Baseball Heads to BIG EAST Tourney
West Virginia awaits No. 24 Notre Dame in first round.
May 11, 1998
NOTRE DAME, Ind.--The Notre Dame baseball team (38-15, 15-4 BIG EAST) heads back to Norwich, Conn. and Dodd Stadium this week in quest of the BIG EAST Tournament title ... the #2-seeded Irish will face the #5 seed and growing rival West Virginia on Wednesday, May 13 at 3:30 p.m. (eastern) ... if Notre Dame wins that game, it will face the winner of #3 St. John's vs. #4 Providence in Thursday's 7:00 p.m. game ... if the Irish lose to WVU, Notre Dame would face the loser of #1 Rutgers vs. #6 Seton Hall in the noon game on Thursday (full schedule for the double-elimination tournament is at right) ... the winner receives an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament ... the Irish last week were ranked 24th in the national Collegiate Baseball magazine poll while receiving the 28th-most votes in the USA Today coaches poll (updated polls unavailable) ... Notre Dame has won 18 of its last 23 games but has lost five of its last 10 ... the Irish are 54-9 in their last 63 home games at Frank Eck Stadium and 91-18 (in the four-year tenure of head coach Paul Mainieri ... the Irish have won 11 of their last 12 games away from home ... Notre Dame is 28-6 since March 26, 35-10 in its last 45 BIG EAST regular-season games and 36-9 since dropping a three-game series at the University of Miami.
SCHEDULE NOTES: Notre Dame-which has seen 16 games cancelled due to weather this season in seven different states and played only 53 regular-season games this season, three below the NCAA maximum ... WHME radio (103.1 FM) will carry all postseason action ... all WHME radio broadcasts are available on realaudio via the Notre Dame website (www.und.com), as are real-time stats and boxscores for home games.
AROUND THE HORN: Sophomore 3B Brant Ust led the BIG EAST in conference batting avg. (.493), slugging pct. (.930) and on-base pct. (.530) ... Ust tied four records in the April 25 nightcap at Seton Hall, going 5-for-5 with three home runs and five runs scored * clutch-hitting junior C Mike Knecht was named BIG EAST player of the week for April 27-May 2, becoming the seventh Irish player honored by the conference this season * Notre Dame's recent doubleheader sweep of Pittsburgh (11-0, 12-1) saw the Irish pitchers allow just four balls out of the infield while totaling 26 K's * the Irish are 30-3 when scoring 5-plus runs * Notre Dame has home runs in 26 of the last 35 games (51 in that stretch) and a record 69 for the season * Jeff Wagner's HR on April 13 vs. Wisconsin-Milwaukee was the 38th of his career, breaking the Irish record (he now has 40) * Notre Dame's recent 23-1 run is the longest streak with one loss in the program's history * Notre Dame's offensive highlights have included 23 hits vs. Georgetown--equaling the most by a Notre Dame team in the '90s--and a record seven-home-run game at Boston College on April 5 (Dan Leatherman had two, five others had one) * Ust's 17 HRs have included nine on the road * freshman RHP Aaron Heilman-who won BIG EAST pitcher of the week and rookie of the week in succession (4/7, 4/13)-saw his 33.1-inning shutout streak (over 19 appearances) snapped last week * Heilman's 1.49 ERA ranks 2nd in the nation and represents the 2nd-best ERA at Notre Dame since 1962 * Notre Dame's team fielding pct. (.962) has taken a 20-point jump from last season while then Irish have lost just two games due to unearned runs (compared to eight last season).
BIG EAST STANDINGS 1. Rutgers 17-3 28-13 2. NOTRE DAME 15-4 38-15 3. St. John's 14-7 27-15-1 4. Providence 14-8-1 29-20-1 5. West Virginia 13-9 36-15-1 6. Seton Hall 12-10 25-21
BIG EAST Tournament (Dodd Stadium; Norwich, Conn.):
Notre Dame's Probable Starting Lineup *-lefthanded hitter; #-switch hitter Pos. Player Yr. Ht./Wt. Hometown 1998 Stats Notes SS J.J. Brock Sr. 6-0/175 Colo. Springs, CO .336, 52 RBI, 49 R, 12 HR-2 3B-13 2B, 21 BB/33 K, 4-8 SB, 18 E Had just 8 HRs in his first 3 seasons LF Alec Porzel Fr. 6-0/180 Lisle, IL .265, 34 RBI, 31 R, 7 HR-2 3B-11 2B, 11 BB/23 K, 5-8 SB, 1 E Beat SJU (2-1) with 7th-inning single 3B Brant Ust So. 6-1/190 Redmond, WA .392, 55 RBI, 51 R, 17 HR-1 3B-20 2B, 14 BB/32 K, 10-15 SB, 17 E .493 BE avg.; .759 overall slug % DH Jeff Wagner Jr. 6-3/220 Louisville, KY .337, 44 RBI, 40 R, 13 HR-2 3B-13 2B, 26 BB/23 K, 7 E Irish career HR leader (40) RF *Jeff Felker So. 6-5/185 Ellicott City, MD .281, 33 RBI, 28 R, 3 HR-3 3B-12 2B, 15 BB/30 K, 3 E Hit .326 at home, .235 on road CF #Allen Greene Jr. 6-1/195 Seattle, WA .320, 43 RBI, 49 R, 7 HR-3 3B-13 2B, 29 BB/40 K, 9-16 SB, 4 E .371 with runners in scoring position 1B *Dan Leatherman Sr. 5-11/170 Orland Park, IL .349, 24 RBI, 40 R, 8 HR-1 3B-15 2B, 21 BB/16 K, 6-8 SB, 9 E Hit .369 in BIG EAST games 2B #Todd Frye Sr. 5-11/170 Aledo, IL .253, 12 RBI, 26 R, 8 SAC, 1 3B-4 2B, 15 BB/22 K, 4-7 SB, 10 E 20 sac bunts during past two seasons DH #Jeff Perconte So. 5-10/180 Arlington Hts, IL .252, 17 RBI, 14 R, 3 3B-8 2B, 19 BB/16 K, 7-10 SB, 2 E One of 3 ND players with BBs > Ks
ND-WVU SERIES NOTES: Notre Dame holds a 14-8 series edge vs. WVU but the Mountaineers have won seven of the 11 meetings since both teams joined the BIG EAST in 1996 ... those last 11 meetings have included two 1-run games, five 2-run games and three 3-run games ... the teams had not played for 38 years prior to the 1996 season, when WVU swept two at Notre Dame (6-4, 8-5) and beat the Irish in the first round of the BIG EAST Tournament (10-8) ... the Irish then beat WVU four days later, 5-2, to force a winner-take-all game (which WVU won, 7-4) ... the teams split two games in Morgantown last season, with WVU winning the first (7-5) and Notre Dame the second (7-6) ... Notre Dame eliminated WVU from the 1997 BIG EAST Tournament (8-1) ... the teams played a memorable series at Notre Dame on May 2-3, with the Irish winning the first (4-3) and third game (5-3 in 15 innings) while WVU came back to win the second game (11-9 in 10 innings) ... the first baseball game between the schools came in 1902, a 9-5 midseason home win for Notre Dame ... Notre Dame also beat WVU at home in 1910 (6-1) before splitting at WVU in 1912 (1-7, 4-2) ... ND won at WVU in 1914 (12-3) and the teams did not play again until two-game home sweeps by Notre Dame in 1927 (8-6, 3-0) and '28 (4-3, 14-2) ... the series then took a 27-year break before WVU won an early-season home game from the Irish in 1955 (5-3) ... Notre Dame's 1958 NCAA Tournament team beat WVU early in the season (6-4) en route to a 20-11 campaign ... the teams also played a 1956 exhibition game in Tallahasee, Fla. (a 4-0 WVU win).
IRISH, WVU TURN IN MEMORABLE '98 SERIES: Notre Dame and West Virginia added to their growing BIG EAST rivalry with a memorable three-game series at Eck Stadium on May 2-3 ... the Irish pushed across three runs in the 7th and final inning of the opener to post a 4-3 win before WVU overcame two four-run deficits to claim the nightcap, 11-9 in 10 innings ... the Irish then rallied to tie series finale (3-3) in the bottom of the 9th before winning 5-3 in 15 innings on Alec Porzel's two-out home run ... the teams have met 11 times since joining the BIG EAST in 1996, producing two 1-run games, five 2-run games, three 3-run games and just one blowout (Notre Dame's 8-1 win in last year's BIG EAST Tournament).
NOTRE DAME 4, WEST VIRGINIA 3
WEST VIRGINIA 11, NOTRE DAME 9 (10 innings)
NOTRE DAME 5, WEST VIRGINIA 3 (15 innings)
RECAPPING THE 1997 ND-WVU GAMES (5-7, 7-6, 8-1): Notre Dame nearly beat WVU ace Chris Enochs (7 IP, 10 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 6 K) in the first game of the 1997 series in Morgantown .. the Irish led 5-1 before WVU scored twice in the 4th and once in the 5th (on Jason Frushour's home run) before pushing across three runs in the 6th, the last two coming on singles by Matt Rubino and Joe McNamee ... Tim Kalita (5 IP, 9 H, 5 R, 2 BB, 2 K) started the game for the Irish while Mike Balicki took the loss ... Notre Dame took the nightcap behind home runs from freshman Jeff Felker and Brant Ust and Alex Shilliday's strong 7.1 innings (12 H, 5 R, 3 BB, 4 K) ... Larry Mohs saved the game, giving up a home run by Rubino while retiring the other five batters he faced ... the Irish struck for three 1st-inning runs, behind Brant Ust's RBI double and Allen Greene's two-run double ... Felker added a solo home run in the 6th and Randall Brooks hit an RBI single in the 6th before Ust's two-run shot in the 7th gave the Irish a 7-4 lead ... Garrett Zyskowski (1.2 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 1 K) took the loss ... Chris McKeown's complete game (4 H, 1 BB, 6 K) eliminated WVU from the BIG EAST Tournament ... Ust and Greene hit RBI singles in the 1st while Notre Dame's five-run 4th included RBI from Brooks (2B), Ust (SF) and Todd Frye (1B) ... Steve Beller (3.2 IP, 6 H, 7 R, 4 ER, 5 BB, 5 K) took the loss.
TAKE ME HOME: Notre Dame head baseball coach Paul Mainieri has some special ties to the state of West Virginia, as he was born in Morgantown on Aug. 29, 1957 ... his parents, Demie and Rosetta, both graduated from West Virginia University in the early 1950s and Demie remains a well-known sports figure in Morgantown, as member of the WVU Physical Education Department Hall of Fame.
ONE BIG HAPPY FAMILY: The BIG EAST changed its baseball alignment for '98, as the 11 teams competed as one conference (opposed to the previous two-division format) ... Notre Dame won last year's National Division title with the best winning pct. of any BIG EAST team (15-6) while West Virginia captured the American Division title (17-7) ... three National Division teams--Rutgers, Seton Hall and Villanova--also advanced to last year's BIG EAST Tournament while St. John's joined WVU out of the American ... WVU, Providence and St. John's advanced from the American Division in 1996 while the National entrants were Villanova, Rutgers and Notre Dame.
TURNAROUND: Notre Dame's season ERA remains skewed by the three-game series at the potent University of Miami, when the Hurricanes totaled 52 earned runs in 24 innings ... the current team ERA of 3.81 is well below last year's final ERA (4.51) and the squad's 3.91 ERA heading into last week ranked 9th in the nation, just behind St. John's (3.74), CS Fullerton (3.83), Va. Commonwealth (3.88) and Stanford (3.90) ... Notre Dame owns a 2.12 team ERA over the past 20 games while the ERA is just 2.84 since the Miami series (45 games) and 2.90 when excluding the Miami series-which would rank ahead of last week's NCAA leader Florida St. (3.39) ... jr. RHP Alex Shilliday has a 3.11 overall ERA but 2.63 when throwing out his Miami game ... another jr. RHP, Brad Lidge, would see his ERA drop from 4.30 to 3.25 when not counting his Miami outing ... two lefties--jr. Chris McKeown (3.92/2.95) and soph. Tim Kalita (2.41/1.55)--also would see their ERAs take major drops without their Miami outings ... in his 11 games since Miami, Kalita has allowed just nine earned runs in 59.1 innings (1.37) ... opponents are hitting .263 vs. the Irish this season, just .247 when not counting Miami's 58 hits.
HEILMAN, KALITA CRACK ERA LIST: Notre Dame fr. RHP Aaron Heilman (Logansport, Ind.) checked in last week as the nation's 2nd-leading pitcher for season ERA (1.44, now 1.49) while soph. LHP Tim Kalita (Oak Park, Ill.) was 21st (2.49, now 2.41) ... Heilman has allowed 10 earned runs in 60.1 IP while helping the Irish go 38-15 ... Heilman's 1.49 ERA would rank 6th in Irish history and 2nd-best since '62 (David Sinnes led the nation with 1.05 in '90) ... Florida's Josh Fogg (1.21, 8 ER, 59.2 IP) led the nation last week while Florida State's Nick Stocks (1.53, 58.2 ER, 10 ER) was 3rd, with Fogg, Heilman and Stocks owning very similar ER and IP totals ... Heilman saw his 33.1-inning, 19-appearance shutout streak end on May 2 vs. West Virginia but turned in a gutsy weekend ... he allowed four runs (6 H, 3 BB) over the final 4 IP in a 64-pitch, losing outing in the May 2 nightcap vs. WVU before returning the next day for a 6-inning, 76-pitch victory (5-3) in the 15-inning marathon (0 R, 5 H, 3 BB, 5 K's, 6 groundouts, 2 DP balls) ... Heilman is 6-2 with 7 saves (2nd-most in Irish history) ... he leads the Irish in low opp. batting avg. (.200), K-to-BB ratio (3.8) and K's/9 IP (10.9) ... he has finished 23 of 26 relief outings and allowed earned runs in only four of his 27 appearances ... Kalita recently posted his first career complete game and a career-best 10 K's in the 6-1 win at Seton Hall on April 27 (1 ER, 10 H, 1 BB) ... ... Kalita has allowed just three earned runs in his last six appearances (40.2 IP) and owns a 1.55 season ERA when not counting his outing vs. Miami (7 ER, 3.2 IP) ... he has 63 K's and 34 BBs in 67.1 IP, including a BIG EAST-best 32 K's "looking".
WHO ARE THOSE GUYS?: Prior to last weekend, only three Notre Dame players had previously played vs. St. John's: sr. RHP Dan Stavisky, jr. C/DH Jeff Wagner and sr. SS J.J. Brock ... five St. John's players had faced the Irish in the teams two 1996 meetings: sr. CF Steven Lewis (2-for-8, 2B, 3 K), sr. RF Gary Villacres (2-for-7, R, BB, K, SB), sr. 3B John Armento (1-for-3, 2B, E), jr. C Robert Fierro (1-for-6, K) and sr. SS Giancarlo DiPrima (0-for-6).
KNECHT CONNECTS: Notre Dame jr. C Mike Knecht (Newport Beach, Calif.) was named the BIG EAST Conference co-player of the week for April 27-May 3, after providing clutch plays in an entertaining series vs. West Virginia ... Knecht led the team during the five-game week with .368 batting (7-for-19, 6-for-12 in four BIG EAST games) and four runs, plus 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 defense ... 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 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 going 2-for-4 with two runs, a double and a stolen base in the 6-1 win at Seton Hall ... despite hitting 9th and entering the season with one hit in three career ABs, Knecht ranks 5th on the team with a .324 season batting avg. (23-for-71), including 14-for-39 (.359) in 13 BIG EAST games ... he ranks 2nd on the squad in two-out batting (.385, 10-for-26) and ranks 7th for batting with runners in scoring position (.318, 7-for-22).
IRISH, UST ZERO IN ON SWEEPS: The Notre Dame baseball team and sophomore 3B Brant Ust (Redmond, Wash.) entered last week close to sweeping their respective three major categories in BIG EAST games ... the Irish led the BIG EAST last week in conference batting (.357, now .340) and fielding pct. (.974, now .970) while ranking 2nd to St. John's in BIG EAST ERA (3.65, now 3.42) ... Ust finished with a .593 batting avg. in BIG EAST games--best by a BIG EAST player during the 1990s (his teammate Jeff Wagner owned the previous 1990s' best, .488 last season), with St. John's Mike Dzurilla finishing 2nd ... Ust also retained the top spots in slugging pct. (.960, ahead of the .922 by BC's Sean McGowan) and on-base pct. (.530, well ahead of the .495 posted by UConn's Clarke Caudill) to sweep the three categories ... Ust led the BIG EAST heading in to last week in overall home runs (17) while his eight HRs in BIG EAST games tied for 2nd, behind McGowan's nine ... Wagner nearly swept all three categories last season, finishing 1st in batting (.488) and on-base pct. (.538) and 2nd in slugging pct. (.988), just behind '97 BIG EAST player of the year David Kim of Seton Hall (.990).
LEATHERMAN'S GLOVE, BAT BOOST IRISH: Senior 1B Dan Leatherman (Orland Hills, Ill.) has provided expected defensive stability while adding an unexpected offensive surge ... Leatherman's eight home runs have been one of the keys to Notre Dame's record total of 69 while the 5-11, 170-pound lefthander ranks 2nd on the team in batting avg. (.349) and 4th in runs scored (40) while totaling more walks (21) than K's (16) ... Leatherman spent much of this season batting in the #9 spot (28 games) but lately has been used in the #6 (8 games) and #7 (10 games) slots, in addition to hitting 2nd twice ... Leatherman (.980 fielding pct., 9 E) has been noted for his strong defense this season and ability to dig balls out of the dirt, helping the Irish boost their team fielding pct. 20 points from last season (.942 to .962) ... his season highlights include two HRs in Notre Dame's record-setting seven-home-run barrage at Boston College on April 5 and tying the Irish record for hits in a game with a 5-for-5 effort vs. Toledo on April 23 ... Leatherman ranks 3rd on the team with .618 slugging (4th in home runs) while his .723 slugging in BIG EAST games ranked 7th in the conference ... he also checked in with the teams 2nd-best on-base pct. (.432, behind Ust's .439).
MAINIERI NEARS 500 WINS: Fourth-year Notre Dame head coach Paul Mainieri owns a 495-352 (.584) record in 16 seasons as a college head coach, five shy of the 500-win milestone ... in addition to his 163-73 (.691) mark with the Irish, Mainieri was 180-121 in six seasons at St. Thomas (Fla.) and 152-158 in six seasons at Air Force ... Mainieri has experienced two noteworthy homecomings in '98, making his second return to the University of New Orleans (where he played) with the Irish baseball program and his second return to his hometown of Miami as the Notre Dame coach ... he coached his 800th game Feb. 20 at Miami, after the Feb. 15 game at UNO was rained out ... Mainieri's 163 wins rank 3rd at Notre Dame, behind Pat Murphy (318, '88-'94) and Jake Kline (558, '34-'75) ... Mainieri has seen 13 of his Irish players go on to pro baseball, with nine selected in the draft ... Mainieri and his father Demie are the only known father-son combo in college baseball history to each top 400 career coaching wins ... Demie won 1,018 in his 30-year career at Miami-Dade North CC.
PORZEL POURS IT ON: Notre Dame freshman LF Alec Porzel (Lisle, Ill.)--the BIG EAST rookie of the week for April 22-28--has provided some clutch hits for the Irish in recent weeks while raising his season batting average to .264, home run total to eight and RBI total to 35 ... during the last 25 games, Porzel is hitting .287 (25-for-87) with six home runs and 28 RBI compared to his production over his first 24 games of the season, when Porzel hit just .237 with two home runs and eight RBI ... Porzel has shown more discipline, as he totaled 15 strikeouts and no walks over his first 22 games but has 11 walks and 10 K's in his last 27 games ... Notre Dame owns 10 wins this season in one-run and/or extra-inning games, with Porzel playing a leading role in each of the last four close games ... Porzel's two-out, two-strike single plated Brant Ust to beat Valparaiso, 1-0, in a game that was extended to nine innings (4/22) ... Porzel's leadoff home run, coupled with Mike Knecht's RBI groundout and J.J. Brock's squibber to the left side, accounted for the Irish three-run rally in the 7th and final inning to beat WVU (4-3) on May 2 ... the next day, Knecht forced extra innings with a 9th-inning, 2-out, 2-strike single through the left side before Porzel beat WVU with a 2-run, 2-out home run in the 15th ... last week, Porzel's 7th-inning single through the left side of the infield plated Todd Frye as the eventual winning run in a 2-1 victory over St. John's (5/9).
WHO YOU GONNA CALL?: Despite his frustrating 0-for-6 game (one intentional walk) in the 5-3, 15-inning win over West Virginia on May 3, Notre Dame junior C/DH Jeff Wagner (Louisville, Ky.) is clearly the squad's top hitter this season in games decided by 1-2 runs ... the Irish are 13-7 in the close games, led by Wagner's .414 batting (29-for-70) in those games ... by comparison, the rest of the Irish squad is hitting just .240 in the 20 close games this season ... Wagner has six of Notre Dame's 21 home runs and 16 of the team's 88 RBI in the close games this season.
1-2 PUNCH: Notre Dame junior RHP's Alex Shilliday (Dunwoody, Ga.) and Brad Lidge (Englewood, Colo.) have emerged as one of the BIG EAST's top duos, combining for a 16-6 mark, 3.66 ERA and 170 K's in 157.1 innings ... Shilliday (9-4, 3.11, 84 IP, 82 K's) has won 15 of his last 20 decisions with the Irish, in addition to going 9-0 last summer in the Alaska League ... Lidge (7-2, 4.30, 73.1 IP, 88 K's) has won his last seven decisions and would own a 3.25 ERA if not for a rocky outing vs. the potent Miami Hurricanes (9 ER in 1.1 IP) ... Shilliday and Lidge are the 2nd pair of Irish hurlers to top 80 K's, a feat turned in by David Sinnes (90) and Chris Michalak (83) in '93 ... Lidge ranks 5th on the Irish single-season strikeout list and needs two K's to tie Sinnes for the #2 spot (Frank Carpin's record of 102 has stood since 1958) ... the dominance of Shilliday and Lidge was the highlight of Notre Dame's 25-strikeout doubleheader vs. Pittsburgh (11-0, 12-1) on April 18 at Three Rivers Stadium ... Shilliday-who earned BIG EAST pitcher of the week-and Lidge both pitched seven innings while their 42 outs broke down as follows: 21 K's, 14 groundouts, 2 double-play balls, 3 infield popups, 1 caught stealing and 1 flyout ... the pair allowed just eight baserunners on three hits, four walks and one hit batter while facing 48 batters (six over the minimum) ... Shilliday was working on a no-hitter in the 6th before Aaron Vicari's leadoff, first-pitch bunt down the first-base line ... Shilliday (1 BB, 1 HP, 9 K's) needed just 79 pitches and faced 23 batters, two over the minimum, while recording the first solo one-hitter by an Irish pitcher in five years, since Sinnes' 6-0 win at Evansville on April 24, 1993 (9 IP, 1 BB, 1 HP, 5 K's, 31 BF) ... the last Irish no-hitter came May 11, 1988, by Brian Piotrowicz vs. Ball State (4-0) ... Shilliday allowed one ball to leave the infield--Harry Ciavarella's game-ending flyout to center ... he had two K's in each of the first four innings while serving up eight groundouts and two infield popups (the other out came on a caught-stealing) ... Lidge (109 pitches) racked up a career-best 12 K's and faced 25 batters, allowing two hits and three walks while totaling six groundouts, one infield popup and two DP balls ... Lidge's 12 K's equaled the most by an Irish pitcher since Bob Bartlett totaled 13 K's vs. Bethel in 1980.
ROAD-TESTED: Notre Dame has been strong at home in its five years in Frank Eck Stadium--going 120-25 (.828)--but the Irish lately have performed well on the road as well, winning 11 of their last 12 games away from home ... that streak began with three wins in San Antonio, Texas (8-0 vs. SW Texas, 15-4 vs. BYU and 4-3 vs. So. Illinois) and was extended with series sweeps at BC (5-2, 6-4, 16-6) and vs. Pittsburgh at Three Rivers Stadium (11-0, 12-1) ... the Irish then beat Michigan (9-1) at Old Kent Park in Grand Rapids before winning two of three at Seton Hall (4-5, 11-3, 6-1) ... during the last 12 road games, Notre Dame has owned a .335-.231 hitting edge, with 21 HRs, .577 slugging, a 2.41 ERA and .980 fielding (just 9 E's) ... top hitters during those last 12 road games have included soph. 3B Brant Ust (.565, 6 HR, 18 RBI), sr. SS J.J. Brock (.415, 5 HR, 18 RBI), jr. CF Allen Greene (.348, 3 HR, 17 RBI) and fr. LF Alec Porzel (.342, 2 HR, 12 RBI).
UST, HEILMAN RECEIVE NATIONAL RECOGNITION: Notre Dame 3B Brant Ust (Redmond, Wash.) and RHP Aaron Heilman (Logansport, Ind..) both were named to Baseball America's All-Americans by Class list ... Ust--a consensus freshman All-American in 1997--was joined in the All-Sophomore team infield USC C Eric Munson, Wichita State 1B Pat Magness, Arizona State 2B Willie Bloomquist and Miami SS Bobby Hill ... other position players named to the All-Sophomore team were Ball State OF Larry Bigbie, UNLV OF Ryan Ludwick, Delaware OF Kevin Mench, LSU DH Brad Cresse and Baylor utility player Jason Jennings ... Heilman's counterparts on the All-Freshman team pitching staff were Kip Bouknight (South Carolina), Kevin McGerry (St. John's), Matt Smith (Oklahoma State) and Justin Wayne (Stanford) ... other players named to the All-Freshman team included Loyola Marymount C Scott Walter, Houston 1B Jayme Sperring, California 2B Xavier Nady, Old Dominion SS Tim Hummel, UCLA 3B Garrett Atkins, Clemson OF Patrick Boyd, Florida State OF Matt Diaz, Georgia Tech OF Derik Goffena, Stanford DH Joe Borchard and Long Beach State utility player Jason Berni.
THE YOUNG CHICAGOANS: The 1997 Notre Dame baseball team was led by three Chicago-area natives, all of whom were seniors--C Mike Amrhein (.394, 14 HR, 71 RBI), CF Randall Brooks (.366, 39 RBI, 50 R, 17 SB) and RHP Darin Schmalz (9-3, 3.67, 58 K's) ... the current Irish squad includes nine Chicago-area natives, with only one senior, one junior, six sophomores and one freshman ... sr. 1B Dan Leatherman (Orland Hills) has been a steady defensive force while providing consistent offensive output (.349, 8 HR, 15 2B, 24 RBI, 40 R, 21 BB/16 K) ... jr. LHP Chris McKeown (Arlington Heights) is 4-2 with a 3.92 ERA and 36 K's in 41.1 innings ... soph. LHP Tim Kalita (Oak Park) has claimed the #3 starter role and ranked 21st in the nation last week in ERA (he lowered it to 2.41 ERA vs. St. John's), in addition to a perfect 4-0 mark and 63 K's in 67.1 innings ... fr. LF Alec Porzel (Lisle) is hitting .264 while providing an unexpected power boost (8 HR) and several clutch RBI (he has 35 total) ... four sophomores have made important contributions of the Irish this season: OF Jeff Perconte (Arlington Heights; .252, 8 2B, 17 RBI, 7-10 SB), RHPs Steve Szczepanski (Lombard; 5.28, 2-3) and Tom O'Hagan (Crystal Lake; 4.22, 1-0) and DH Larry Zimont (Oak Forest; .288, 2 HR, 13 RBI) ... Notre Dame's other Chicago-area native is soph. LHP Mark Lapinskas (Naperville; 0.00 in 2 IP).
UST TIES FOUR RECORDS: Sophomore 3B Brant Ust (Redmond, Wash.) sent the first pitch he saw in the 9th inning of the April 25th nightcap at Seton Hall over the fence in left-center field, tying three Notre Dame records and one BIG EAST in the process ... five was the magic number for Ust that day, as he went 5-for-5, with five RBI and five runs scored-plus three first-pitch home runs vs. three different SHU pitchers ... Ust became the 17th Irish player to collect five hits in a game, joining teammates Allen Greene (5-for-6 vs. IUPUI, 3/20/97) and Dan Leatherman (5-for-5 vs. Toledo, 4/23/98) in that distinction ... Ust's three-home-run game is just the 7th in Irish history and the first since Joe Binkiewicz did it twice in 12 days during April of 1991 (vs. Evansville and Michigan) ... Ust also joined Pat Pesavento (vs. Pennsylvania, 3/10/89) as the only Irish players who have scored five runs in a game ... five previous BIG EAST players have scored five runs in a BIG EAST game (first done by Seton Hall's Mo Vaughn vs. Pittsburgh on 3/28/87, most recently done by UConn's Jeff Uccello vs. Boston College on 4/20/96) ... Ust's 5-for-5 day included a solo shot to left in the 2nd vs. LHP Cameron Esslinger, a hard-fought at-bat that ended with an opposite-field single to right in the 4th, a near-home-run in the 6th (double high off the left-center wall) and a leadoff shot to left in the 8th vs. RHP Paul Viole ... leadoff singles by J.J. Brock and Ben Cooke in the 9th assured Ust a final at-bat and he delivered with a one-out, three-run shot to left vs. RHP Mike Wren.
23-1 RUN RANKS 5TH IN IRISH HISTORY: Notre Dame won 23 of 24 games from March 26-April 23 to establish the longest single-season streak with one loss in the 107-year history of the Notre Dame baseball program ... the Irish turned in 19-1 runs in 1991, 1992 and '94 while the previous best one-loss runs in Irish history include a 21-1 streak in 1992 and 20-1 runs in 1980, 1990 and 1991 ... top Irish hitters over that 24-game stretch included: senior 1B Dan Leatherman (.471, 16 RBI, 29 R, 5 HR-1 3B-8 2B), sophomore 3B Brant Ust (.456, 30 RBI, .911 slugging %, 9 HR-1 3B-12 2B) and junior C Jeff Wagner (.392, 25 RBI, 7 HR-2 3B-7 2B) ... the Irish hit .359 in the record-setting 23-1 run , with a .619 team slugging pct. (40 HR-13 3B-63 2B), a 2.52 team ERA, .232 opponent batting and a .963 team fielding pct. (33 errors).
HERE COME THE IRISH: Notre Dame has fallen behind in the 1st inning of 17 games this season but has come back to win 10 of those games, including wins in eight straight games when facing a 1st-inning deficit-a streak that ended April 28 vs. Michigan State (0-2 ... 1-4) ... six of the recent comebacks from 1st-inning deficits came in BIG EAST play: vs. Georgetown (0-4 ... 7-6), at Boston College (0-1 ... 6-4), twice vs. Villanova (0-1 ... 9-4 and 0-3 ... 14-10), at Seton Hall (0-1, 11-3) and vs. West Virginia (0-1 ... 5-3) ... other comebacks from early deficits included: vs. Southern Illinois (0-1 ... 4-3), Northeastern Illinois (0-3 ... 11-6), Bowling Green (0-2 ... 6-4 in 11 inn.) and Toledo (0-4 ... 15-4).
AND THE WINNER IS ... : Seven Notre Dame players have combined for eight BIG EAST weekly awards this season, tying with Rutgers for most among the 11-team conference, prior to the May 11 awards (Providence was next with three) ... Notre Dame had the most individuals who earned BIG EAST weekly awards (7), followed by Rutgers (4) ... the Irish were the only team to produce three different BIG EAST pitchers of the week this season: junior RHP Brad Lidge (3/16), freshman RHP Aaron Heilman (4/6) and junior RHP Alex Shilliday (4/20) ... RU's Mike Mundy has earned the award twice while RU senior LHP Jeff Miller also has been named BIG EAST pitcher of the week ... Notre Dame also was the only school to produce three players of the week: senior SS J.J. Brock (3/16), sophomore 3B Brant Ust (4/13) and junior C Mike Knecht (5/4) ... Heilman (4/13) and freshman LF Alec Porzel (4/27) were the only teammates to earn BIG EAST rookie of the week ... RU 3B Jake Daubert earned the rookie award three times while WVU LHP Shane Rhodes was a two-time winner.
COMEBACK KIDS: Notre Dame has posted 16 come-from-behind victories, including the above 10 games when falling behind in the first inning ... one of the most noteworthy comebacks came on March 24 vs. Cincinnati, as the Irish faced a 2-0 hole before Jeff Wagner hit an RBI single in the 6th and a two-run homer in the 8th for a 3-2 win ... Wagner also was one of the heroes in the March 1 game vs. Indiana, homering in the 8th to tie the game (5-5) before Jeff Perconte singled home Todd Frye in the 9th for a 6-5 win ... Central Michigan held a 4-3 lead at Notre Dame on Feb. 25 before Alec Porzel hit a two-run homer in the 6th, helping push the Irish to a 7-5 win ... Notre Dame's first comeback come on Feb. 14 vs. Loyola (La.), as the Irish erased a 2-0 deficit behind Perconte's RBI double in the 5th and successive RBI hits by Wagner (1B), Allen Greene (3B) and Perconte (2B) in the 7th ... one of Notre Dame's latest-inning comebacks came on April 8 vs. Chicago State, as an eight-run 7th turned a 5-3 Cougars lead into an 11-5 win ... most recently, Mike Knecht's key RBI tied a pair of games vs. West Virginia in Notre Dame's final at-bat and the Irish went on to post 4-3 and 5-3 (15 inn.) comeback wins.
DRIVE FOR FIVE: Notre Dame is 30-3 this season when scoring five-plus runs but just 8-11 when scoring 1-4 runs ... the Irish lost a 10-8 game to North Carolina State on Jan. 31 at the ACC/Disney Baseball Blast in Orlando, Fla. but then won 28 straight games when scoring five or more runs, until the 11-9 loss to West Virginia in 10 innings on May 2 (St. John's then beat the Irish 6-5 on May 10) ... much of the success in those wins with five-plus runs is attributable to a talented and deep Irish pitching staff that ranks among the nation's ERA leaders (3.81, 9th last week at 3.91) ... five of Notre Dame's 15 losses this season could have been averted with five runs (1-3 vs. Duke, 3-4 vs. New Orleans, 3-4 vs. Ball State, 1-4 vs. Michigan St. and 0-3 vs. St. John's) while a 5th run in the first game at Seton Hall could have forced extra innings (4-5).
BOMBS AWAY: Notre Dame set a team record with seven home runs in the 16-6 win at Boston College on April 5 ... the home runs came from senior 1B Dan Leatherman (2), sophomore 3B Brant Ust, junior C Jeff Wagner, senior SS J.J. Brock, junior CF Allen Greene and freshman LF Alec Porzel ... a week earlier, the Irish racked up 23 hits in a 19-7 win over Georgetown, equaling the most hits by an Irish team in the 1990s ... top hitters in that game included Ust and sophomore RF Jeff Felker (both 4-for-6), with Greene, Brock, Leatherman and junior C Mike Knecht adding three hits each.
IMPROVED FIELDING BOOSTS IRISH: One of the question areas for the Notre Dame baseball team heading into '98 was defense and the Irish have responded in strong fashion ... Notre Dame's fileding pct. ranked 10th in the BIG EAST last season (.942), after averaging 2.2 errors per game (132 total) and seeing eight of its 19 defeats come as a result of unearned runs ... this season, the Irish fielding has made a big 20-point jump to .962, ranking 2nd in the BIG EAST, and only two losses have been due to unearned runs (4-9 vs. SW Texas/7 UER and 5-6 vs. St. John's/3 UER) ... the Irish are averaging just 1.47 errors/gm while totaling 11 error-free games, 21 with one error and just seven with three-plus errors ... the Irish went 24 straight games with 0-2 errors (25 total E's in that stretch) before making five errors in the first game on May 9 vs. St. John's ... sophomore 3B Brant Ust actually has a lower fielding pct. (.890, 17 E) than he did last season (.931, 18) but senior SS J.J. Brock has boosted his fielding from .884 (26 E) to .931 (18 E), with Brock's nine-game errorless streak ending on May 3 vs. West Virginia (he has just four errors in the last 26 games/136 fielding chances) ... the other middle infielder, senior 2B Todd Frye, owns an impressive .959 fielding pct. (just 10 E), nearly 100 points above his '97 pct. (.860, 22 E) ... senior 1B Dan Leatherman's fielding numbers (.980, 9 E) are comparable to Jeff Felker's from last season (.981., 8 E), although Leatherman has come up with countless tough plays ... the combined fielding pct. of Ust, Brock, Frye and Leatherman is .951 (54 E), a full 24 points above the combined pct. of .927 (85 E) posted by Ust, Brock, Frye, Felker and SS Paul Turco (.892, 11 E) last season ... last year's infield averaged 1.42 errors per game, compared to 1.02 this season ... a hidden factor behind the improved fielding is the boost in strikeouts by the Irish pitching staff ... the Irish hurlers are averaging 8.26 K's per nine innings, compared to 7.12 last season ... strikeouts have accounted for 30.6 percent of the Irish putouts this season, compared to just 26.4 percent last season ... junior CF Allen Greene has made a smooth transition after shifting over from LF ... Greene has a .962 fielding pct. and just four errors, ahead of Randall Brook's .935 fielding in center last season (8 E) ... Greene made five errors in left field last season (.941) but freshman LF Alec Porzel has just one error this season (.981) ... current junior C Jeff Wagner (0) and '97 graduate Mike Amrhein (6) combined for just six errors behind the plate last season, comparable to the totals of Wagner (7) and classmate Mike Knecht (1) this season.
STRONG UP THE MIDDLE: Seniors J.J. Brock (SS) and Todd Frye (2B) have helped the Irish turn 56 double plays this season (an avg. of 1.06 per game), just two shy of the team record (58) set in the 68-game 1989 season ... Brock and Frye helped the Irish turn eight timely double plays in the crucial three-game series vs. West Virginia (May 2-3) ... Brock has just fours in his last 26 games (136 chances) while Frye has only three miscues in his last 18 games ... Brock (.931, 18 E) and Frye (.959, 10 E) have combined for a .945 season fielding pct. (their combined pct. last season was just .874) ... Brock has started all 53 games at shortstop this season while Frye has appeared in every game and made 50 starts at second base.
CLEARING THE COBWEBS: Notre Dame has been outscored 39-29 in the 1st inning this season, despite outscoring the opposition 369-250 overall ... Notre Dame has bounced back to score 48 runs in the 2nd while averaging 49.3 runs/inning from the 4th-6th (50-45-53) ... Notre Dame's best run differential has been +33 in the 6th inning (53-20) ... the Irish have outscored the opposition by 70 runs from the 6th inning on (162-92)--including 25-6 in the 9th--but own just a +13 run differential in the first three innings (112-99) ... during the last 23 games, Notre Dame has dominated the opposition in the 5th (22-8) and 6th (23-5) innings by a combined run margin of 45-13, in addition to owning a rare 17-13 edge in the 1st inning and a 12-1 scoring edge in the 9th during the last 23 games.
IRISH GET BEST OF CRAFTY LEFTHANDERS: Notre Dame is 13-2 vs. lefty starters, with wins in games started by Purdue's David Gassner (12-6, 7-1), BYU's Matt Rex (15-4), Georgetown's Randy Erwin (19-7) and Derek Pines (10-2), Boston College's Andy Sullivan (6-4) and David Conley (16-6), Manchester's Erik Fike (11-1), Pittsburgh's Kevin Lazeski (12-1), Valparaiso's Devin Helps (3-1), Toledo's Tom Fleetwood (15-4) and West Virginia Garrett Zyskowski (4-3) and Louie Ross (5-3 in 15) ... the Irish lost the Indiana Tech game started by Warriors' lefthander Ken Fischer (2-7), despite totaling nine hits (the Irish were 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position) before losing a 4-1 game on April 28 to Michigan State's Mike Mulder, one of the nation's top prospects ... Notre Dame is hitting .338 vs. lefthanders, a full 28 points above the team's overall batting average ... the Irish regulars include three switch-hitters-senior 2B Todd Frye, junior CF Allen Greene and sophomore RF Jeff Perconte-while freshman reserve Ben Cooke also bats from both sides.
HOME SWEET HOME: Notre Dame has won 54 of its last 62 games at Eck Stadium, stretching back to the final seven home games of the 1996 season ... the Irish were 25-2 at home last season, losing to Wisconsin-Milwaukee (1-2) and Northwestern (3-12) ... Notre Dame went 22-7 at home this season, with losses to Indiana Tech (2-7), Northeastern Illinois (4-10), Ball State (3-4), Michigan State (1-4), West Virginia (9-11, in 10) and St. John's (0-3, 5-6) ... in 29 overall home games this season, the Irish hit .320 with 35 HRs, 10 3Bs, 63 2Bs, .519 slugging, a 3.24 ERA and .961 fielding (44 errors)... top hitters at home this season included junior C Mike Knecht (.375, 8 RBI, 13 R), junior C/DH Jeff Wagner (.366, 7 HR, 24 RBI), senior 1B Dan Leatherman (.360, 2 HR, 12 2B 15 RBI, 22 R) and sophomore 3B Brant Ust (.352, 8 HR, 11 2B, 27 RBI).
SILVER STREAKS: Notre Dame's midseason 10-game win streak ended with a 4-3 loss to Ball State on April 7, leaving the Irish one shy of equaling the longest run in the four-year Paul Mainieri era ... after the BSU loss, the Irish then won 13 straight before a 5-4 loss at Seton Hall on April 25 ... that 13-game win streak ties for fifth in Irish history and has been bettered just twice in the 1990s: a team-record 18-game streak in 1991 and a 14-game run in 1993 ... the program's other top-four all-time winning streak include a 17-game run in 1907 (which stood as the record for the next 84 years) and a 16-game winning streak in 1988 ... Notre Dame's previous longest winning streak during the Paul Mainieri era came in his first season, an 11-game run from April 13-23 of 1995 ... top hitters in the 13-game streak were: senior 1B Dan Leatherman (.500, 7 RBI, 16 R, 3 HR, 5 2B), senior 2B Todd Frye (.415, 3 RBI, 7 R), junior C Jeff Wagner (.413, 10 RBI, 2 HR, 5 2B) and sophomore 3B Brant Ust (.409, 13 RBI, 2 HR, 5 2B) ... the Irish hit .358 during the 13-game win streak, with a .588 slugging pct. (15 HR-8 3B-34 2B), a 2.06 team ERA and a .963 fielding pct. (17 errors) ... top hitters in the 10-game streak were: Ust (.524, 7 HR, 7 2B 16 RBI), senior SS J.J. Brock (.476, 4 HR, 18 RBI), Leatherman (.455, 9 RBI, 13 R) and sophomore RF/DH Jeff Felker (.436, 2 HR, 15 RBI).
BIG EAST BULLIES: Three Notre Dame players rank among the BIG EAST's top-nine all-time leaders for career batting avg. in regular-season conference games: soph. 3B Brant Ust (1st, .439/68-for-155), sr. SS J.J. Brock (9th, .399/89-for-223) and jr. C/DH Jeff Wagner (10th, .398/86-for-216) ... Ust (1st, .493/37-for-75) and Brock (4th, .427/35-for-82) also finished among the top hitters in BIG EAST games this season, as part of an Irish squad that last week was lading the BIG EAST in conference batting avg. (now .340) ... Ust's .493 conference clip bested Wagner's .488 mark last season as the top conference batting average in the BIG EAST during the 1990s ... Irish players also ownedthree of the top-seven BIG EAST season slugging pcts. in '98: Ust (1st, .960/8 HR-1 3B-9 2B-19 1B), Brock (4th, .780/7 HR-2 3B-4 2B-22 1B) and senior 1B Dan Leatherman (7th, .723/4 HR-1 3B-9 2B-10 1B) ... that trio combined for nearly as many extra-base hits (45) as singles (51) in BIG EAST play, including 19 HRs, four 3Bs and 22 2Bs ... Ust's .439 career BIG EAST avg. is ahead of the standing record, held by Seton Hall's Marteese Robinson (.432, 1985-87) while his .493 season mark fell short of the record set in 1986 by UConn's Dave Ford (.522) ... former Villanova player Dennis McCaffery (.420, 1990-91), former Irish player Randall Brooks (.418, 1996-97) and West Virginia's Jason Frushour (.418, 1996-97) are among the players who rank in front of Brock and Wagner on the career BIG EAST batting list.
A NEW BIG THREE: Jeff Wagner (17), Mike Amrhein (14) and Brant Ust (11) last season became the first Notre Dame threesome to hit 10-plus home runs in the same season but this season--following the graduation of Amrhein--Wagner, Ust and sr. SS J.J. Brock have equaled the 42 HRs totaled by last season's big trio ... Ust (17) and Wagner (13) were the first Irish players to reach double-digit home runs this season and Brock (12) joined them with a pair of bombs in late April at Seton Hall ... Ust, Wagner and Brock already own three of the top-13 home run totals in Irish history, with Frank Jacobs record of 20 ('91) in jeopardy ... Tim Hutson ('88) and Ryan Topham ('95) both turned in 18-home-run seasons while Wagner had 17 in '97 ... a pair of Irish players have belted 13-plus home runs in the same season three times previously: Jacobs (20) and Joe Binkiewicz (15) in '91, Edwin Hartwell (13) and Eric Danapilis (13) in '93 and Wagner (17) and Mike Amrhein (14) last season ... the current threesome is on pace over 60 games for an impressive 48 home runs, which would best the team totals for all but five previous Irish seasons (66 in '97, 64 in '93, 62 in '91, 60 in '95, 58 in '96).
BREAKING THE 400-K BARRIER: The Irish pitching staff's record total of 418 strikeouts has included recent total of 12 vs. Michigan State (4/28) and 12 in the 15-inning marathon vs. West Virginia (5/3) ... other recent top K totals have included a season-high 16 K's in the second game versus Pittsburgh (4/18), after totaling 13 K's in the series finale vs. Georgetown (3/29), 14 vs. Western Michigan and 15 vs. Bowling Green ... the 418 K's in 455.2 innings factor out to 8.26 K's per nine innings--5th-best in Irish history and best in 20 years, just behind the 1968 avg. (8.29) ... early in the recent St. John's series, the Irish pitchers last year's team record for K's in a season (399) and are pace to total 473 K's over a 60-game season ... fr. RHP Aaron Heilman has 73 K's and just 18 walks in 60.1 innings, for team-best totals in K's/9 IP (10.9) and K-to-BB ratio (4.5)... jr. RHP Alex Shilliday owns impressive ratios in those areas as well (8.8, 3.7), after totaling 82 K's and just 22 walks in 84 innings ... jr. RHP Brad Lidge has 88 K's in 73.1 IP (for 10.8 K's/gm) while soph. LHP Tim Kalita has 63 in 67.1 (8.4).
SURPRISING BATS SET HOME RUN RECORD: Notre Dame entered '98 without the services of graduated Mike Amrhein, whose 14 home runs in '97 accounted for much of that team's then-record 66 ... but just 49 games into '98, Notre Dame bested the previous record on jr. C/DH Jeff Wagner's three-run shot vs. West Virginia on May 2 (the record HR total now stands at 69) ... soph. 3B Brant Ust leads the BIG EAST with 17 HRs, six above his '97 total, while Wagner has 13 (four below last year's output) ... senior SS J.J. Brock had eight home runs in his previous three seasons ( one per every 78.5 at-bats) but has exploded for 12 HRs this season (one per every 17.6 ABs) ... Porzel (8) and senior 1B Dan Leatherman (8) have been the major home run surprises this season while junior CF Allen Greene has equaled his 1997 total (7) ... sophomore RF Jeff Felker (3) and sophomore DH Larry Zimont (2) round out the 1998 Irish home run contingent ... Notre Dame also has 116 doubles and is on pace for 131 over 60 games (ahead of last year's record total 127) ... the Irish are averaging 25.8 at-bats per home run (ahead of the 1991 record, 30.53) and 1.30 home runs per game (the record of 1.10 was set last season) ... the current .512 slugging pct. ranks third in Irish history, behind the 1993 (.519) and 1997 slugging totals (.529).
THE PRODIGAL SON RETURNS: Sophomore RF/DH Jeff Felker (Ellicott City, Md.) was the only Notre Dame player last season who hit better on the opponents' field (.417) than at home (.318) but this season he has come full circle, hitting .326 at Eck Stadium but just .235 in all road games (.205 on the opponent's field) ... Felker bounced back from a rocky start to his 1998 season while settling in as Notre Dame's #3 hitter .... after a forgettable 9-for-53 start (.170) over his first 17 games, Felker has raised his season batting average to .281, including .333 (38-for-114) over his last 32 games.
ADJUSTING TO THE SITUATION: Sophomore 3B Brant Ust is the only Notre Dame player who ranks among the team's top-five players in the following situational hitting categories: runners in scoring position, two outs, and leadoff on-base pct. ... Ust leads the team in leadoff OB pct. (.526) and batting with 2 outs (.389, 21 RBI) while ranking 3rd on team in batting with RBI opportunities (.361), behind junior CF Allen Greene (.371) and sophomore DH Larry Zimont (.364) ... other top leadoff batters include senior 1B Dan Leatherman (.500), junior C Mike Knecht (.444), sophomore DH Jeff Perconte (.440) and senior SS J.J. Brock (.439) ... other top 2-out hitters are Knecht (.385), Leatherman (.353), Greene (.333) and Wagner (.305) ... Brock ranks 4th on the team in batting with RBI chances (.347) while Wagner is 5th (.339).
BUSTING OUT: Sophomore 3B Brant Ust (Redmond, Wash.) put to rest any notions of a sophomore slump, after garnering consensus Freshman All-America honors and the BIG EAST rookie of the year award in '97, while making a strong push to join Mo Vaughn (Seton Hall, '88) and Jason Grabowski (Connecticut, '96) as the third sophomore ever to win BIG EAST player of the year ... Ust--who has started all of Notre Dame's 113 games during his career--has surpassed his freshman home run total (11) with a team-high 17, including 14 in the last 35 games .. his .759 season slugging pct. (20 doubles, 40 singles, one triple) would rank 2nd in Irish history, behing the 1989 slugging of eventual Major Leaguer Dan Peltier (.783) ... Ust led the BIG EAST this season with a .493 batting avg. in conference games-best by a BIG EAST player during the 1990s but short of Dave Ford's record of .522 set with UConn in 1986 ... Ust's .439 career avg. in BIG EAST games is ahead of the record held by Seton Hall's Marteese Robinson (.432, 1985-87) ... Ust's other season totals include team-highs in RBI (55), stolen bases (10-of-15), runs (51), on-base pct. (.439) and sacrifice flies (4), plus 14 walks and a team-high six times hit-by-pitch ... he also leads the team in leadoff on-base pct. (.526) and two-out batting (.389, team-high 21 two-out RBI) while ranking 3rd in batting with runners in scoring position (.361) ... Ust's 60-game pace includes 88 hits (10th in Irish history), 19 home runs (2nd) and 23 doubles (4th) ... the Irish season home run record of 20 was set by Frank Jacobs in 1991 ... Peltier's record slugging season included 63 singles, an Irish-record 32 doubles, five triples and 15 home runs in 258 at-bats (202 total bases) ... Ust has 151 total bases in 199 ABs this season.
CAPTAIN, MY CAPTAIN: Senior SS J.J. Brock (Colorado Springs, Colo.) has turned in a senior year that is similar to the final season of another former Irish captain and leftside infielder, Craig Counsell, who earned team MVP honors and NCAA Tournament All-Regional honors for the 1992 team that was a win away from the College World Series ... Brock's 12 home runs have surpassed his total (8) from the previous three seasons and he is on pace for a 59-RBI season over 60 games, after totaling 29, 41 and 50 his first three seasons ... by comparison, Counsell also hit 12 home runs as a senior--double his total (6) from the first three seasons--while collecting 63 RBI (he had 32, 24 and 37 his first three years) ... Brock has a .588 slugging pct. this season (.430 over his first three seasons) while Counsell posted .604 slugging as a senior (.388 over his first three seasons) ... Counsell was selected in the 11th round of the '92 draft by the Colorado Rockies and ironically spent several seasons playing in Brock's hometown with the AAA Colorado Springs Sky Sox ... Brock (233) recently passed Counsell (223) atop the Notre Dame career games started list and ranks 3rd in Irish history for games played (233), behind Counsell (236) and Mike Coss (235) ... Brock also ranks 4th at Notre Dame in career hits (264), 5th in RBI (172), 2nd in triples (15) and 7th in doubles (40) ... he has started 98 straight games for the Irish while missing just three games in his career (one during each of the past three seasons).
HARD TO BEAT: Junior RHP Alex Shilliday (Dunwoody, Ga.) is 15-5 in his last 20 decisions with the Irish (9-4 this season), in addition to going 9-0 last summer in Alaska with the Peninsula Oilers--for a combined record of 24-5 since an 8-5 loss to Creigthon on 3/15/97 ... his losses this season include a 17-3 game vs. the potent Miami Hurricanes, a 9-4 game vs. SW Texas (Irish errors led to 7 UER), the April 25 loss at Seton Hall (5-4) and a 3-0 loss to St. John's (Notre Dame's first shutout loss in 91 games) ... Shilliday-who has won seven of his last nine starts and owns a 10-2 career record in the BIG EAST regular season-has proven to be one of the BIG EAST's top pitchers this season, after the conference saw 10 of its pitchers drafted in the first 30 rounds at the end of the '97 season ... Shilliday (82) and classmate Brad Lidge (88) trail only UConn's Josh Santos (91) atop the BIG EAST strikeout list while Shilliday ranks 7th on the Irish career K's list (198), three behind 1990 graduate Brian Piotrowicz ... Shilliday needs 28 more strikeouts to total the most K's ever by an Irish player in three seasons, a distinction currently held by David Sinnes, who totaled 325 from 1990-92 (Tom Bujnowski, who played in 1952, '56 and '57, totaled 206 K's) ... should Shilliday remain healthy throughout his senior season, he could make a run at the top-four Irish strikeout leaders, a formidable group that played together for three seasons: Sinnes (315, '93), Tom Price (276, '94), Chris Michalak (263, '93) and Al Walania (236, '93).
THAT WAS A CLOSE ONE: Notre Dame is 10-5 in games decided by one run or in extra innings this season, posting victories over Indiana (6-5), Southern Illinois (4-3), Cincinnati (3-2), Georgetown (7-6), Bowling Green (6-4 in 11 inn.), Manchester (3-2), Valparaiso (1-0, extended to 9 inn.), West Virginia (4-3, 5-3 in 15) and St. John's (2-1) ... the Irish beat IU when Jeff Perconte's single plated Todd Frye in the bottom of the 9th ... Notre Dame jumped out to a 4-1 lead on SIU--highlighted by J.J. Brock's solo home run in the 1st and single and run scored in the 3rd ... Jeff Wagner brought home Perconte and beat Cincinnati with an 8th-inning home run ... Brock's two-out double in the 6th inning scored Frye to end the seven-inning opener with Georgetown ... Wagner hit a two-out single vs. Bowling Green in the 11th and Brant Ust followed with a game-ending, opposite-field home run ... Allen Greene's 5th-inning, pinch-hit single plated Ben Cooke to beat Manchester ... Alec Porzel's two-out, two-strike single plated Ust to beat Valparaiso ... Porzel's leadoff home run, Mike Knecht's RBI groundout and Brock's squibber to the left side accounted for the Irish three-run rally in the 7th and final inning to beat WVU (4-3) ... the next day, Knecht forced extra innings with a 9th-inning, 2-out, 2-strike single through the left side before Porzel beat WVU with a 2-run, 2-out home run in the 15th ... Porzel's 7th-inning RBI single provided the difference vs. St. John's ... the Irish lost a 4-3 game in 11 innings at New Orleans, dropped a 4-3 game to Ball State on April 7, lost 5-4 at Seton Hall on April 25, dropped an 11-9 game in 10 innings to WVU on May 2 and lost a 6-5 game to St. John's on May 10.
GREENE STILL MEANS GO: Junior CF Allen Greene occupied the leadoff spot for 37 of the first 51 games this season before relinquishing the #1 spot last weekend to senior SS J.J. Brock, who opened the season as the leadoff man (Greene now is hitting 6th) ... Greene has hits in 43 games this season, including a seven-game hitting streak and an 11-game streak (2nd-longest by an Irish player this season) that ended on April 1 vs. Western Michigan ... he entered the season with a poor K-to-walk ratio (67/30)--including 44 K's and 22 walks last season--but has shown progress in that area, ranking 7th in the BIG EAST last week with 29 walks (compared to 39 K's, now 40) ... Greene led the Irish last season with a .435 batting avg. when runners were in scoring position and again leads the team this season with a .371 batting avg. with RBI opportunities ... during the 1998 season, Notre Dame's success has closely paralleled the hitting fortunes of Greene ... in Notre Dame's 38 regular-season wins, Greene hit .362 with six home runs ... in the 15 Irish losses, he his a dismal .204 with only one home run.
TOUGH OUT: In addition to owning the Irish career home run record (40), junior C/DH Jeff Wagner (Louisville, Ky.) has developed into a complete hitter ... Wagner is third on the team in batting average (.344) and has a solid HR-to-K ratio (13/22), in addition to 23 walks and an average of 8.5 at-bats per K ... Wagner hit 10 home runs as a freshman but struck out 44 times, every 4.11 ABs ... as a sophomore, Wagner smacked 17 home runs while improving his strikeout ratio to every 7.8 ABs (28 Ks) ... for his career, Wagner is averaging a home run every 14.7 at-bats and 6.3 ABs per K ... during the past two seasons, Wagner has homered every 13.5 at-bats and averaged 8.3 ABs per K.
QUICK NOTES: Notre Dame went 3-1 during the Spring Break stay in San Antonio, Texas but saw its final three games called off due to the rain ... the Irish turned in a championship performance at the Diamond Classic in Evansville, Ind., which featured the state's eight Division I teams (wins over Evansville, Purdue and Indiana) ... fourth-year Irish head coach Paul Mainieri this season had homecoming weekends at Miami (where he grew up) and at the University of New Orleans where he played) ... Mainieri fittingly coached his 800th career game on Feb. 20 at Miami (his 800th game ironically was rained out at UNO) ... the Irish won the earliest season-opener in the program's 106-year history, beating then-#23 Florida State 10-1 on Jan. 30 at the ACC/Disney Baseball Blast in Orlando, Fla. ... the Irish then lost a pair of tough two-run games to North Carolina State (10-8) and Duke (3-1) ... each of that tournament's six teams was listed among the top 50 teams in Baseball America's preseason rankings (Ohio State and Tennessee also took on the ACC teams), with FSU (4th), Notre Dame (7th), NCSU (10th), OSU (14th) and Tennessee (17th) ranking among the nation's winningest Division I teams in the '90's ... freshman RHP Danny Tamayo remains out with an arm injury while sophomore DH Larry Zimont is out with a hamstring pull. .. Notre Dame returned 22 players and 16 of 26 letterwinners from its '97 team that went 41-19, won the BIG EAST Conference national division title (15-6) and went 2-2 in the BIG EAST Tournament ... the Irish return seven of nine offensive starters and five pitchers with starting experience ... the 22 returners accounted for 66% of the hits last season, 68% of the RBI, 70% of the home runs, 54% of the wins, 62% of the innings and 66% of the K's thrown ... the '97 Notre Dame squad set team records for HRs (66), doubles (127), slugging (.529) and K's thrown (399) while equaling the record for team batting avg. (.334).
TEAM NOTES: Prior to the Jan. 30 game vs. FSU, Notre Dame's earliest opener came on an unseasonably warm day on Feb. 5, 1990, when the Irish posted a 3-0 home victory over Goshen ... the 10-1 win over FSU gave Notre Dame its first opening-game win since an 8-2 win at Tulane in 1994, with the recent opening losses coming vs. Texas, Georgia Tech and Long Beach State ... that Irish win also snapped a 16-year FSU winning streak on opening day (Georgia Southern beat FSU in '81, 3-2) ... Notre Dame's 7-5 win over Central Michigan on Feb. 25 was the earliest home opener for the Irish since that 1990 Goshen game ... Notre Dame has posted nine straight seasons with 40-plus wins and is 413-159 during the past nine-plus seasons (average record of 45-17) ... Notre Dame's 32-player roster includes players from 17 states.
Notre Dame's totals of 43 HRs, 130 2Bs and 237 K's thrown have the Irish on pace for records in those categories: 89 HRs, 130 2Bs and 490 K's thrown (the standing records of 66, 127 and 399 were set last season) ... the team's .525 slugging is just off last year's record (.529) ... the Irish are averaging 1.48 HRs per game (record of 1.10 set in '97) and 23.2 ABs per HR (record of 30.53 set in '91) ... the pitching staff's 8.48 K's per nine innings remains 4th-best in Irish history and highest since '63 ...
Ust already is tied with George Restovich for 9th in Irish history with 22 career home runs ... Brock's 209 career starts are tied with Eric Danapilis (1990-93) for 4th in the Irish record books ... Brock's 236 career hits move his past former teammate Randall Brooks (233) and Craig Counsell (235; 1989-92) into 6th on the Irish career hits list, three behind former teammate Scott Sollmann.
USA Today Coaches Poll (5/4) 1. Stanford 40-8-1 824 2. Miami 42-7 749 3. Louisiana State 40-13 729 4. Florida 37-13 691 5. Clemson 40-9 686 6. Wichita State 44-5 676 7. Southern California 37-13 617 8. Alabama 38-13 570 9. Florida State 42-15 568 10. Cal State Fullerton 40-12 495 11. South Carolina 39-12 467 12. Rice 39-14 459 13. Auburn 36-13 450 14. Texas A&M 40-16 443 15. Oklahoma 35-16 299 16. Mississippi State 34-16 284 17. South Alabama 37-14 265 18. Baylor 39-16-1 250 19. Oklahoma State 36-15 187 20. Washington 33-14 178 21. Arizona State 33-20 165 22. Texas Tech 36-17 163 23. Tulane 40-13 115 24. Arkansas 32-17 74 25. Minnesota 37-12 45
Others Top Vote-Getters: Virginia Commonwealth (42), Ohio State (32), Notre Dame (31).
Collegiate Baseball Magazine Poll (5/4) 1. Stanford 40-8-1 494 2. Miami, FL 42-7 493 3. Louisiana State 40-13 489 4. South Carolina 39-12 485 5. Florida 37-13 484 6. Wichita State 44-5 481 7. Southern California 37-13 478 8. Cal State Fullerton 40-12 475 9. Rice 39-14 472 10. Clemson 40-9 471 11. Alabama 38-13 470 12. Florida State 42-15 469 13. Texas A&M 40-16 466 14. Arizona State 33-20 459 15. Auburn 36-13 457 16. Baylor 39-16-1 452 17. Oklahoma 35-16 449 18. Oklahoma State 36-15 448 19. Washington 33-14 445 20. Illinois 35-17 440 21. South Alabama 37-14 437 22. Mississippi State 34-16 432 23. Ohio State 32-13 429 24. Notre Dame 37-13 428 25. Delaware 39-8 424 26. Tulane 40-13 417 27. Texas Tech 36-17 408 28. Va. Commonwealth 41-11 406 29. Minnesota 37-12 403 30. San Diego State 30-20 400