May 10, 2004
STORRS, Conn. – Matt Macri headed into the Notre Dame-Connecticut baseball series as a leading candidate for all-BIG EAST honors, with strong all-around play through a large chunk of the 2004 season. One gaping hole in his production had been during BIG EAST road games and that futility had continued in Sunday’s game-1 victory at Christian Field, when the junior third baseman went 0-for-4 without an RBI.
But Macri’s performance in Sunday’s game-2 win and Monday’s 16-8 clincher – which featured a first-inning, 10-inning explosion from the Irish, with three home runs among 10 hits in the frame – put his earlier BIG EAST road struggles firmly in the rearview mirror. Macri had hit just .122 (5-for-41) with no RBI in the team’s first 11 BIG EAST games outside of Eck Stadium before closing the UConn series by batting 5-for-9 with 5 RBI and 7 runs scored.
The story lines and statistical highlights were many for Notre Dame, as the nation’s 8th-ranked team became the first Irish squad ever to sweep three 3-game BIG EAST series in the same season (the previous eight ND teams had combined for just five 3-0 BIG EAST road sweeps). Notre Dame also matched the team record for most BIG EAST road wins in a season, at 10-3.
Notre Dame (38-9, 15-5) kept pace with Pittsburgh atop the BIG EAST standings, followed by Rutgers (13-5), St. John’s (13-7) and Boston College (11-7). RU and BC had an earlier doubleheader rained out, meaning that the final standings likely will include teams with different games-played totals (the top four, sorted by winning pct., will advance to the BIG EAST Tournament).
The efficient Notre Dame offense plated 16 runs while leaving just six on base, with all 16 runs coming via RBI hits (8 on home runs, 6 on singles, 2 on doubles). The special number of the day appeared to be 16, as the Irish also rapped out their most hits (16) in the last 24 games, dating back to the BIG EAST opener vs. Villanova on April 3.
The Irish will have plenty to play for next weekend when Rutgers visits Eck Stadium (May 15-16), as several different combinations could help ND secure a BIG EAST postseason berth before the final series vs. Virginia Tech (a unique three-day series, on May 21-23). Prior to the RU series, Notre Dame will be heading to Grand Rapids for its annual showdown with Michigan. Freshman righthander Jeff Samardzija is the probable starter for the Irish, with the “Baseball Bash” organizers anticipating in excess of 3,500 fans for the ND-UM matchup.
Connecticut (22-24, 6-14) used six innings of 1-hit ball from sophomore righthanded reliever Tim Norton to help stage a midgame rally, cutting the lead to 13-8 in the 6th inning before Irish relievers Dan Kapala and Ryan Doherty shut the door. Macri’s three-run blast in the 9th capped the scoring and gave Notre Dame a season-high four home runs (it was Macri’s second home run of the series and ninth of the season).
Final exams traditionally have taken their toll on the Notre Dame won-loss column – the previous five ND teams combined for just a 17-11 record in games the week before and after finals – but the 2004 Irish went a combined 6-1 in the days preceding and following the rigors of finals week. The sweep at UConn marked the first time since 1999 that an Irish team did not lose at least one game during post-finals week.
Matt Bransfield (3-for-6, 5 RBI), Craig Cooper and Matt Edwards all hit first-inning home runs, with the early 10-hit explosion also including two-run singles from Steve Sollmann (3-for-5, 3 RBI, 3 R) and Cooper. The Irish then tacked on three runs in the 2nd for a 13-2 lead (extending ND’s season-long 2nd-inning domination to 48-7), with Bransfield’s double plating two runs.
The return of Notre Dame’s middle infielders – senior second baseman Sollmann (missed 21 games due to a fractured jaw) and sophomore shortstop Greg Lopez (rested sore back in three pre-finals games) – provided a big lift in the UConn series. Both players logged error-free games throughout the series (spanning 26 fielding chances) while helping turn four double plays. Lopez led all Irish hitters by batting 7-for-11 in the series (3-for-6 in the series finale, with 3 runs scored and his team-leading 13th double) while Sollmann’s 5-for-10 effort was part of a balanced Irish attack that included five players with 5-hit series.
Sophomore lefthander Tom Thornton (6-2) was not his sharpest but picked up the win, allowing eight runs on 10 hits, three walks, a hit batter and a wild pitch while striking out four in 5.2 innings. Kapala was the second Irish reliever of the day and stranded a pair of inherited baserunners while retiring all four batters he faced (three via strikeouts).
Doherty then gave up two hits and hit another batter in the final two innings, adding a double-play ball and a pair of strikeouts while lowering his season ERA to 1.73.
UConn sophomore lefthander Brendan McGinn retired just two batters before being lifted in the explosive top of the 1st, which represented Notre Dame’s most runs to open a game since the 2002 College World Series team also jumped out to a 10-0 lead en route to a 23-1 win over Detroit (Monday’s game was nearly two years to the day removed from the Detroit game that fell on Mat 12, 2002).
Sollmann started things off with a one-out single through the left side (on a 2-1 pitch) before the sophomore DH Bransfield took advantage of a 2-0 count, smashing his team-leading 11th home run of the season down the leftfield line. Senior catcher Javi Sanchez sent the next pitch into shallow center field and Cooper worked to a 1-1 count before drilling his sixth home run of the season over the rightfield fence. Opposite-field production is a key factor in the ND offensive approach and the righthanded-hitting Cooper now has gone the other way on four of his home runs, doing so Monday on a 1-1 pitch from McGinn.
Edwards then delivered the third home runs in four batters (and the third in the last five games for the junior first baseman), following the lead of Sollmann and Bransfield by working ahead in the count before pulling a 2-1 pitch down the leftfield line for his eighth long ball of the season and a stunning 5-0 lead.
McGinn was able to record a second out but the Irish then scored five more times. Lopez fought back from an 0-2 count and beat out an infield single to his counterpart at shortstop (2-2 pitch) before sophomore centerfielder Alex Nettey delivered in his first BIG EAST at-bat of the season, sending a 2-0 pitch into left field. Macri then fouled off a 2-2 pitch before reaching on an error by the third baseman (loading the bases) and Sollmann made the error hurt by dropping a two-run single into left field.
Righthanded reliever Josh MacDonald finally was called out of the bullpen but Bransfield joined the single-to-left-field club to collect another RBI (on a 1-0 pitch) and MacDonald lost Sanchez to a full-count walk that again loaded the bases. Cooper then added his own second RBI hit of the inning, with the sophomore rightfielder sending a first-pitch single up the middle to plate the final two runs.
UPDATED TEAM NOTES – Notre Dame’s 2004 travel, which has covered nearly 16,000 miles, has been adventurous at times, including Monday night’s delayed return that saw the Irish arrive at Eck Stadium at 2:00 a.m. … Notre Dame hit .370 in the series (37-for-100) with a .630 team slugging pct. (6 HR, 8 2B), a .448 on-base pct. and a 1.078 team “OBS” (combined on-base and slugging, compared to the team’s already impressive .890 season OBS prior to the UConn series) … the Irish hitters also had 8 walks, 8 hit-by-pitch (extending the team record to 88), 12 Ks and 7 stolen bases … ND never trailed in the series (31-12 scoring edge) and posted a 3.60 series ERA, with 25 Ks, 7 BB, 28 H and a .289 opp. batting avg. … ND’s three errors in the series all came early in game-2 … Lopez (7-for-11, 2 RBI, 4 R, 3 2B, .909 slugging, SAC, K) led the Irish hitters, followed by the 5-hit fivesome of Sollmann (5-for-10, 4 RBI, 4, R, 2 BB, 2 HBP, .643 on-base, 4-of-5 SB, SAC, K), Cooper (5-for-11, 5 RBI, 4 R, HR, 2B, .818 slugging, BB, SB, K), Edwards (5-for-12, 2 RBI, 4 R, 2 HR, .917 slugging, BB, SB, 4 Ks), Macri (5-for-13, 2 HR, 2 2B, 1.000 slugging, 2 BB, HBP, .800 on-base, SB, 0 Ks) and Bransfield (5-for-13, 7 RBI, 3 R, HR, 2 2B, .846 slugging, SF, 2 Ks) … Brian Stavisky (14 HRs in 2000) is the last ND player to hit more HRs in a season than Bransfield’s current 11 … the Irish have pushed the team home run total to 50 (roughly one per game, after totaling just 31 in 63 games in ’03) and are on the verge of having three double-digit HR hitters for the first time since the pre-NCAA-bat-restrictions 1998 ND squad featured Brant Ust (18 HRs), Jeff Wagner (14) and J.J. Brock (13) … the ’97 team also included three with 10-plus HRs while the ’96 and ’99 teams had two double-digit HR hitters … the four ND infielders (Edwards, Sollmann, Lopez and Macri) combined to make just one error in the series, with Macri posting his 38th error-free game of the season on Monday and Lopez his 30th (Sollmann has yet to make an error in 125 fielding chances this season) … Sollmann (3-for-5 on Monday) is batting .517 (15-for-29) during his current 8-game “hitting streak” that includes the five games leading up to his April 3 injury … Monday’s game represented ND’s 17th of the season with double-digit runs, 28th with 10-plus hits (7 of last 9) and 18th with no errors … the Irish have won by 5-plus runs 22 times in ’04, including 14 wins by 8-plus runs … ND’s overall record in all road games now stands at 23-5 … the Irish now are riding the 2nd-longest scoring streak in the program’s history (134 games, besting a 133-game scoring streak from ’95-’97 and trailing only the 231-game scoring streak from ’99-’02) … ND has scored in 374 of its last 375 games (with an 11-0 loss to Rutgers on May 5, 2002) and has crossed the plate at least once in 602 of the 608 games during the 10-year Paul Mainieri era (99.01%) … ND turned in a similar home run binge vs. UConn in the 1999 doubleheader at Eck Stadium, as Wagner, Jeff Felker and Matt Nussbaum each hit consecutive home runs in the 4th inning of the ’99 opener before Jeff Perconte left the yard two batters later (yielding 4 HR in 5 batters) … Wagner hit 3 HRs that day vs, the Huskies in a big return from a foot injury (one blast carried to the football practice field) … the Irish have won 78% of the games during the ’01-’04 seasons when Sollmann has been in the starting lineup (157-45-1), compared to winning just 66% of the games when Sollmann has not started (25-13) … the Irish now have posted 19 all-time 3-0 sweeps of BIG EAST series, including eight on the road (vs. seven different teams): at BC in ’98, at Georgetown in ’99, at Rutgers and St. John’s in ’01, at Seton Hall in ’02, and at WVU, GU and UConn in ’04 … the three Matt’s remain bunched atop the team RBI charts, with Bransfield surging to the top at 47 (followed by Edwards with 46 and Macri with 45) … Macri leads the team with 26 extra-base hits, followed by Bransfield (22) and Edwards (20) … Monday’s 16 hits tied for ND’s 4th-most of the season and 2nd-most since late Feb. (19 vs. Minnesota, 18 vs. Winthrop, 17 vs. Western Michigan, 16 in opener vs. Villanova) … ND also has posted six 3-HR games this season … Sollmann’s career hit total now stands at 285, within range of passing Eric Danapilis (295; ’90-’93) and Pat Pesavento (296; ’86-’89) into 2nd in the ND record book … 300 hits is one of several milestones approaching for Sollmann (he also has 199 runs scored and 92 walks).
#8 Notre Dame 10-3-0 0-0-0 0-0-3 – 16 16 0 (38-9, 15-5 BIG EAST)
Connecticut 2-0-2 0-0-4 0-0-0 – 8 14 1 (22-24, 6-14 BIG EAST)
Tom Thornton (W, 6-2), Joe Thaman (6), Dan Kapala (6), Ryan Doherty (8) and Javi Sanchez.
Brendan McGinn (L, 2-4), Josh MacDonald (1), Tim Norton (3), Rich Sirois (9) and Larry Day.
Home Runs: Matt Bransfield, ND (1 on in 1st; 11th of season); Craig Cooper, ND (1 on in in 1st, 6th of season); Matt Edwards, ND (solo in 1st; 8th of season); Dave Tokarz, UC (1 on in 1st, 3rd of season); Matt Macri, ND (2 on in 9th, 9th of season).
Doubles: Bransfield (ND), Greg Lopez (ND), Kyle Messineo (UC).