March 31, 2004
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The fifth-ranked Notre Dame baseball team – playing what head coach Paul Mainieri dubbed “possibly our most complete game of the season” – extended one of the top starts in the program’s history with Wednesday night’s 12-3 win over Western Michigan. All nine starters and reserve Craig Cooper combined on a 17-hit attack while three freshman pitchers did their job in a quality midweek outing, holding the Broncos to a pair of earned runs on seven hits and just one walk. The near-flawless Irish defense turned several above-average plays while avoiding multiple errors for the 15th time in 21 games this season – with the only error coming on a sinking linedrive that fell out of the glove of sophomore rightfielder Cody Rizzo.
Notre Dame now heads into April owning an 18-3 record, with just one previous team in the program’s 112-year history – the 2001 team (20-4-1) that went on to claim the nation’s No. 1 record – owning more wins prior to April 1. The second team of the Paul Mainieri won 17 games before April, after starting 17-7.
Wins in its next two games would land Notre Dame on 20 wins in just 23 games, with only the 1908 ND team (20-1) reaching 20 wins faster (the ’01 team’s 20-4-1 start currently is second on that list).
The 17 hits were the most by the Notre Dame offense in 14 games and are the fourth-most this season, behind the 20 in the extra-inning comeback vs. Southern Illinois, 19 vs. Minnesota and 17 vs. Winthrop.
The Irish again saw positive results from the flipped top of the lineup, as freshman centerfielder Danny Dressman batted 2-for-4 (RBI, 2 R, SB) in his fifth start at the leadoff spot while senior second baseman Steve Sollmann (3-for-5, RBI, R) continued his recent surge from the 2-hole. The bottom of the order also chipped in more steady production – with sophomore DH Matt Bransfield (3-for-4, 2 RBI, 2 R), junior third baseman Matt Macri (3-for-3, BB, R) and sophomore shortstop Greg Lopez (1-for-3, RBI, R) combining for a 7-for-10 night.
Bransfield hit the second of three Irish home runs in the game, giving the 6-1, 200-pound righthander four home runs during his current seven-game hitting streak. Junior first baseman Matt Edwards added his team-leading fifth home run of the season while Cooper became the fourth member of the sophomore class to hit his first career home run with the Irish during the past few weeks.
Notre Dame’s righthanded batters put on an impressive display of hitting to the opposite field, with seven different righthanders combining for eight hits to right field or right-center (including all three home runs). Two of Bransfield’s hits went the other way, with Macri, Sollmann, Rizzo and Lopez also collecting hits to right or right-center (along with Edwards and Cooper).
Freshman lefthander Mike Dury (1-0) won his first decision with the Irish, after retiring all nine batters he faced in relief of righthanded classmate Jess Stewart. The 6-5, 225-pound Dury struck out two WMU batters and served up five groundouts from the 5th-7th innings while keeping his season ERA at 0.00 in six innings pitched (plus 4 Ks, 1 BB and a .143 opponent batting avg. in 21 ABs). Dury located 22 of his 33 pitches for strikes in the efficient outing. Rookie righthander Dan Kapala then closed out the game with two shutout innings, two strikeouts and two hits allowed.
The Irish had struggled with their clutch hitting in Sunday’s 6-2 win at West Virginia, batting just 2-for-21 (.095) with runners on base and 2-for-17 (.118) with runners in scoring position during that game. The timely hitting reappeared in a big way on Wednesday, as ND hit 10-for-21 (.476) with runners on base and 6-for-14 with RBI opportunities (.429). The Irish also put 4-of-8 leadoff batters on bases (after 5-of-9 on Sunday, following just 4-of-19 in Saturday’s doubleheader) while batting 4-for-10 with 2 outs vs. the Broncos.
Notre Dame posted four runs on the board in the 2nd, chasing starter Bryan Rumple after the sophomore righthander had posted just five outs. Rumple hit Rizzo with a 1-0 pitch – Rizzo’s eighth HBP of the season and 36th of his career (two shy of the ND record) – before Bransfield sent an 0-1 pitch into left field. Macri then drove the next offering into right-center and Lopez delivered a bases-loaded sacrifice fly to center field. A passed ball brought home the second run and Dressman followed with an RBI single through the right side. Sollmann watched Dressman move up on a stolen base and another passed ball, working the count full before sending one of his patented singles to the right-center gap for the 4-0 lead.
Edwards jumped all over an 0-1 pitch from junior lefthander Clark Sterley to open the bottom of the 3rd, clearing the fence in right-center for his 13th home run in 92 career games with the Irish. WMU’s Adam Rosales then rode the wind over the rightfield wall for a two-run home run, cutting the deficit to 5-3 in the top of the 4th – but Notre Dame matched him with two runs in the bottom of the inning, as Lopez scored on an errant throw following Sollmann’s bunt single while an Edwards’ groundout plated Dressman.
Bransfield added his own solo shot in the 5th, launching freshman righthander Derek Schlecker 2-0 pitch over the rightfield fence for an 8-3 lead.
The Irish used four hits in the 6th for three more runs. Sollmann sent a 1-2 pitch up the middle for a leadoff single and sophomore leftfielder Steve Andres added a single to center before Edwards lifted a sacrifice fly down the rightfield line. Rizzo followed with a single to right-center, senior catcher Javi Sanchez added an RBI groundball and Bransfield drove the right-center gap for the 11-3 cushion.
Cooper capped the scoring with two outs in the 7th, drilling a shot down the rightfield line to cap the scoring.
The ND-WMU series stretches back to 1916, with the Broncos now owning a narrow 63-31-1 edge in the all-time series (the Irish have won the last three, after losing two straight).
Notre Dame roughed up the WMU bullpen (13-for-28, 8 runs) and now is batting .338 with 10.8 runs per 9 innings vs. relief pitching in 2004 (compared to .293 batting and 7.0 runs vs. starting pitchers).
The Irish pitchers combined for 15 groundball outs versus WMU while retiring 7-of-9 leadoff batters, with the ND staff setting down nearly 80% of leadoff batters in the last four games (29-of-38). The Irish pitchers had struggled with allowing 2-out hits at WVU (14-for-43/.326) but held the Broncos without a 2-out hit (0-for-9) in addition to just 2-for-11 with runners on base (ND has held the opponents to just .163 hitting/8-for-49 with runners on base in the last 4 GP).
UPDATED TEAM NOTES – Lopez (1-for-3) extended his career-best hitting streak to nine games and now is batting .411 for the season (tops among ND regulars) … Lopez is batting .469 (15-for-32) during the hit streak (9 R, 4 R, HR, 6 2B, 2 BB, 2 HBP, 2 SB, 2 sac. bunts) while Bransfield is batting .393 in his seven-game hit streak (11-for-28, 9 RBI, 6 R, 4 HR, 2B, 2 BB, 2 HBP) … Lopez saw another unique streak come to an end, as he had doubled in each of the previous six games (after totaling just a pair of doubles in the first 14 games) … since shifting to the 2-hole (where he hit for most of the 2002 College World Series season), Sollmann is batting .444 (8-for-18, 4 RBI, 5 R, HR, 3B, 5 BB, 2 SB, HBP) while raising his batting average from .234 to .280 … Macri bounced back from a 1-for-12 series at West Virginia … Sollmann now has posted 25 consecutive games with the Irish without making an error (spanning 139 fielding chances) … Lopez has logged 17 error-free games this season (11 of last 13) and has just one error in his last 37 chances … Macri again made several tricky glove plays and now owns 16 error-free games of his own (10 of last 11), with one 1 in the last 39 chances … Edwards still has just one error in his first fill season at first base, with the four starting infielder totaling just 12 errors between them this season … the entire team is averaging just one error per game (21), with the .975 team fielding pct. ahead of the team record set in ’03 (.971) … the Irish have totaled 11 error-free games, four with one error and just two games with three-plus Es … Sollmann’s three hits vs. WMU push his career total to 238, just one behind former double-play partner Alec Porzel for 4th on the ND career hits list … Sollmann’s career run total (194) now is just one behind Mike Amrhein for 6th on that ND list … Rizzo is batting 6-for-18 since returning from his six-game absence due to a wrist injury … Rizzo’s 36 career HBPs now are two shy of tying Craig DeSensi’s team record (38; ’92-’95) … Cooper follows Lopez, Grogan and Bransfield as the fourth ND sophomore to hit his first home run with the Irish during the ’04 season … the Irish hit just 31 home runs in 2003 but already have 21 HRs in 21 games this season, including 11 in the last eight games and three 3-HR games in ’04 … the Irish pitchers have combined for a 2.25 staff ERA with a .225 opponent batting avg. in the last eight games (since the 8-4 loss at SIU) … the Irish now have posted 10 wins by five-plus runs and have scored 12-plus runs in seven games … ND now owns a 14-3 scoring edge in the 2nd inning and has outscored the opposition 71-21 from the 6th-8th innings … one of the preseason goals of the ND pitching staff was a low walk total, with the ND pitchers now averaging just 2.9 walks per 9 IP (compared to 3.5 in ’03) while the 3.71 team ERA and .248 opp. batting are comparable to the ’03 staff numbers (3.53, .250) … the ND batters now are +21 when taking the team’s walks (96) plus HBPs (41) and subtracting the Ks (116) … the Irish are 33-6 in their last 39 games at Eck Stadium … Sollmann and Edwards have totaled seven multi-hit games (second to Lopez’s eight) while Edwards owns a team best seven multi-RBI games.
Western Michigan (8-13) 0-0-1 2-0-0 0-0-0 – 3 7 5
Notre Dame (18-3) 0-4-1 2-1-3 1-0-X – 12 17 1
Bryan Rumple (L, 0-1), Clark Sterley (2), Derek Schlecker (5), Charles Christner (6) and Cole Rathbun.
Home Runs: Matt Edwards, ND (solo in 3rd; 5th of season, 13th of career), Adam Rosales, WMU (1 on in 4th; 1st of season), Matt Bransfield, ND (solo in 5th inning, 4th of season); Craig Cooper (solo in 7th, 1st of career).
Doubles: Matt Bolton (WMU), Frank Ballard (WMU).