Notre Dame Baseball beat IPFW 8 to 1 on Wednesday, March 21st.
Fourth-year assistant coach Chuck Ristano has made quite a difference with the Irish pitching staff over the last three seasons in addition to recruiting duties. Just some of the improved numbers include:
Notre Dame has posted three consecutive seasons with fewer than 3.00 walks per nine innings for the first time in school history.
The Irish have posted three consecutive seasons with an ERA sub-4.00 for the first time since the 2002-04 campaigns.
Notre Dame has increased its saves total every year, going from 12 in 2011 to 14 in 2012 to 17 in 2013.
The Irish led the BIG EAST in fewest walks per nine innings in 2011 (2.67), 2012 (2.81) and 2013 (2.59). Only eight times since 1957 has an Irish team averaged below 3.00 walks per nine innings with 2011-13 marking three of those occasions.
2013 proved to be another standout year for the Irish pitchers under Ristano as junior Dan Slania was fifth in the country in ERA (1.21) and 20th in saves (13), while senior Adam Norton was third in Division I in shutouts (3), 18th in walks allowed per nine innings (1.16) and 27th in victories (10). In the BIG EAST, Norton led in complete games (4) and shutouts, while Slania was first in ERA.
For their efforts, both earned first team all-BIG EAST honors with Slania later becoming the highest drafted Notre Dame pitcher (fifth round) since Jeff Samardzija went in the fifth round in 2006. In addition to Slania and Norton, sophomore RHP Pat Connaughton sported a 1.71 ERA in 10 starts.
A year earlier, Ristano was instrumental in Will Hudgins' breakout senior campaign and ultimate selection in the `12 MLB draft (22nd round selection of the Washington Nationals).
Hudgins was named all-BIG EAST second team following his only season as a starter. He went 5-3 and led the league with a 2.06 ERA. Hudgins was the first Irish starter to complete a season with an ERA in the neighborhood of 2.00 since David Phelps, now a starting pitcher for the New York Yankees, posted a 1.88 ERA in 2007. Hudgins struck out 90 and walked 24 in 96.1 innings.
Hudgins topped the BIG EAST in fewest earned runs allowed (22), ranked fourth in strikeouts (90), seventh in opposing batting average (.233) and ninth in innings pitched (96.1). He collected nine quality starts and allowed one earned run or less in 10 of his last 14 starts.
In Ristano's first season (2011), the Irish were carried by one of the top pitching staffs in the BIG EAST. Notre Dame finished `11 with a 3.42 ERA (down from 5.95 in 2010), which was the best by an Irish staff since 2004 (3.36). Notre Dame actually took a 2.82 ERA into the final week of the regular season, which would have been the lowest by an Irish club since 1960 (2.60, school record) and ranked 15th in the NCAA at the time.
Notre Dame's starting pitchers registered a quality start (pitcher completes at least six innings and permits no more than three earned runs) in 33 of 53 games for the Irish. The 33 quality starts is even more impressive when you consider Notre Dame totaled 11 in 2010. The Irish owned a 2.57 strikeout-to-walk ratio, which was light years better than the total of 1.73 from `10. Notre Dame led the BIG EAST in fewest walks by a large margin. The Irish walked only 143 batters in 481.2 innings, good for a 2.67 average per nine innings - slightly off the school record for fewest walks per nine innings (2.48 in 2001), but still ranked third all-time.
The Irish pitching staff ranked first or second in the conference in sacrifice bunts allowed, walks allowed, hit batters allowed, runs allowed, earned runs allowed, wild pitches allowed and balks allowed.
Notre Dame's 2011 weekend rotation of Brian Dupra, Cole Johnson and Todd Miller totaled 29 quality starts as opposed to the weekend rotation of 2010, which accounted for just 11.
Dupra, Johnson and Miller struck out 221 batters and walked only 71 in their 287.0 innings of work. That equated to a 3.11 strikeout-to-walk ratio, 6.93 punch outs per nine innings and 2.23 walks per nine innings. They registered nine straight quality starts to open the season. The Irish had not gone that many consecutive games with a quality start in nearly 10 years.
Notre Dame's starting rotation of Dupra, Johnson, Miller, Anthony McIver and Adam Norton averaged 6.38 innings per start. In fact, Dupra, Johnson and Miller averaged 6.52 innings per start on weekends. Notre Dame's starting pitchers averaged only 4.73 innings per start in 2010. They combined for 25 starts of at least 7.0 innings. The Irish managed only seven such starts the year prior to Ristano's arrival.
Dupra and Johnson each ranked among the top 10 in the BIG EAST in innings pitched with Dupra (104.2) ranking fifth and Johnson (101.0) ninth. Notre Dame was the only school in the conference that had two pitchers ranked among the top 10 in innings pitched. Johnson (2.76) ranked eighth in the BIG EAST in ERA and Dupra (3.10) ranked 12th.
Notre Dame's bullpen did not disappoint as Will Hudgins, Sean Fitzgerald, Dan Slania, McIver and Norton finished with a 2.90 ERA. The bullpen amassed 12 saves and limited its opponents to a .253 batting average. The quintet struck out 94 and walked 42.
The Irish relief corps was even better in BIG EAST action. Notre Dame's bullpen posted a 2.08 ERA in 73.2 innings. They owned a 7-4 record and seven saves in league play. The bullpen struck out 43 and walked 20. Irish opponents batted just .230 against the bullpen in BIG EAST games. The pen surrendered two home runs and 12 total extra-base hits in 26 league games.
Ristano acted as the recruiting coordinator and pitching coach at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, N.J. for four years (2006-2009). He not only directed all phases of recruitment, but also was responsible for the development of off-season throwing and conditioning programs. Ristano coordinated study hall and all travel plans, and even assisted in numerous fundraising activities. He placed players in a number of top-level summer collegiate leagues.
Ristano helped guide the Hawks to the conference title and automatic NCAA bid in 2007 and 2009. Monmouth won 30 or more games in three of his four seasons on staff, including a school-record 37 victories in 2008. The Hawks appeared in the 2007 Tempe Regional and 2009 Oxford Regional.
Ristano also recruited and tutored three pitchers selected in the Major League Baseball draft, including Ryan Buch and Brett Brach, who were selected in the eighth and 10th rounds, respectively, in the 2009 MLB Draft. In total, eight of his recruits eventually signed professional baseball contracts.
Under Ristano's guidance, seven pitchers earned all-conference honors, four earned all-region honors and four more were named TPX All-Americans, including Brach, who was the 2007 NEC Pitcher of the Year.
In his first season at Monmouth (2006), Ristano's pitching staff ranked eighth nationally in earned run average (3.34), setting a school record. In 2008, his staff posted a 3.99 ERA, as the Hawks joined 11 other teams to finish in the NCAA top 20 in ERA in two of the previous three seasons. In 2007, his staff set a school record with 374 strikeouts.
During his four seasons at the school, Monmouth posted a 132-89 record and compiled a team ERA of 4.35. The Hawks led the NEC in ERA in 2006, finished second each of the other three years and led the conference in strikeouts twice.
In 2005, Ristano served as pitching coach at his alma mater Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn. He tutored both first team all-conference pitchers, including the league's pitcher of the year, and helped the Pioneers to their first ever NEC Tournament appearance.
Ristano, who spent the 2010 season as the pitching coach and recruiting coordinator at Temple University, was a four-year letter winner at Sacred Heart (2001-04). He was a two-time captain and four-time NEC All-Academic Team honoree. Ristano graduated with a B.S. degree in sports management in 2004.
He resides in South Bend with his dog, Mo.