March 15, 2002
SAN ANTONIO, Texas – Brian Stavisky smacked a pair of towering home runs but the biggest hit of the night came off the bat of sophomore first baseman Joe Thaman, whose two-run blast ended the game in dramatic fashion as Notre Dame posted its third straight win at the Irish Baseball Classic, 7-5, over Arkansas-Little Rock in Friday-night action at Wolff Stadium.
Notre Dame (8-6) carried a 4-1 lead into the eighth inning before seeing UALR (13-10) rally to tie the game by cashing in a hit batter, a walk and two Irish errors for three runs (two coming unearned).
Chris Niesel – the third straight freshman righthander to start for the Irish – allowed just one run on seven hits and one walk over the first seven innings (with four strikeouts) while junior Brandon Viloria (1-1) logged the final two innings to pick up the win.
Stavisky – who earlier had launched an 0-2, third-inning pitch over the scoreboard in right field (estimated at 425 feet) – pushed the Irish back into the lead in the bottom of the eighth, as the 6-3, 220-pound lefthander sent a 2-2 pitch that clanked off the scoreboard for the third home run of the tournament from the junior outfielder (who had missed nine games with a shoulder injury).
A wild top of the ninth saw the Trojans tie the game again, with a controversial play preceding the unusual finish as Clay Pitullo reached on a chopper to the right side (reserve second baseman Geoff Milsom’s throw produced a “bang-bang” play). With runners at first and second, Kevin Kouzmanoff – who had hit a solo home run in the sixth – sent a linedrive off the third-base bag and down the line, tying the game.
Doug Garner followed with a sharp single to left field but Pilutto was caught in a rundown after rounding third, for the second out of the inning. Ward then lofted a popup but Milsom dropped the ball – before a series of throws led to Kouzmanoff being tagged out between third base and home to preserve the 5-5 score.
Sophomore righthander Brad Cherry (0-1) then hit leadoff batter Andrew Bushey with a 2-2 pitch in the bottom of the ninth and pinch-hitter Matt Bok bunted the runner to second before Thaman – who had stroked a two-out double earlier in the game – drove a full-count pitch over the fence in right-center to end the game.
Notes: Notre Dame has won 11 straight San Antonio tournament games at the IBC/Alamo Invitational … Stavisky’s 27 career home runs already rank 11th in ND history while his .444 season batting average includes three home runs, two triples and three singles (for a whopping 1.167 slugging pct., or 21 total bases in 18 at-bats) … senior CF Steve Stanley (.435) ended the game on deck while seeing his 13-game hitting streak come to an end (he was 0-for-3 with a walk) … Bushey’s 1-for-3 game dropped his season batting average to .432 … the Irish continued to rest injured sophomore 2B Steve Sollmann, with junior Kris Billmaier becoming the fifth ND player to start at 2B this season … Niesel lowered his season ERA to 3.63, with 25 Ks and just four walks in his 22.1 innings … the Irish starting pitchers have combined for 46 Ks and just 13 walks this season … ND’s starters in the first three games of the IBC – freshman RHPs John Axford, Grant Johnson and Niesel – combined to allow just 17 hits and four runs (only one of them earned) in 22 innings, with 16 Ks and just one walk … ND players now have hit game-ending home runs eight times in the Paul Mainieri era (since 1995), with five of those “walkoff” blasts coming in the last 95 games (compared to three in the first 348 games of the Mainieri era) … ND’s last five game-ending home runs each have come from different players: Jeff Felker, Alec Porzel and Stavisky (in consecutive weekends late in the 2000 season), Ken Meyer (’01) and Thaman.
Arkansas-Little Rock (13-10) 0-0-0 0-0-1 0-3-1 – 5 12 0
Notre Dame (8-6) 0-2-1 0-0-1 0-1-2 – 7 7 4
Chris Niesel, Martin Vergara (8, W, 1-1) and Andrew Bushey.
Scott Sharpe, Justin Poell (6), Brad Cherry (9, L, 0-1) and Brent Champion.
Home Runs: Brian Stavisky, ND (solo in 3rd and 6th, 2nd and 3rd of season), Joe Thaman, ND (one on in 9th, 1st of season), Kevin Kouzmanoff, UALR (solo in 6th, 6th of season).
Doubles: Thaman (ND), John Youngblood (UALR), Brent Champion (UALR).