June 11, 2003

The Notre Dame baseball program has achieved another first, as an unprecedented three Irish baseball players have earned All-America honors for the 2003 season. The National College Baseball Writers of America (NCBWA) placed senior closer J.P. Gagne (Bloomington, Minn.), junior second baseman Steve Sollmann (Cincinnati, Ohio) and sophomore righthanded pitching ace Chris Niesel (Plantation, Fla.) on its third team All-America squad – with Gagne and Sollmann joining former great Dan Peltier (’89) as the only Notre Dame baseball players ever to couple All-America and Academic All-America honors (Sollmann earlier was named a Verizon/CoSIDA second team Academic All-America, with Gagne named to the third team).

Gagne and Sollmann join an elite – but growing – list of all-time Notre Dame student-athletes who have completed the double honors of All-America and Academic All-America during the same year. They are two of 42 individuals who have combined to accomplish the feat 50 times (see full list below), with just four previous pairs of teammates doing so in the same season: football’s Jim Lynch and Tom Regner (’66) and Tom Gatewood and Joe Theismann (’70), softball’s Jarrah Myers and Jen Sharron (’01) and track’s Ryan Shay and Luke Watson (’02).

The 2002-03 school year marks the sixth straight season that Notre Dame has produced at least one student-athlete with the All-America/Academic All-America distinction, with 13 doing so in that six-year stretch: basketball players Pat Garrity (’98) and Ruth Riley (’00, ’01), tennis player Jen Hall and distance runner Alison Klemmer (both ’99), soccer player Monica Gonzalez (’01 season) and the aforementioned Myers (’01 and ’02), Sharron, Shay, Watson, Gagne and Sollmann.

Sollmann was one of just four second basemen named to the NCBWA All-America team – joining the exclusive company of Southern’s Rickie Weeks (the second overall pick in last week’s MLB draft), Arizona State’s Steve Garrabrants and Charleston’s Lee Curtis – while only Arizona State (4) placed more players on the 2003 NCBWA All-America team than Notre Dame’s three.

BIG EAST Conference teams combined to produce six NCBWA All-Americans (no other conference produced more than six), with the others including Virginia Tech closer Matt Dalton, Boston College righthander Chris Lambert and St. John’s shortstop Mike Rozema.

Niesel earlier was named a second team All-American by Collegiate Baseball magazine while Gagne and Sollmann are under consideration for All-America honors from the American Baseball Coaches Association of America (ABCA), with those awards to be announced later this week from the College World Series. Both Irish players were named to the ABCA’s first team all-Mideast Region squad while Notre Dame sophomore corner infielder Matt Edwards (Mechanicsville, Va.) was named to the second team.

Just two previous Notre Dame teams have produced multiple All-Americans: the 1998 tandem of then-sophomore 3B Brant Ust and then-freshman RHP Aaron Heilman and the 2001 duo of Heilman and then-junior CF Steve Stanley.

Niesel and Gagne join Nick Palihnich (’60) and four-year All-American Heilman as the only ND pitchers ever to earn All-America while Sollmann is the ninth ND position player to be so honored. Sollmann joins 1964 shortstop Rich Gonski as the program’s only middle infielders to be named All-America, with the others including two catchers (Elmer Kohorst in ’56 and ’57, Walt Osgood in ’62), four outfielders (Peltier in ’89, Eric Danapilis in ’93, Ryan Topham in ’95 and Stanley in ’01 and ’02) and Ust as a 3B in ’98.

Notre Dame joined West Virginia and Virginia Tech as the only schools with multiple players – Sollmann (.384) and Edwards (.376) – among the BIG EAST top-10 leaders in overall batting average. That duo also became ND’s first pair of teammates since 1997 to post 85-plus hits in a season (Sollmann 98, Edwards 85).

Gagne – who also just signed with the Colorado Rockies as their 14th-round draft pick and is set to report to the single-A Tri-City Dust Devils of the Northwest League, where he will be reunited with former ND teammate Andrew Bushey – combined with Niesel and the other Irish pitchers on a 2003 staff that ranked 19th in the nation for team ERA (3.53). The 6-0, 205-pound righthander set ND records for career appearances (94) and saves in a season (13, in 2003; good for 9th in the nation) while also posting a career-best 2.70 season ERA en route to earning third team all-BIG EAST honors for the second time in his career (’01 and ’03).

Sollmann in 2003 became the sixth ND player ever to receive three-plus all-BIG EAST Conference honors (1st team in ’01, 2nd team in ’02 and ’03) while ranking seventh in the nation with 38 stolen bases during the 2003 season. The 5-10, 190-pound righthanded batter finished ’03 as the BIG EAST overall leader in hits (98; 4th-most in ND history), runs scored (67) and total bases (136), also ranking 2nd among BIG EAST players in SBs, triples (5) and 7th in batting average (.384; 27th in ND history). He closed the season with a 13-game hitting streak (two shy of his career-best 15-game streak earlier in ’03), including a 10-for-17 showing at the NCAA Fullerton Regional.

Niesel posted a 7-0 record and 2.58 ERA in eight BIG EAST starts, plus .247 opponent batting and an 8-to-1 K-to-walk ratio (49/6) in league games. He joined WVU’s Zac Cline (9-2) as the only pitchers to post seven-plus league wins while BC’s Kevin Shephard and Lambert (both 2.36) were the only full-time starters with better ERA’s in conference play. Niesel nearly averaged one strikeout per inning in BIG EAST play (49 in 52.1) while averaging just 1.03 walks per 9 IP in conference games (his 49 Ks were 4th-best in the league). In overall games, the 5-11, 195-pound RHP finished 3rd among BIG EAST pitchers with a 2.65 ERA while ranking 2nd in wins (9-1) and innings (98.1), 3rd in Ks (87) and 4th in low opponent batting (.232). His career K-to-walk ratio (4.03 overall; 4.58 in ’03) is on pace to break the ND record.

Edwards – who made an inspiring comeback from a broken leg that sidelined him for most of the 2002 season – joined senior CF Kris Billmaier as the ND leaders in games started (62, of 63) and led all BIG EAST players with 69 total RBI while ranking 3rd in total bases (130), 5th in hits (86), 7th in doubles (16), 8th in slugging pct. (.568), 9th in batting avg. (.376) and 12th in home runs (8). He led the Irish in nine categories – including RBI, HRs, slugging, on-base pct. (.439) – while ranking 2nd on the team in doubles, total bases and walks (25). The 6-2, 195-pound righthanded batter also proved to be one of the team’s top situational hitters, with team-best marks for 2-out RBI (24), batting with runners on base (.397) and in scoring position (.435) while ranking 2nd on the team in 2-out batting (.346), 3rd in leadoff on-base pct. (.477) and 5th in pct. of runners advance (.560).

See additional notes below on ND’s all-time All-America/Academic All-America combinations and final bio notes on the 2003 ND baseball All-Americans.

Notre Dame’s All-Americans and Academic All-Americans from same academic year (done 50 times by 42 individuals, twice by Gatewood, Arnzen, Paxson, Marten, Lester, Renola, Riley and Myers … most in one year – four in 1995-96 by Marten, deBruin, Lester, Renola and 01-02 by Gonzalez, Myers, Shay and Watson, also three in ’97, ’99 and ’01), here is the complete list:

Football (16, year refers to fall season): Dan Shannon (’54), Don Schaefer (’55), Bob Lehmann (’63), Jim Lynch (’66), Tom Regner (’66), Jim Smithberger (’67), George Kunz (’68), Jim Reilly (’69), Tom Gatewood (’70, ’71), Joe Theismann (’70), Greg Marx (’72), Dave Casper (’73), Pete Demmerle (’74), Ken MacAfee (’77), John Krimm (’81) and Tim Ruddy (’93)

Men’s Track and Field (7) – Mike McWilliams (’95), Jeff Hojnacki (’97), Jason Rexing (’97), Errol Williams (’98), Mike Brown (’98), Ryan Shay (’03) and Luke Watson (’03)

Men’s Basketball (4) – Bob Arnzen (’67, ’68), Kelly Tripucka (’79), John Paxson (’82, ’83) and Pat Garrity (’98)

Baseball (3) – Dan Peltier (’89), J.P. Gagne (’03) and Steve Sollmann (’03)

Softball (3) – Katie Marten (’95, ’96), Jarrah Myers (’01, ’02), Jen Sharron (’01)

Women’s Fencing (2) – Heidi Piper (’91, ’92), Claudette deBruin (’96)

Women’s Soccer (2, year refers to fall season) – Jen Renola (’95, ’96), Monica Gonzalez (’01)

Each with one (5) – Andy Zurcher (men’s tennis, ’94), Bill Lester (men’s fencing, ’96, ’97), Jen Hall (women’s tennis, ’99), Alison Klemmer (women’s track, ’99) and Ruth Riley (women’s basketball, ’00, ’01)


J.P. Gagne (Sr., RHP; Bloomington, Minn.) – Joined ND program as walk-on before helping lead the way for highest 4-year victory total in program’s history (190-67-1 from ’00-’03; good for 6th-most wins in Div. 1 during the stretch), with four trips to the NCAAs, two BIG EAST regular-season titles and two BIG EAST Tournament titles … joined former greats Chris Michalak and Aaron Heilman as only ND pitchers ever to post 20-plus wins and 10-plus saves … team tri-captain and co-MVP in ’03 …. versatile pitcher who was member of weekend rotation for 2-plus seasons before shift to bullpen … set ND records for career appearances (94) and saves in a season (13, in ’03; 9th in nation), also finishing 2nd in ND career record book for saves (19), 7th in innings (298.0), 8th in wins (25-16) and 9th in Ks (205) … posted career-best 2.70 ERA in ’03 that would have ranked 4th in the BIG EAST (3 IP shy of min.) while 30 GP (29 relief) ranked 3rd in ND season record book … his other ’03 stats included leading staff in low opp. batting by LH hitters (.197) while ranking 2nd in groundball outs per 9 IP (12.0), 3rd in low opponent slugging (.278, just 2 HRs), 4th in IP (60.0) and 5th in ERA (2.70), wins (4-6), Ks (45) and opponent batting (.242, 55 hits) … his excellent control in ’03 included a 2.1 K-to-walk ratio and just 13 traditional walks (8 intentional) while he hit only one batter and totaled just three wild pitches … closed 24 of 29 relief appearances in ’03, converting 13 of 15 save chances … allowed just 3-of-13 inherited runners to score in ’03 while holding first batters he faced to .240 batting (6-for-25, 3 BB) … third ND pitcher ever to earn multiple all-BIG EAST honors (third team in ’01 and ’03) … received $2,000 postgraduate scholarship from BIG EAST … posted BIG EAST’s second-best ERA in ’03 conference games (1.09) … his 33 career starts included win over WVU in the ’03 BE Tournament opener (his first start since 3/6/02), as the Irish coped with absence of injured BE pitcher of year Chris Niesel … earned Verizon/CoSIDA third team Academic All-America honors, graduating with 3.40 GPA as finance major, including a 4.0 during ’03 spring semester to go along with three previous Dean’s List semesters … went 10 appearances and 25 innings without allowing an earned run during second half of ’03 … twice logged six innings out of the bullpen in ’03, picking up extra-inning win over Wake Forest and not allowing an earned run in 19-inning marathon at Rutgers … his 9-inning averages in ’03: 8.3 H, 3.2 BB (2nd-best on staff), 6.8 Ks … situational pitching in ’03: .248 opp. batting with runners on, .262 with 2 outs, 39% leadoff batters reached … posted 3.14 ERA as a junior, with his ’02 highlights including 3-hit, complete-game effort in a 1-0 win over BYU, saving both wins at Florida State in the NCAA Super Regionals and picking up CWS win over Rice … his ND career stats included a 3.90 ERA, 25-16 record and 19 saves in 94 GP (34 GS), with 205 Ks, 83 BB and 318 H in 298 IP (also a .276 opp. avg., 12 WP, 20 HB) … signed with Colorado Rockies as 14th-round pick.

Steve Sollmann (Jr., 2B; Cincinnati, Ohio) – Team tri-captain and co-MVP in 2003, when he made move into leadoff spot and became 6th ND player ever to receive 3-plus all-BIG EAST Conference honors (1st team in ’01, 2nd team in ’02 and ’03) … his 38 stolen bases in ’03 ranked 7th in nation behind five OFs – Coastal Carolina’s Ryan McGraw (63), Eastern Kentucky’s Josh Anderson (57), Bethune-Cookman’s Sebastian Boucher (48), Tulane’s Jonny Kaplan (48) and Miami’s Danny Figueroa (40) – and fellow BIG EAST 2B Graig Badger of Rutgers (41) … finished ’03 as BIG EAST overall leader in hits (98; 4th-most in ND history), runs (67) and TBs (136), also ranking 2nd among BIG EAST players in triples (5) and 7th in batting (.384; 27th in ND history) … closed ’03 with 13-game hitting streak (two shy of career-best 15-game streak earlier in ’03), including 10-for-17 showing at NCAA Fullerton Regional … owns .487 career batting avg. in NCAAs (38-for-78 in 18 GP), including .697 (23-for-33) in ND’s last two NCAA Regional tournaments … named Verizon CoSIDA 2nd team Academic All-American, with 3.30 cumulative GPA as marketing major … his 255 career hits already are 8th in ND record book and 3rd-most by Irish junior (behind Steve Stanley’s 266 and Dan Peltier’s 257) while his .370 career batting avg. ranks 5th, just behind his brother Scott’s .372 from ’94-’96 (plus Peltier’s .406, the .405 posted by Eric Danapilis and Stanley’s .384) … also 5th in ND history with 501 fielding assists, 6th with 67 SBs and 11th in runs (172) and triples (11) … in addition to the above stats, he finished 2nd on 0’03 Irish team in doubles (16), slugging (.533), on-base (.438) and walks (25), and 3rd in HRs (4) and RBI (40) … his other ’03 stats included one time hit-by-pitch, more walks (25) than Ks (23), 2 sac. flies, 4 sac. bunts and just 8 errors in 310 fielding chances (.974 fielding pct.) as a key member of defense that set ND record for season fielding pct. (.970, also 21st in nation in ’03; with Sollmann having a hand in 41 of the team’s 57 double plays) … posted team-best .550 leadoff OB pct. and ranked 2nd on team in batting with runners in scoring position (.373) while owning team’s 4th-best 2-out batting (.254, 13 RBI with 2 outs) … grounded into just 2 double plays, advanced baserunners 58% of the time (3rd-best on team) and posted nearly identical batting averages vs. LHPs (.388) and RHPs (.383) … rare junior-year recipient of ND’s Francis Patrick O’Connor Award (recognizing student-athletes who most embody “team spirit, inspiration, courage,” etc.) and became the first player ever named BIG EAST player of the week three times in the same season (also tying the BIG EAST career mark) … drafted in the 32nd round by the Oakland A’s.

Chris Niesel (So., RHP; Plantation, Fla.) – BIG EAST pitcher of year after going 7-0 with 2.58 ERA in 8 league starts, plus .247 opp. batting and 8-to-1 K-to-walk ratio (49/6) in BIG EAST play … joined WVU’s Zac Cline (9-2) as only pitchers with 7-plus league wins while BC’s Kevin Shephard and Chris Lambert (both 2.36) were only full-time starters with better ERA’s in conference play … nearly averaged one K per IP in BIG EAST play (49 in 52.1), plus just 1.03 walks per 9 IP (his 49 Ks were 4th-best in the BE) … finished 3rd among BIG EAST pitchers with 2.65 overall ERA while ranking 2nd in wins (9-1) and IP (98.1), 3rd in Ks (87) and 4th in low opponent batting (.232; just .216 by RH hitters) … led ND staff in wins, Ks, IP, K-to-BB ratio (4.58, 7th ND history), starts (15), Ks “looking (26), groundball outs (112) and IP per appearance (6.2), also ranking 3rd on staff in opp. batting and 4th in ERA (his other stats included 3 CGs, 86 H, 19 BB, 5 WP, 3 HB) … allowed just 2 HR in 402 batters faced … his 9-inning ’03 averages: 7.9 H (4th on staff), 1.74 BB (12th ND history), 8.0 Ks (4th on staff), 4.58 K/BB (7th ND history), 10.3 GO (5th on staff) and 36.8 BF … his ’03 situational pitching: .222 opp. batting with runners on (2nd on staff), .207 with 2 outs and 29% of leadoff batters reached (both 3rd on staff) … dnp at BE Tournament due to hand injury before strong no-decision at CS Fullerton in NCAAs (8 IP, 2 ER) … since only loss of his ND career (Feb. 28 vs. Nebraska), has dominated in his last 13 outings (9-0) to the tune of a 1.94 ERA, .218 opp. batting avg. and 5-to-1 K-to-walk ratio (84/17) in 13 starts … his 4.03 career K-to-walk ratio (149/37) is ahead of Alan Walania’s ND record (4.00, from ’90-’93) .while his 1.95 career walk avg. is 6th in ND record book … tossed near-no-hitter vs. hot-hitting West Virginia (.330 team avg.) on May 3, allowing bunt single with 2 outs left in 7-inning opener (23 BF, BB, 9 Ks) … would have been ND’s first no-hitter since ’88 … has won 31 of last 33 overall decisions (13-1 at ND, 3-1 in ’02 Cape Cod League, 2-0 in Blue-Gold fall instrasquad series, 13-0 as Aquinas HS senior) … 11th ND pitcher with 15-plus starts in a season … his ’03 stats also included 12th-best Ks and opp. avg. and BB ratio in ND history … 10th ND pitcher with multiple double-digit K games in career (10 vs. So. Ill. in ’02, 11 vs. Villanova in ’03)… also owns five 9-K games (four in ’03) … 4th ND player to receive multiple BE pitcher-of-week honors in same season … tied for 6th on ND season win pct. list (.900), with just 13 previous ND pitchers posting 10-plus wins … heads into ’04 with 2.95 career ERA, 149 Ks in 170.2 IP with Irish.