April 11, 2005

Notre Dame junior lefthander Tom Thornton has picked up BIG EAST pitcher-of-the-week honors for the third time in his career, after delivering a complete-game victory over Boston College on April 9. The Middleboro, Mass., native scattered eight hits (none for extra bases) in his economical 96-pitch outing while striking out five BC batters and not issuing a walk, at Campanelli Stadium in Brockton, Mass. He faced just 34 batters (seven over the minimum) in the 3-2 win, with one of the runs coming unearned.

Thornton – who retired the final 11 batters he faced en route to posting Notre Dame’s first nine-inning complete game of the season – allowed only four BC runners to reach scoring position (none in the final five innings) while totaling 14 groundball outs and serving up just three outfield flyouts (one week removed from serving up an apparent flyout that ended up behind a grand slam by the Rutgers 9-hole hitter, lifting RU to a 5-3 win). The 6-foot-6 southpaw needed an average of just 10.6 pitches per inning while locating 76% (69 of 96) of his total pitches for strikes.

(Note: Notre Dame is set to begin a potential 13-game homestand on Tuesday vs. Bowling Green, with sophomore RHP Derik Olvey the likely starter. Freshman LHP Wade Korpi then is the probable starter the next day vs. Central Michigan.)

Just three previous pitchers have totaled more BIG EAST weekly honors in their careers than Thornton’s three, with former Notre Dame All-American Aaron Heilman (’98-’01) the runaway leader as a 10-time recipient of the BIG EAST pitcher-of-the-week award. Two other former BIG EAST standouts – Chris Enochs (West Virginia) and Keith Stamler (St. John’s) – each earned four weekly BIG EAST honors in their careers while Thornton joins former Notre Dame pitchers Scott Cavey (’97-’00) and Danny Tamayo (’98, ’00-’01) among those who have been three-time honorees.

Boston College totaled 11 baserunners vs. Thornton but the battle-tested pitcher limited the Eagles to 2-for-10 batting with runners on base. The first college outing in his home state included the 14 groundball outs (12 groundouts and the back end of two double plays), five Ks and three outfield flyouts, plus two popups and three infield lineouts.

Thornton’s clutch outing versus Boston College is all the more noteworthy due to Notre Dame losing four of the previous five games while dropping to 3-4 in the BIG EAST standings (the Irish then used the momentum of the 3-2 victory to beat BC again on Sunday, 3-0). The Irish middle relief also had struggled for much of the season and sophomore two-sport standout Jeff Samardzija was not available until Sunday, due to Saturday’s football practice.

A strong All-America candidate for 2005 – with a 3.46 cumulative GPA as a double major in anthropology and film-television-and-theater – Thornton now owns a 2-0 record, 2.49 ERA, 10 strikeouts and just one walk in three career starts (21.2 IP, 23 H, 3 HB) vs. his homestate school, including the ’04 win that made Notre Dame the first team ever to win three straight BIG EAST tournament titles.

Thornton has compiled a deceptively high 4.72 season ERA in 2005 while leading the Irish staff in starts (8), innings (47.2) and groundouts (54). He ranks second on the staff in wins (3-4), strikeouts (23; team-best 10 “looking) and low opponent batting avg. (.277). His other ’05 stats include 51 hits allowed, 15 walks, 3 hit batters and no wild pitches. Thornton’s situational pitching includes .220 opp. batting with 2 outs and .200 by lefthanded hitters (both 2nd-best on the staff). He also ranks 4th among ND pitchers for opp. batting with runners on base (.271) and by RH hitters (.295). Thornton leads the staff with 6.0 innings per appearance, also ranking 2nd in low hits allowed per 9 IP (9.63), 3rd in low walks allowed (2.83/9 IP) and 5th in GO avg. (10.20/9 IP).

His career stats with the Irish now include a 3.64 ERA and 16-7 record in 38 appearances (30 starts), with 124 Ks, 53 walks and 192 hits allowed (.263 opp. avg.) in 193 innings (7 WP, 19 HB).

Thornton – ND’s only lefthander ever to be named BIG EAST pitcher of the week – previously received the honor twice in the 2004 season. The first award came after a 3-1 win at #20 USC during the opening week of the ’04 season (6 IP, UER, 4 H, 2 BB, 4 Ks). He later repeated the honor with an impressive outing vs. a potent Texas Tech squad at the Round Rock (Texas) Classic, allowing just a bloop single in 8.0 shutout innings of that eventual 6-1 win (7 Ks, 10 GOs, retired 14 straight).

The Notre Dame program now has produced 29 BIG EAST pitcher-of-the-week recipients in the past 10 years, the most from any of the league’s schools during that stretch (Rutgers is next with 23, followed by West Virginia’s 18). In addition to Heilman (10), Thornton (3), Cavey (3) and Tamayo (3), ND’s previous BIG EAST pitcher-of-the-week recipients include three two-time honorees – J.P. Gagne (in ’02 and ’03), Chris Niesel (both in ’03) and Grant Johnson (both in ’04) – plus Christian Parker (’96), Brad Lidge (’98), Alex Shilliday (’98) and Peter Ogilvie (’02).

Notre Dame Among The BIG EAST Stat Leaders

* The ND offense currently leads the BIG EAST in on-base pct. (.390) while ranking 3rd in runs (208), 4th in home runs (24) and slugging pct. (.422), 5th in walks (112), and 7th in batting avg. (.290) and stolen bases (31).

* The ND pitchers rank 5th in low walks per 9 IP (3.72), 6th in staff ERA (3.72), 9th in K avg. (5.39/9 IP) and 10tht in low opp. batting avg. (.307) … defensively, the Irish rank 2nd among BE teams in double plays (32) and 8th in fielding pct. (.952) while allowing the most opp. stolen bases (58).

* In BIG EAST games, the ND offense ranks 4th in SBs (14), 5th in on-base (.332) and HRs (4), 6th in slugging (.367) and runs (47), and 8th in batting avg. (.240) and walks (27) … the ND pitchers have the best walk avg. in BIG EAST action (2.29/9 IP), also ranking 4th in conference ERA (3.62), 6th in low opp. batting avg. (.276) and 8th in K avg. (5.79/9 IP) … defensively, the Irish have turned more DPs (12) in conference action than any other BE team but still rank 8th in fielding pct. (.954) while allowing 21 SBs (2nd-most).

* Matt Edwards (1B, Sr.) – leads the BIG EAST in RBI (44), home runs (11), runs scored (33), slugging pct. (.737) and total bases (87), also ranking 2nd in hits (44), 3rd in OPS (1.110, combined on base plus slugging), 5th in batting avg. (.373) and doubles (10) and 6th in on-base pct. (.453) … in BIG EAST action, he ranks 4th in RBI (8) and runs (9) and 5th in doubles (4).

* Brett Lilley (2B/3B, Fr.) – ranks 2nd among BE players in on-base pct. (.496), 9th in walks (17) and 15th in batting (.333)

* Craig Cooper (OF, Jr.) – ranks 5th among BE players in on-base pct. (.461) … in BIG EAST action, he ranks 8th in hits (11), walks (6), doubles (3) and stolen bases (3)

* Steve Andres (LF, Jr.) – ranks 9th among BE players in home runs (4)

* Tony Langford (OF, Fr.) – in BIG EAST action, he ranks 2nd among the conference’s players in HRs (2), 4th in RBI (8), 7th in TBs (19), 8th in 2Bs (3) and 9th in slugging (.599, tops among BE freshmen)

* Cody Rizzo (RF, Jr.) – ranks 8th among BE players with 3 stolen bases in conference games.

* Tom Thornton (LHP, Jr.) – ranks 2nd among BE pitchers in starts (8) and complete games (2), plus 6th in innings (47.2) … in BIG EAST play, he ranks 1st in CGs (2), 4th in IP (21.0) and 14th in ERA (3.00)

* Jeff Samardzija (RHP, So.) – ranks 5th among BE teams in wins (4-0) … also 10th with 15 Ks in BIG EAST action

* Ryan Doherty (RHP, Jr.) – ranks 3rd among BE players in saves (4) and 9th in appearances (11)

* Dan Kapala (RHP., So.) – leads BE with 16 appearances (also 4th with 4 GP in BE action)

* Scott Bickford (LHP., Sr.) – ranks 9th in BE with 11 appearances (also 4th with 4 GP in BE action)