Mike Knecht Earns BIG EAST Honor
Baseball notes, stat rankings and conference update.
May 5, 1998
NOTRE DAME, Ind.--Notre Dame junior catcher Mike Knecht (Newport Beach, Calif.) has been named the BIG EAST Conference baseball co-player of the week for April 27-May 3, after providing some clutch plays during an entertaining weekend series versus West Virginia.
In other statistical news released today by the NCAA, Notre Dame freshman righthander Aaron Heilman (Logansport, Ind.) checks in as the nation's second-leading pitcher for season ERA (1.44) while Irish sophomore lefthander Tim Kalita (Oak Park, Ill.) currently ranks 21st (2.49). As a team, Notre Dame stands ninth in the nation with a 3.91 staff ERA.
Knecht led the team during the five-game week with a .368 batting avg. (7-for-19) and four runs scored, including 6-for-12 in four BIG EAST games. His other totals included two RBI (both in team's final at-bat to tie the game in eventual wins over WVU), plus a double, walk, stolen base and errorless play behind the plate. Knecht started all five games at catcher while directing an Irish pitching staff that posted a 3.42 team ERA for the week, including just one earned run allowed in the 5-3, 15-inning win over WVU on May 3.
The 5-6, 155-pound Knecht provided two of the biggest plays during the WVU series, tying both wins over the Mountaineers in Notre Dame's last at-bat. His 7th-inning, RBI groundout scored Dan Leatherman to tie the May 2 opener (3-3) and the Irish won 4-3 two batters later. Knecht also plated Leatherman the next day with a two-out, two-strike, 9th-inning single past the diving third baseman to force extra innings (3-3) in the marathon series finale.
Knecht-who led the Irish in the final WVU game with a 3-for-6 day--also had singled and scored the team's first run in the 8th inning of the May 3 game. He opened the week by going 2-for-4 with two runs scored, a double and a stolen base in the 6-1 win at Seton Hall.
Despite hitting in the #9 spot in Notre Dame's batting order and despite entering the season with one hit in three career at-bats, Knecht ranks fourth on the team with a .338 season batting avg. (22-for-65), including 13-for-33 (.394) in 10 BIG EAST games. He leads the squad in two-out batting (.422, 9-for-22) while ranking sixth on the team for batting with runners in scoring position (.350, 7-for-20).
Rutgers (17-3), the current second-place team in the BIG EAST, posted a player on each of the BIG EAST's weekly awards, as junior second baseman Dave Marciniak shared player of the week honors with Knecht while senior righthander Mike Mundy was named BIG EAST pitcher of the week and freshman third baseman Jake Daubert received the conference rookie of the week award.
Seven Notre Dame players have combined for eight BIG EAST weekly awards this season, tying Rutgers for most among the 11-team conference (Providence is next with three). Notre Dame has the most individuals who have won BIG EAST weekly awards (7), followed by Rutgers (4).
BIG EAST BASEBALL AWARDS, NCAA STAT RANKINGS, BIG EAST UPDATE
The Irish are the only team to produce three different BIG EAST pitchers of the week this season: junior righthander Brad Lidge (3/16), Heilman (4/6) and junior righthander Alex Shilliday (4/20). RU's Mundy has earned the award twice while RU senior lefthander Jeff Miller also has been named BIG EAST pitcher of the week. Notre Dame and Rutgers are the only schools to have produced two players of the week this season: Irish senior shortstop J.J. Brock (3/16) and sophomore third baseman Brant Ust (4/13) and RU junior first baseman Pete Zoccolillo (4/6) and Marciniak. Heilman (4/13) and freshman leftfielder Alec Porzel (4/27) are the only teammates to have earned BIG EAST rookie of the week in 1998. Rutgers third baseman Jake Daubert has earned the rookie award three time while West Virginia lefthander Shane Rhodes is a two-time winner of the award.
Heilman finally reached the NCAA minimum of one inning pitched per team game, after logging 14 innings in last week's action. He has allowed nine earned runs in 56 and one-third innings while helping the Irish to their current 37-13 mark. Heilman's 1.44 ERA would rank sixth in Irish history and second-best by a Notre Dame hurler since 1962, trailing only the nation-leading 1.05 posted by David Sinnes in 1990. Florida's Josh Fogg (1.21, 8 ER, 59.2 IP) currently leads the nation in ERA while Florida State's Nick Stocks (1.53, 58.2 ER, 10 ER) checks in at the third spot, with Fogg, Heilman and Stocks owning very similar earned runs and inning totals.
Heilman's saw his 33.1-inning, 19-appearance shutout streak end on May 2 vs. West Virginia but he nonetheless is coming off a gutsy weekend performance. He allowed four runs on six hits and three walks over the final four innings in a 64-pitch, losing outing in the May 2 nightcap before returning the next day for a six-inning, 76-pitch victory in the 15-inning marathon (5-3), with that shutout effort including five hits, three walks, five K's, six groundouts and two double-play balls. Heilman also leads the Irish in low opponent batting average (.207) and K-to-BB ratio (4.3) while ranking second in K's per nine innings (10.9). He has finished 21 of his 24 relief outings while allowing earned runs in only three of his 25 appearances.
Kalita allowed just two earned runs in 16.1 innings of work (1.10 ERA) last week vs. two different BIG EAST team, allowing 19 hits and three walks while totaling 16 K's during the week. He opened the week with his first career complete game and a career-best 10 K's in the 6-1 win at Seton Hall, allowing one earned run on 10 hits and one walk. Kalita finished the week with no decision in the final game vs. West Virginia, allowing one earned run over 7.1 innings, on nine hits and two walks, with six K's. Kalita has allowed just two earned runs in his last four appearances (28.2 innings) and owns a 1.56 season ERA when not counting his outing vs. the potent Miami Hurricanes (7 earned runs in 3.2 innings). He has totaled 59 strikeouts and 31 walks in 61.1 innings, including a BIG EAST-leading 30 strikeouts "looking".
The Notre Dame pitching staff ranks ninth in the nation with a 3.91 season ERA, closely trailing Cal State Fullerton (3.84), Virginia Commonwealth (3.88) and Stanford (3.90). The Irish own a 2.11 team ERA over the past 17 games while the team ERA is just 2.88 over the last 42 games, since the three-game series at Miami (when the Hurricanes totaled 54 earned runs in 24 innings). The team ERA would be just 2.94 when excluding the Miami series (47 games).
BIG EAST NOTES: Seton Hall dropped an 11-0 game at Pittsburgh on May 4 and is locked into a 5th or 6th-place finish in the conference standings ... Notre Dame plays host to St. John's in a three-game series on May 9-10 and would lose the regular-season title to Rutgers with a single loss ... Connecticut's only chance to claim the sixth and last tournament spot is for West Virginia to lose three games this weekend at Villanova ... the Irish and Red Storm clash will feature two of the nation's top pitching staffs, as St. John's ranks fifth in the nation with a 3.74 team ERA (led by the nation's eighth-ranked individual, Kevin McGerry, who checks in at 2.09).
BIG EAST STANDINGS (as of May 5)
Team BE Rec. Pct. Overall May 9-10 Possible Finish (range)
1. *Notre Dame 14-2 .875 37-13 vs. St. John's (3) 1st-2nd (.895 - .737)
2. *Rutgers 17-3 .850 28-13 1st-2nd (.850)
3. *St. John's 12-6 .667 25-14-1 at Notre Dame (3) 3rd-6th (.714 - .571)
4. *Providence 14-8-1 .636 29-20-1 3rd-5th (.630)
5. West Virginia 11-8 .559 34-14-1 vs. Villanova (3) 3rd-7th (.636 - .500)
6. *Seton Hall 12-10 .546 25-20 5th-6th (.546)
7. Connecticut 12-11 .522 24-17 6th-7th (.522)
8. Villanova 5-13 .278 25-19-1 vs. West Virginia (3)
9. Pittsburgh 5-15 .250 11-23-1 at Boston College (3)
10. Georgetown 5-19 .208 22-34
11. Boston College 3-15-1 .184 16-23-1 Pittsburgh (3)
* - clinched BIG EAST Tournament spot