April 22, 2005
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Tom Thornton became the first pitcher in the 11-year Paul Mainieri era to throw three straight nine-inning complete games, as Notre Dame won for the ninth time in its last 10 games with Friday night’s 5-2 win over Villanova at Eck Stadium.
Notre Dame (23-14) moved into a tie with Boston College for second in the BIG EAST standings, as the Irish and Eagles both are 9-4 in the league standings (St. John’s holds the top spot, at 9-2). Final standings will be based on win percentage, as teams typically play a different number of games due to rainouts. BC plays hosts to 9th-place Georgetown for three games this weekend while SJU will be playing at the other 9th-place team, Seton Hall. Notre Dame is riding a six-game winning straight in BIG EAST action, after falling to 3-4 following a game-1 loss to BC.
If weather delays the remainder of the ND-Villanova series, the Irish and Wildcats will have three days to play the final two games as Monday is available as a makeup day. Notre Dame’s other remaining series, vs. St. John’s, Pittsburgh and West Virginia, also will have a makeup day (some series in previous series did not have makeup days due to schedule conflicts with finals, etc.).
Thornton (5-4) – who posted nine-inning wins the previous two weeks versus Boston College and Connecticut – allowed 10 hits and hit three other Villanova batters but he issued just one walk, the only base-on-balls allowed by the junior lefthander in his last 28 innings. He allowed four leadoff batters to reach base and nine Villanova baserunners ventured into scoring position, but only two went on to score as Thornton avoided the big inning thanks to holding VU to 5-for-18 batting with runners on base (.278).
Thornton’s latest complete game saw the leader of the pitching staff keep 25 of his outs in the infield, via 17 groundball outs (including a pair of double plays), two strikeouts, two foulouts, a popup, a pickoff play and a lineout double play. He located 68% of his pitches for strikes (82 of 120) and now owns a 1.33 ERA in his last three outings, with 11 Ks, the one walk, four hit batters and 24 hits allowed (.245 opp. avg.) in 27 innings.
Eight Notre Dame batters combined on a 12-hit attack, led by a 5-for-8 night from the top of the order hitters Alex Nettey (2-for-4, R) and Brett Lilley (3-for-4, 2 RBI). Nettey has surged out of a 1-for-18 slump by batting 8-for-14 in the past three games (5 R, RBI, HR, 2B, SB, 2 HBP) from his leadoff spot.
Junior DH Matt Bransfield (2-for-4, RBI) continued to round back into form, after missing most of March due to a hand injury in the season opener.
Villanova senior righthander Nick Allen (5-3) entered the week with one of the best season ERAs (2.83) among BIG EAST starting pitchers but he was touched for the five runs (four earned) and 10 hits in eight innings, with four strikeouts and one walk.
Lilley finally made an error at third base, where the freshman has started during the current 9-1 streak (he started at second base in the first 28 games). Since Lilley’s shift to the hot corner, he and the other leftside infielder (junior shortstop Greg Lopez) have combined to make just one error each in 103 fielding chances. Notre Dame’s team defense also has surged with Lilley at third base, as the Irish own a .976 fielding pct. during the current 10-game run (10 errors) after a .950 fielding pct. and 54 errors in the first 28 games. The Notre Dame defense has made 0-1 errors in nine of the past 10 games, plus a three-error game vs. Purdue.
Villanova had a chance to open the scoring in the 3rd, with two runners in scoring position, by Thornton induced a leftside groundball from one of VU’s top hitters, Angelo Petracca.
Notre Dame then converted its chances in the bottom of the inning. Sophomore catcher Sean Gaston sent a first-pitch single up the middle and Nettey reached on a fielder’s choice before Lilley pulled an RBI single through the right side. Matt Edwards then pulled his own run-scoring single through the left side, Craig Cooper added a sacrifice bunt and Bransfield later went the other way for a single through the right side – and Edwards scored for a 3-0 lead, on the ensuing error on second baseman Mark Cardillo’s throw.
Villanova came right back to put its first two batters aboard in the 4th but James Dolbier popped up his bunt attempt and Cardillo grounded into a 5-4-3 double play to quickly end the threat.
The Irish then added a run in the bottom of the inning, started by Lopez’s single through the left side before Gaston’s team-leading sixth sacrifice bunt of the season and singles up the middle from Nettey (on a 1-2 pitch) and Lilley.
The visitors broke through for two runs in the 6th. Derek Shunk drew a leadoff walk, Petracca singled and both runners moved up on a sac. bunt before Alan Day’s RBI groundout. Dolbier added a two-out RBI single up the middle, cutting the lead to 4-2, and Thornton hit Cardillo with a 1-2 pitch before Thornton forced pinch-hitter Craig Mirsky into a rightside groundout.
The Wildcats came back to put runners on the corners with one out in the 7th, but Thornton rolled up another 5-4-3 double play (this time off the bat of Petracca) to maintain the two-run cushion.
Notre Dame tacked on an insurance run in the 8th, aiding by an outfield error that preceded Craig Cooper’s full-count walk, Tony Langford’s first-pitch single down the rightfield line and Bransfield’s RBI single into left.
Prior to Thornton’s effort vs. BC, Notre Dame pitchers had combined for just two 9-inning complete games in the previous 161 games – but Thornton now has bested that total in the past three weeks alone and actually is the only ND pitcher since ’03 to register a 9-inning CG (also in ’04, at WVU; see list below of ND’s 9-inning CGs from ’01-’05).
Thornton’s season ERA has dropped from 5.59 to 3.84 during his stretch of three straight 9-inning complete games. He entered the week with the 6th-best conference ERA among BIG EAST pitchers, with that number dropping from 2.40 to 2.31 after the win over Villanova.
RECENT 9-INNING COMPLETE GAME HISTORY – Prior to the 2005 season, ND pitchers had posted just one 9-inning complete game in ’04, one in ’03 and four in ’02 (2 by Peter Ogilvie) … here’s is a list of the 19 times that an ND pitcher has logged a 9-inning CG during the past five seasons, with four pitchers combining for 16 of them (5 by Aaron Heilman, 4 by Danny Tamayo, 4 by Tom Thornton and 3 by Ogilvie:
3/2/01 – Aaron Heilman vs. Florida Atlantic (in St. Petersburg; 3-0)
3/12/01 – Danny Tamayo vs. New Mexico (in Fresno; 3-0)
3/16/01 – Heilman vs. Illinois (in Fresno; 9-5)
3/23/01 – Heilman at Pittsburgh (3-0; Tamayo had 7-inning CG earlier that day in 3-0 win)
4/10/01 – Mike Naumann vs. Chicago State (5-2)
4/14/01 – Tamayo vs. West Virginia (8-1; Heilman 7-inning CG earlier in 4-1 win)
4/28/01 – Tamayo at St. John’s (5-0; Heilman in 7-inning CG in earlier 3-2 win)
5/10/01 – Peter Ogilvie vs. Michigan (9-1)
5/18/01 – Heilman vs. Rutgers (BIG EAST Tournament; 6-2)
5/27/01 – Tamayo loss in 9.1 IP vs. Florida International (NCAAs; 6-7)
5/28/01 – Ogilvie vs. FIU (NCAAs (NCAAs; 5-2)
4/1/02 – J.P. Gagne vs. BYU (1-0)
4/12/02 – Ogilvie vs. Virginia Tech (4-2)
5/18/02 – Ogilvie vs. Boston Cellege (5-2)
6/1/02 – Grant Johnson vs. South Alabama (NCAA South Bend Regional; 25-1)
5/24/03 – Matt Laird vs. Rutgers (BIG EAST title game; 11-3)
3/27/04 – Tom Thornton at West Virginia (4-0)
4/9/05 – Thornton vs. Boston College (in Brockton; 3-2)
4/16/05 – Thornton vs. Connecticut (7-1)
4/22/05 – Thornton vs. Villanova (5-2)
Villanova (23-11-1, 7-7) 0-0-0 0-0-2 0-0-0 – 2 10 3
Notre Dame (23-15, 9-4) 0-0-3 1-0-0 1-0-X – 5 12 1
Nick Allen (L, 5-3) and Kelly Pickel, Craig Mirsky (6)
Tom Thornton (W, 5-4) and Sean Gaston.
Doubles: Alex Nettey (ND), Arcadia (VU), Hunt (VU), Day (VU).