May 15, 1997
Irish Eliminated in 11 Innings
NORWICH, Conn. -- The Notre Dame baseball team concluded its appearance at the BIG EAST Tournament with an 11-inning, 5-4 loss to Villanova, after the Irish had eliminated West Virginia earlier in the day, 8-1, in the double-elimination tournament action Thursday at Dodd Stadium.
Notre Dame (41-19) now awaits Monday's announcement of the NCAA Tournament field, holding out hopes for an at-large bid to the NCAAs (the '96 Irish team received an at-large bid with a 43-16 record).
Sophomore lefthander Chris McKeown (4-3) tossed the first nine-inning complete game of his career, facing just 34 West Virginia batters (seven above the minimum) while limiting WVU (36-19) to four hits and one walk. McKeown's season-ending streak has included just three earned runs in his last 41 and two-thirds innings as a starter (while lowering his season ERA to 3.26).
Notre Dame's big inning vs. WVU came in the five-run top of the fourth, highlighted by an RBI double from Randall Brooks and a two-out RBI single from Todd Frye.
The Irish held a 4-1 lead on Villanova (29-26) heading into the bottom of the 6th but the Wildcats rallied to the win in a game that was full of big plays, strange moments and missed opportunities (the Irish stranded 11 runners while the Wildcats left nine on base). Notre Dame freshman Jeff Felker -- whose baserunning error cost the Irish a run in the 5th -- gained some redemption an inning later on a two-out, two-run double down the rightfield line.
Rick Welsh hit a solo home run off Irish freshman lefthander Tim Kalita in the bottom of the 6th and the Wildcats ultimately forced extra innings with two runs in the seventh, with Brian Fili drawing a walk after a 14-pitch at-bat with the bases loaded before Mike Perate's groudout to second baseman Frye plated Augie Grove as an unearned, tying run.
Kalita had a commendable outing, allowing four runs (three earned) on five hits and five walks over seven innings while striking out seven Villanova batters. Senior righthander Larry Mohs (0-1) was the hard-lucker loser, after turning in a gutsy and season-high three and one-third innings of relief.
Fili proved to be the hero for Villanova in the bottom of the 11th. Reserve leftfielder Bill Brehm hit a leadoff single up the middle and moved up to second on a passed ball before taking third on Tom Shank's sacrifice bunt. The Irish then brought on another senior righthander, Mike Balicki, and proceeded to pull off a rare and gutsy ploy, moving rightfielder Jeff Perconte to the left side of the infield (between shortstop Brant Ust and the second base bag). Grove, needing just a sacrifice fly to win the game, took ball one before grounding out to Ust for the second out of the inning.
Balicki then walked No. 9 hitter Pat Kane on five pitches and Fili battled from 0-2 to a full count before sending a dipping single into left field, with Brehm trotting home as the winning run. Villanova must beat St. John's twice on Friday to claim the tournament title. The Red Storm won the winner's bracket by beating the Wildcats, 6-5, earlier on Thursday.
In the earlier game, the Irish jumped on WVU starting righthander Steve Beller (5-6) for two runs in the 1st, behind RBI singles from Ust and Allen Greene. An error on WVU catcher Jason Frushour then allowed J.J. Brock to score in the 2nd. The Mountaineers scored their lone run in the bottom of the third but McKeown held the defending tournament champions to just one hit over the final six innings (McKeown's only walk came in the 7th).
Notre Dame's five run fourth included a leadoff single by Brock. Brooks' double down the leftfield line, an intential walk to Mike Amrhein (his ninth of the season) and a walk by Jeff Wagner, loading the bases. Ust then lifted a sacrifice fly to right field, ending Beller's day and bringing on lefthander Chad Spencer. Greene and Felker both then reached on infield errors, plating two more runs, and Frye plated Greene with a two-out single to left.
Thursday's second game had somewhat of an ominous start for Notre Dame, as Ust drilled a first inning shot to dead-center field, with Fili sprinting back to barely catch the ball at the edge of the fence. Villanova scored first, in the third, after a leadoff single from Kane, a bunt single by Fili, a sacrifice bunt by Perate and a groundout RBI by Adam Neyland.
The Irish managed just one run in the fifth, despite three hits and an error. Leadoff man Greene was hit by a pitch and Felker moved him to third with a single down the rightfield line. Frye then sent a hit to the right side of the infield and Felker inadvertently ran into the ball, forcing him out on the play and requiring Greene to remain at third. Brock's single up the middle plated Greene and pushed Frye to third, but Brock was thrown out 8-5-4 trying to take second on the play. Brooks then got aboard on a catcher's interference but Jeff Perconte struck out, after fouling off four pitches with a full count.
Notre Dame's three-run sixth included two-out singles by Ust and Greene, followed by Felker's first-pitch double down the rightfield line. Frye then reached on an error by third baseman Welsh, ending the night for righthanded starter Brian Buckingham. Righthanded reliever Trevor Pepkowski forced Brock into a leftside popup, but second baseman Tom Shank and first baseman Dan Boublis could not come up with the catch just past the first base bag, allowing Felker to score for a 4-1 Irish lead.
More frustration awaited the Irish in the seventh, after Perconte laced a leadoff triple to right-center. Amrhein then drilled a shot to the right side but Shank was there for the putout. Pepkowski next delivered a called third strike on Wagner before Ust ripped a shot towards Welsh at third base, with Welsh catching the ball as he fell down and throwing Ust out, denying Perconte what had appeared to be a certain insurance run.
Villanova appeared to gain some inspiration from the ejection of Boublis, who exchanged words with the plate umpire after striking out to open the bottom of the 7th. The Wildcats went on to score twice in the inning and tied the game at 4-4.
Notre Dame's final near-miss came in the 10th. Ust was hit by a pitch with two outs and moved to second on a single from Greene. Felker then smacked a hit-and-run ball to the gap in left-center but Brehm slanted in to make a jumping catch, denying Ust yet another would-be run.
Big East Tournament Notes
Notre Dame's top hitters in the BIG EAST Tournament were Brock (8-for-16, RBI, 3 runs), Greene (7-for-15, RBI 5 runs) and Brooks (7-for-19, 2 RBI, 3 runs), with no other player hitting above .235 ... 12 of Notre Dame's 18 RBI in the tournament came with two outs ... the Irish posted a 2.63 tournament ERA and finished the season with a school-record 399 strikeouts (the '93 Irish staff threw 392 K's) ... WVU's three lefhanded batters (Josh Williamson, Jason Frushour and Abe Barker) were 1-for-11 vs. McKeown ... Notre Dame has eliminated five different teams from the BIG EAST Tournament over the past two years: Villanova (7-3), Providence (4-2) and St. John's (4-0) last season and Seton Hall (4-3) and West Virginia (8-1) this ... Notre Dame's team ERA (4.51) is the lowest it has been in two months (it was 4.39 on March 15) ... Notre Dame has four players with 82 or more hits: Amrhein (91), Brooks (86), Ust (83) and Wagner (82) ... Brooks collected 89 hits in '96 with no other Irish batter collecting more than 73 hits last season ... Notre Dame's team batting avg. (.3334) dipped just below the school record (.3343 set in 1989) ... the Irish remain on pace to set the team slugging pct. record (.529, above the '93 mark of .519) and this week set team record for home runs (66) and doubles (127) in a season ... Mohs dropped his season ERA to 2.66, Kalita to 3.67 ... Brooks stands 6th all-time at Notre Dame with a .364 career batting avg. (Amrhein is 7th, at .361) ... Notre Dame had won its previous four extra-inning games this season ... the Irish are 16-17 away from home during the '97 season (25-2 at home).
Univ. of Notre Dame vs Villanova University May 15, 1997 at Dodd Stadium
Villanova advances to final day against St. John's
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