May 14, 2006
SOUTH ORANGE, N.J. – Tom Thornton pitched well enough to win his 50th career start with the Irish but Seton Hall used a pair of bunts and Robbie Hine’s double to score the decisive runs in the bottom of the 8th, as the Pirates won the series finale, 2-1, in Sunday afternoon action at Carroll Field.
Notre Dame (38-13-1, 18-5-1 BIG EAST) received some help in the race for the BIG EAST title, as Pittsburgh posted an 11-9 win over second-place Connecticut (15-6-1). Third-place St. John’s (15-8) still has an outside chance of passing the Irish, but the Red Storm would need to sweep Cincinnati next week and hope that Villanova sweeps Notre Dame. Louisville remains in 4th place (14-10) while West Virginia and Rutgers are tied for 5th (at 13-11), Cincinnati has dropped to 7th (11-13) and South Florida (10-14) is clinging to the 8th and final BIG EAST Tournament spot.
Seton Hall (17-31, 7-17) has been eliminated from the race for the BIG EAST postseason while Georgetown (9-15), Villanova (8-15) and Pittsburgh (8-16) are hoping to rally into one of the two open spots (the top six teams in the current standings all have clinched a BIG EAST Tournament spot).
Thornton – who became just the fourth Notre Dame pitcher ever to make 50-plus starts in his career – allowed just two clean hits to the outfield, with four Pirate batters also reaching on bunts and another on an infield single while SHU’s eighth official hit of the day came on a ball up the middle. Thornton (5-2) struck out seven while issuing just his fifth walk of the season. The senior lefthander now has totaled 52 strikeouts in 66.1 innings this season, with his 10.4 strikeout-to-walk ratio ranking second in the ND single-season record book. The Academic All-America candidate also is averaging just 0.68 walks per 9.0 IP (2nd-best in ND history) while his career walk avg. (1.76 per 9 IP) remains 3rd-best in the program’s history.
Notre Dame’s 13 losses this season have come by a combined 36 runs, for an average margin of just 2.8 runs per loss. The Irish have suffered five 1-run losses, three by 2-runs and also have lost a pair of 3-run decisions (two of the 10 close losses have come in extra innings). The Irish – who have been competitive into the late innings of all but two games this season – now have held a lead in eight of their losses, including late-game leads in five of those defeats.
Notre Dame managed just five hits but the Irish had 11 total baserunners, managing to bring just one of them home in an off-day for the offense’s execution and clutch hitting.
Senior centerfielder Alex Nettey (2-for-3) was the only Irish batter with multiple hits, completing his 5-10 series versus the Pirates. Nettey’s double plated Sean Gaston in the 5th inning for the game’s only run until the lategoing.
Freshman lefthander Corey Young (4-2) matched Thornton with a complete-game effort, allowing the one run on five hits and one walk to go along with six strikeouts. Young was helped by three double plays behind him and a controversial 8th-inning play at the plate that resulted in Brett Lilley being called out to end Notre Dame’s bid for an insurance run.
Hine led off the bottom of the 4th with a bunt single and moved up on Dan McDonald’s sacrifice – but Thornton sent third strikes past John Walsh and Brendan Cohen to end the threat.
Notre Dame could have plated multiple runs in the 5th but Young rolled up a double-play ball after plunking the leadoff hitter Ross Brezovsky. Gaston then single to left field and Nettey parked a double into the left-center gap for the 1-0 lead.
Nine-hole hitter Mike Morano singled up the middle in the 5th but Thornton quickly picked him off base(1-3-4). The Irish then had a runner in scoring position in the 6th, after a two-out walk by Jeremy Barnes and a wild pitch, but Young induced a popup for the third out.
Mark Pappas had the first strong hit off Thornton moments later, on a single to left, but Hine then bounced into a 6-4-3 double play. The Irish came back with a golden opportunity in the 7th, after Brezovsky singled through the right side and Lopez smashed a single off the third baseman – but Gaston failed to execute the sac. bunt (Young threw out the lead runner at third) and Nettey hit into the rally-ending double play.
The hosts had their own chance in the bottom of the 7th, after McDonald’s chopper glanced off the glove of first baseman Craig Cooper. Walsh then bunted the potential tying run to second but Thornton served up a flyout and popup to maintain the 1-0 score.
The game’s decisive plays came in the 8th, starting with Lilley’s 2-out single through the left side. Young then uncorked a wild pitch and Barnes reached when the shortstop bounced his throw to first. Lilley alertly was making a bid to score and the first baseman Walsh fired home, with the catcher Bobby Dombrowski blocking the plate to stop Lilley’s slide before applying the tag. Irish head coach Paul Mainieri argued the play – as college rules prohibit blocking any base before the ball has arrived – but the call stood as the third out.
Moments later, Morano laid down a bunt single and his counterpart at third base Lilley was unable to come up with the tough barehanded play. Leadoff batter Dan Lopez then dropped an attempted sac. bunt in front of the plate but the Irish again were unable to even make a throw on the play, putting two runners on base with the one out.
Thornton secured the second out when Pappas flew out to center field but Hine sent a double to the fence in left-center, chasing home both runners for the 2-1 lead.
NOTES – Thornton has allowed just 2 runs all season from the 4th-7th innings (0.62 ERA in that mid-inning stretch) … the only other ND pitchers to log 50-plus career starts have been Tom Price (56), Darin Schmalz (53) and Brian Piotrowicz (52) … Cooper failed to reach base for just the second time this season in 46 games played … despite an 0-for-4 game, Cooper still holds the BIG EAST record for highest career batting avg. in BIG EAST games (.447; 114-for-225) … Thornton, the senior shortstop Lopez and senior LF Matt Bransfield all have advanced to the final ballot of the official Academic All-America selections (look for full release later on und.com).
#11 Notre Dame (38-13-1, 18-5-1 BIG EAST) 0-0-0 0-1-0 0-0-0 – 1 5 0
Seton Hall (17-31, 7-17 BIG EAST) 0-0-0 0-0-0 0-0-0 – 2 8 3
Tom Thornton (L, 5-2) and Sean Gaston.
Corey Young (W, 4-2) and Bobby Dombrowski.
Doubles: Alex Nettey (ND), Robbie Hine (SHU).