March 27, 2004
MORGANTOWN, W. Va. – Sophomore lefthander Tom Thornton went the distance in a six-hit shutout to cap sixth-ranked Notre Dame’s doubleheader sweep (5-3, 4-0) at West Virginia, in BIG EAST baseball action Saturday at Hawley Field.
The seven-inning opener extended to extra innings before Notre Dame (16-3, 2-0 BIG EAST) won it in the 10th. West Virginia (8-12, 0-2) was poised to win in the 8th, with one out and runners on second and third. Michael Christoforo attempted the squeeze bunt but junior first baseman Matt Edwards was charging on the play, fielded the ball barehanded and threw to catcher Javi Sanchez to tag out the runner. Pinch-hitter Casey Bowling then ripped a linedrive that was headed for left field – but junior third baseman Matt Macri dove to his left and snared the potential game-winning hit.
Notre Dame – which posted double-digit hits in both games (12, 10) – did not commit an error in 19 innings of play and now owns 11 error-free games this season, with just 13 total errors in 19 games.
Thornton (4-1) continued his impressive season by scattering six hits and two walks to outduel WVU junior righthander Shawn Miller (3-3). Thornton’s 27 outs included five strikeouts, nine groundouts and three infield popups. The 6-6, 215-pound southpaw set down the side in the 1st and 3rd innings and allowed multiple baserunners in only one inning (the 5th).
Thornton lowered his season ERA to 2.39 while his opponent batting average now stands at .210. Thornton’s career ERA also dipped to 2.04, well on pace to best the longstanding ND record (2.36) set by All-American Nick Palihnich in the early 1960s.
Junior righthander Chris Niesel – who nearly no-hit the Mountaineers in the 2003 series opener – had no decision in Saturday’s first game, after holding WVU to three runs on seven hits and two walks in seven innings (with six Ks). Freshman righthander Jeff Samardzija was the second Irish relief pitcher and retired six of the seven batters he faced to pick up his first decision of the season. Sophomore righthander Ryan Doherty then closed things in the 10th for his fourth save of 2004 (H, BB, K).
WVU junior lefthander Zac Cline had a similar no-decision, allowing three runs on eight hits and three walks in the first seven innings (with three Ks).
Senior second baseman Steve Sollmann again hit in the 2-hole (after batting leadoff in the first 16 games) and played a key role in the opener, batting 3-for-4 with a walk, RBI and run scored. Sophomore rightfielder Cody Rizzo – in just his second game back in the lineup after missing six with a wrist injury – chipped in a 3-for-5 effort while scoring a pair of crucial runs.
The Irish claimed a 2-1 lead in the 5th inning of the opener, after three straight two-out hits sailed over the heads of the WVU outfielders. Sollmann’s triple to dead-center field sparked the rally, with sophomore DH Matt Bransfield (batting in the 3-hole) and Edwards adding RBI doubles past leftfielder Jake Serfass to give Notre Dame the lead.
The go-ahead sequence in the top of the 10th included Rizzo’s leadoff single to center field, Macri’s sacrifice bunt, sophomore shortstop Greg Lopez’s RBI double down the rightfield line, a fielding error by shortstop Grant Psomas, freshman centerfielder Danny Dressman’s fourth walk of the game from his leadoff spot, and Sollmann’s sacrifice fly.
Sophomore DH Steve Andres delivered as the three-hole hitter in the nightcap, drawing a walk and scoring in the 1st before stroking a 2-run triple to the right-center gap in the 7th.
WVU scored in its first at-bat of the day, when Stan Posluszny’s single played Lee Fritz, with both teams pushing across a pair of runs in the 5th. The hosts tied the game when Psomas singled home Jake Serfass, with Posluszny adding the go-ahead sacrifice fly.
A prime Notre Dame scoring chance preceded WVU’s near-score in the 8th. Junior righthanded reliever Chris Amedro served up one-out singles to Lopez and Cooper before walking Dressman to load the bases. But WVU escaped on a 4-6-3 double play.
Senior lefthander Joe Thaman relieved Niesel to open the 8th but lost Posluszny to a leadoff walk, followed by a wild pitch. Samardzija then walked Kurtis Klinton and pinch-hitter J.C. Sousa bunted the runners over before the failed squeeze play and rally-ending lineout.
Notre Dame jumped ahead in the 1st inning of the nightcap, thanks to Andres’ two-out walk, an Edwards single that sent the third baseman to the hole and Rizzo’s RBI double down the leftfield line.
Macri’s leadoff double to the right-center gap sparked another run-scoring sequence in the 5th. Lopez followed with sacrifice bunt and Sean Gaston added an RBI groundout for the 2-0 lead.
The Irish doubled their lead in the 7th, after Gaston sent a one-out single up the middle and Dressman pulled off a bunt single down the third-base line. Andres then brought both runners home with his triple to right-center.
NOTES: A win in its next game would match the fourth-best 20-game record in the program’s history (17-3) and best since the 1959 team started 17-3 (the 1907, ’08 and ’10 teams were 19-1) … Sollmann’s 4-for-9 doubleheader pushed him into 5th place on the ND career hits list with 275, passing J.J. Brock’s 272 (next up is former double-play partner Alec Porzel’s 279) … ND now leads the WVU series 27-13 (10-5 at WVU) and has won 14 of the last 16 … the ND-WVU series has featured 12 games won by one run or in extra innings and ND now is 11-1 in those games … Thornton’s last three outings include the two longest stints of his career (8 IP vs. Texas Tech, 9 vs. WVU) … his combined stats in those three games (also at SIU): 0.78 ERA, 3-0, 2 ER/23 IP, 16 Ks, 6 BB, 12 H … ND has scored in 103 straight games and has been shut out just once in the last 333 … Sollmann has hits in 7 of the last 8 games, Dressman in 8 of 10 (he was 1-for-6 with 5 BB in the doubleheader) … Macri has totaled 17 error-free games this season (9 straight) while Lopez has 16 games without an error (10 of last 11) … Lopez is batting 9-for-20 (.450) in the last 5 games and has hits in 13 of the last 14.
#6 Notre Dame 0-0-0 0-2-1 0-0-0 2 – 5 12 0
West Virginia 1-0-0 0-2-0 0-0-0 0 – 3 8 3
Chris Niesel, Joe Thaman, Jeff Samardzija (W, 1-0), Ryan Doherty (SV, 4) and Javi Sanchez.
Zac Cline, Chris Amedro (8; L, 0-2) and Travis D’Amico, David Carpenter (9).
Triple: Steve Sollmann (ND).
Doubles: Matt Bransfield (ND0), Matt Edwards (ND), Greg Lopez (ND), Lee Fritz (WVU), Kurtis Clinton (WVU).
#6 Notre Dame (16-3) 0-0-0 0-0-0 0-0-0 – 4 10 0
West Virginia (8-12) 0-0-0 0-0-0 0-0-0 – 0 6 0
Tom Thornton (W, 4-1) and Sean Gaston.
Shawn Miller (3-3), Brendan Bergerson (9) and D’Amico, Carpenter (9).
Triple: Steve Andres (ND).
Doubles: Cody Rizzo (ND), Matt Macri (ND), Lopez (ND), Casey Bowling (WVU), D’Amico (WVU).