May 11, 2002
PHILADELPHIA, Pa. – The 19th-ranked Notre Dame baseball team jumped out to a 3-0 cushion and held two other leads but the host team Villanova had the final answer – tying the game with a two-run homer in the seventh before surging ahead in the eighth – as the Wildcats edged the Irish, 8-7, in the first game of their BIG EAST Conference series, at Richie Ashburn Field. The series is slated to conclude with a noon doubleheader on Sunday (per BIG EAST rules, the teams are required to use Monday as a makeup day if weather or darkness prevent the completion of the series).
Notre Dame (34-14, 13-8 BIG EAST) – which had won nine of its previous 10 games vs. VU – slipped one game back in the loss column of the conference standings, with Virginia Tech (15-7) maintaining the top spot after splitting a doubleheader at 14-8 Boston College (8-1 BC win, 15-8 VT win). Idle Rutgers (14-9) holds down the fourth and final BIG EAST Tournament position – with regular-season play to conclude next weekend – while Villanova (10-10) is one of three teams that sit just one loss behind RU (Pittsburgh and Connecticut are 12-10).
Half of Notre Dame’s eight BIG EAST losses now have come by one run, plus a pair of two-run losses.
The Irish jumped out to a 3-0 first-inning lead and retook leads of 4-3 and 6-4 before seeing the Wildcats forge a 7-7 tie in the seventh, with VU’s go-ahead run coming in the eighth.
Freshman righthander Grant Johnson left the game with a 6-5 lead and two outs in the bottom of the sixth, with his 82-pitch outing including five runs on seven hits and two walks, plus three strikeouts.
Junior righthander J.P. Gagne (6-4) – who owned an 0.89 ERA in his nine previous relief appearances – suffered the loss after allowing three runs on four hits and one walk over the final 2 1/3 innings.
Villanova junior closer James Russell (1-3) – who entered the series with 14 saves and a 1.99 ERA – picked up his first win of the season, recording the final four outs while facing the minimum number of batters.
VU junior righthander Brian Slocum – one of the nation’s top-rated draft prospects – recovered from the three-run first inning to allow five runs on six hits and three walks in his 5 1/3 innings, with four strikeouts.
The Widcats’ big hit came with one out in the seventh, as senior first baseman Rob Cafiero tied the game (7-7) by smacking his 14th home run of the season over the leftfield wall. Brian Hearne had walked on a full count before Cafiero connected on a 1-1 pitch for the game-tying hit.
The hosts plated the winning run one inning later, after consecutive one-out singles from Greg Fatter, Brian Trotta and Brendan Trainor.
Notre Dame’s three-run first inning included Steve Stanley’s leadoff double to center field, Brian Stavisky’s RBI single down the leftfield line and Matt Bok’s two-run single up the middle.
The Irish broke a 4-4 tie by plating a pair of runs in the sixth. Slocum lost Javier Sanchez on four pitches for a leadoff walk and Joe Thaman executed the sac. bunt, bringing righthander Dan Farino out of the bullpen. Stanley then ripped a 2-0 pitch into the rightfield corner for his 10th career triple and Steve Sollmann’s groundout pushed the ND lead to 6-4.
The visitors answered VU’s run in the bottom of the sixth with another run in the top of the seventh, sparked by Andrew Bushey’s leadoff single up the middle on a full-count pitch. A sacrifice bunt and wild pitch moved Bushey to third before Kris Billmaier pulled off the squeeze bunt for a 7-5 Irish lead.
NOTES: The Irish converted five sacrifice bunts in the game and have totaled 45 for the season (compared to 28 in 2001) … next week’s final BIG EAST series include BC at ND, West Virginia at Virginia Tech, Rutgers at St. John’s, UConn at Pittsburgh and Villanova at Seton Hall … Stavisky (3-for-5) pushed his season batting avg. to .407 while smacking his 13th career triple, tying Paul Failla (’92-’94) and Ryan Topham (’93-’95) for sixth in ND history … Stanley hit 2-for-4 (keeping his season avg. at .457) while collecting his 10th career triple (11th in ND history) and 44th double … Stanley played his 236th career game, tying Craig Counsell (’89-’92) – who was readying to play just a few blocks away at Veterans Stadium – for third in the ND record book, behind Alec Porzel (239; ’98-’01) and J.J. Brock (238; ’94-’98) … Stanley’s 236 games started now are two shy of that ND record (238, held by Brock).
Notre Dame 3-0-1 0-0-2 1-0-0 – 7 9 0
Villanova 2-1-0 1-0-1 2-1-X – 8 11 2
Grant Johnson, J.P. Gagne (6; L, 6-4) and Paul O’Toole.
Brian Slocum, Dan Farino (6), Adrian Schau (7), James Russell (8; W, 1-3) and Greg Fater.
Home Run: Rob Cafeiro, VU (1 on in 8th; 14th of season).
Triples: Brian Stavisky (ND; 13th of career), Steve Stanley (ND; 10th of career).
Doubles: Steve Stanley (ND; 44th of career), Andrew Bushey (ND; 49th of career), Brian Newbold (VILL), Brian Trotta (VILL).