April 30, 2003
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The 13th-ranked Notre Dame baseball team pushed across four runs in the first inning and that ended up being the story for the Irish, who held off visiting Oakland (Mich.) University for a 4-1 win on “Turn Back the Clock Night” at Eck Stadium.
Notre Dame (35-10) – which now owns a 15-0 first-inning scoring edge during the last 10 games – manufactured its second-most productive opening frame of the season but managed just four baserunners the rest of the way.
Freshman lefthander Tom Thornton (4-1) avoided the big inning en route to the victory, striking out four Oakland batters while allowing an unearned run, six hits and just one walk (slicing his ERA to 1.66). Rookie righthander Ryan Doherty then continued his recent dominance, striking out three in two shutout innings of relief, before senior closer J.P. Gagne came on to tie the Notre Dame record with his 11th save of the season (just three other pitchers in the nation entered the week with more saves).
Notre Dame had entered the week ranked 13th in the nation for staff ERA (3.34), with Michigan’s eight runs on Tuesday and Oakland’s unearned run leaving that number at 3.37 heading into this weekend’s BIG EAST showdown with West Virginia (which entered the week ranked sixth nationally with a .339 team batting average, see more below).
Oakland (17-23) owned a 10-4 hit edge but stranded eight baserunners while hitting into three costly double plays. Junior lefthander Dominic Carminoso (3-9) suffered the hard-luck loss, allowing just one earned run, three hits and three walks in six innings of work (with five Ks).
Junior second baseman Steve Sollmann – who saw his career-best hitting streak end at 15 games – opened the bottom of the first with a full-count walk before moving up on Greg Lopez’s sacrifice bunt and his 26th stolen base of the season.
Sophomore shortstop Matt Macri – who like the third baseman Lopez was making just the second start of the season in their respective No. 2 and 3 spots – then was hit with a 2-2 pitch and Matt Edwards followed with a rightside groundball that scored Sollmann for the early lead.
Freshman DH Matt Bransfield – who is batting .359 overall and 12-for-25 (.480) in his last 10 games played – sent the next pitch through the left side and his classmate Cody Rizzo reached on a fielding error, loading the bases. A passed ball sent home the second Irish run and senior centerfielder Kris Billmaier capped the inning with his own single through the left side (plating two runs, on a 1-2 pitch).
Doherty yielded two hits but faced only eight batters in the 6th-7th innings, dropping his season ERA to 2.45 (he has not allowed on earned run since a rough outing in the season opener, spanning nine appearances and 17.2 innings).
Gagne – who has converted all 11 of his traditional save chances this season, including three in ND’s last four wins – also allowed two hits but rolled up a pair of double-play balls, lowering his career-best ERA to 2.68. His 11 saves match the ND record set in 2000 by former teammate John Corbin, with Gagne’s 17 career saves now three shy of that Irish record (also held by Corbin).
OAKLAND 0-0-0 0-1-0 0-0-0 – 1 10 1
NOTRE DAME 4-0-0 0-0-0 0-0-X – 4 4 1
Dominic Carmoniso (L, 3-9), Gordon Hosbein (7), Kyle Boehm (8) and Chris Hilton.
Tom Thornton (W, 4-1), Ryan Doherty (6), J.P. Gagne (8; SV, 11) and Javi Sanchez.
Doubles: Peter Varon (OAK).
POSTGAME NOTE UPDATES – Sollmann’s BIG EAST-leading stolen base total moved to 27, passing his brother Scott’s freshman-year total (26, in ’94) for 10th on the ND single-season SB list … the Irish now have just three games (BIG EAST series vs. West Virginia, May 3-4) in the next nine days, with final exams slated for next week … Gagne has not allowed an earned run in his last five outings (7.2 IP) and owns a 1.41 ERA in his last 11 appearances (3 ER, 19.1 IP) … he made his 86th career appearance, six shy of Chris Michalak’s ND record. (more on p. 2).
LOFTY LOFTERS – The 6-foot-7 Thornton (1.66, 4-1, 11 GP/7 GS, 43.1 IP, .264 opp. avg., 22 Ks, 13 BB, 42 H, 3 WP, 5 HB) and the 7-foot-1 Doherty (2.45, 2-0, 10 GP/1 GS, 18.1 IP, .200 opp. avg., 31 Ks, 6 BB, 13 H) have combined for the following impressive numbers in their rookie season: 1.90 ERA, 6-1 record in 21 appearances (8 starts) and 61.2 IP, .246 opp. avg., 53 Ks, 19 BB, 55 H … Doherty is averaging 15.2 Ks per 9 IP, with his nine outings since the opener vs. Dayton (0.2 IP, 5 R, 4 H, 2 BB) including an 0.00 ERA, a .150 opp. avg. and nearly an 8-to-1 K-to-walk ratio (31/4) in those 17.2 IP.
NCAA STATS (released late Tuesday) – ND entered the week ranked 13th in the nation for staff ERA (3.34, now 3.37) and 17th in fielding pct. (remains .972) … just five other teams (all among the nation’s elite) – Rice, Long Beach State, Mississippi State, Arizona State and Cal State Fullerton – entered the week ranked in the top-20 for both ERA and fielding … the Irish also entered the week ranked 7th in winning pct. … Sollmann (.402, now .388) entered the week just shy of the NCAA top-50 batting leaders (.404 cutoff) but was 16th in SBs per game (0.61, up to 0.63) … Edwards was 24th in RBI per game (1.26, now 1.23) and freshman LF Brennan Grogan 24th in triples per game (0.13, five total) … sophomore RHP John Axford – the likely Game 2 starter vs. WVU – owns the nation’s third-best undefeated record (9-0), behind Rice’s Jeff Niemann (11-0) and NC State’s Vern Sterry (10-0) … Axford also was 43rd in the nation with a 2.21 ERA … the only closers who entered the week with more saves than Gagne’s current total (11) were Auburn’s Steve Register (13), NCSU’s Joey Devine (13) and Virginia Tech’s Matt Dalton (12).
BEST VS. BEST – This weekend’s ND-WVU showdown will pit the BIG EAST’s top pitching and fielding team vs. the conference’s runaway offensive leader (.339 overall team batting average, 321 runs, 59 home runs and 87 doubles in 41 GP) … WVU entered the week ranked 6th in the nation for team batting avg. and 28th in scoring (7.8 runs/gm) … three WVU batters entered the week hitting above .400: Lee Fritz (.424, 23rd in nation), Jarod Rine (.406, 45th) and Jake Serfass (.402).
TOUGH TESTS – ND’s 2003 opponents include six who entered the week among the nation’s top-30 leaders in team batting (.318-plus): ASU, WVU, Minnesota, Ball State, Toledo and Michigan – with ASU, Toledo, WVU and Wake Forest also among the top-13 scoring leaders (7.8-plus runs/gm) … three ND opponents also were among the top-30 ERA leaders (3.67 or better) – ASU, VT and Nebraska – while five were among the top-30 fielding leaders (.970-plus): Purdue, Vanderbilt, ASU, Minnesota and Western Michigan.