) … the .243 opponent batting avg. is 3rd-best by an ND staff since 1971 (.227 in 1975, .239 in ’92) … one of the ND pitching staff’s season-long goals was reduced walk totals, with the current avg. of 2.83 Ks/9 IP just shy of the 2nd-best mark in the ND record book (2.82 in ’94, 2.48 in ’01) … ND now owns a 57-15 combined scoring edge in the 7th (28-8) and 8th (29-7) innings … the Irish are 51-7 in their last 58 at Eck Stadium (since mid-2002) … ND has scored in 111 straight games, 340 of the last 341 and 583 of 587 in the Mainieri era (99.32%) … the Irish now have won 14 times by 5-plus runs … ND now is 63-8 in April during the past four seasons … senior C Javi Sanchez has hit safely in his last seven games and is batting .322 overall … all nine of the current/healthy regulars – Macri, Cooper, Lopez, Gaston, Andres, Sanchez, Bransfield, Rizzo and Edwards (.316) – are batting above .315 (injured senior 2B Steve Sollmann had surged to .294).
WINNING STREAKS – The current 11-game winning streak ties for the 5th-longest of the 10-year Mainieri era … it marks the fourth straight year that ND has posted a win streak of 11-plus (16 in 01, 02, 17 in 03) … the program’s history includes eight all-time win streaks of 14-plus games (record of 18 was set in ’01) … here are the nine double-digit win streaks of the Mainieri era:
* 17 (March 13-April 14, 2003)
* 16 (April 11-May 4, 2002)
* 16 (April 4-25, 2001)
* 13 (April 8-23, 1998)
* 11 (March 24, 2004-active)
* 11 (March 8-28, 1999)
* 11 (April 13-23, 1995)
* 10 (March 26-April 5, 1998)
* 10 (March 24-April 6, 1996)