In his fourth season at the helm of the Notre Dame baseball program, head coach Dave Schrage has not only rebuilt the program's foundation, but has the Irish back on the brink of national prominence. After an inexperience-laden squad finished 28-28 in 2007, Notre Dame has improved its victory total each of the last two years (33-21-1 in 2008 and 36-23 in 2009) and earned top-25 rankings in consecutive years for the first time since 2005-06.
In 2009, Schrage guided the Irish to a 36-23 mark against arguably the toughest schedule in recent memory.
Notre Dame had five victories against the RPI top-50 and 11 wins against the RPI top-100 - the second-most victories in each category by a BIG EAST team. The Irish posted a .600 winning percentage against regular season conference champions. Notre Dame not only faced Louisville (BIG EAST), but Ohio State (Big Ten), Dayton (Atlantic 10), UIC (Horizon), Bowling Green (MAC East), Ball State (MAC West), Oral Roberts (Summit) and Gonzaga (West Coast). Notre Dame also went 4-1 against teams that finished second in their respective conferences. The Irish upended USF (BIG EAST) twice, Toledo (MAC West) and Washington State (Pac 10) once.
Notre Dame (47) owned a higher RPI than the following teams that received at-large entries into the NCAA Tournament: San Diego State (51), Southern Miss (55) and Kansas (53).
Notre Dame posted three victories over Louisville, which received a No. 1 seed, one victory over a No. 2 seed (Oral Roberts) and one victory over a No. 3 seed (Washington State). In fact, all five of those victories occurred either on a neutral field or on the road.
Notre Dame was the only member from the BIG EAST to play all seven other teams that qualified for the conference tournament. The Irish were also the only members of the conference to take a three-game series from Louisville (on the road), USF, West Virginia and St. John's (on the road) - the league's top-four seeds at the 2009 BIG EAST Tournament.
Notre Dame was the only school in the BIG EAST to win a series at regular season champion Louisville (Cardinals went 26-6 at home with two of those losses to the Irish). Notre Dame was also one of two teams in college baseball to beat Louisville three times in 2009 (the other was Florida, who received a top-eight national seed).
While the Irish as a team were not rewarded by the NCAA Tournament selection committee at the end of the season, a quartet of Notre Dame players was rewarded by Major League Baseball clubs in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft. Irish junior A.J. Pollock equalled the highest draft selection in Notre Dame history. He was picked 17th overall by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Ken Plesha (1965, Chicago White Sox) and Brad Lidge (1998, Houston Astros) were also chosen 17th overall. Notre Dame seniors Sam Elam and Jeremy Barnes were each selected on the second day of the draft. Elam was selected in the eighth round by the New York Yankees. Barnes was then pegged in the 11th round by the Philadelphia Phillies. Pollock, Elam and Barnes gave the Irish three picks in the draft's first 11 rounds for the first time since 2004 - when Notre Dame had four players chosen in the first 10 rounds. Senior Evan Sharpley was the final Irish player chosen in the draft. He was selected in the 50th round by the Seattle Mariners.
The 2008 campaign goes far beyond a 33-21-1 record and a third-place finish in the BIG EAST Conference. The Irish entered the final weekend of the regular-season with a legitimate opportunity to capture the regular season conference title. Notre Dame also appeared in-line for an at-large berth into the NCAA Tournament after opening with 33 victories in its first 47 games.
The Irish improvement was evident. Notre Dame finished the 2007 season ranked eighth in batting (.274), ninth in slugging percentage (.371), eighth in on-base percentage (.365), eighth in runs scored (307), 11th in home runs (24), sixth in fielding percentage (.962) and fifth in fewest errors (82). The Irish improved in each of those categories in 2008, including ranking fourth in batting (.308, 34 points higher than '07), fourth in slugging (.447, 76 points higher than `07), third in on-base (.392, 27 points higher than `07), fifth in runs scored (375, 68 more than '07), sixth in home runs (41, 17 more than '07), tied for first in fielding (.973) and second in fewest errors (59, 23 fewer than '07).
Notre Dame also re-emerged into the upper echelon of the BIG EAST Conference. In league games only, the Irish ranked either first or second in batting (2nd), on-base percentage (1st), runs scored (t-2nd), RBI (2nd), sacrifice bunts (2nd), sacrifice flies (1st), ERA (1st), fewest runs allowed (1st), fewest walks allowed (2nd), fielding percentage (1st) and fewest errors (1st).
Notre Dame also had one of its most successful draft classes ever as six players and one incoming recruit were selected by Major League Baseball teams during the 2008 First-Year Player Draft. After Kyle Weiland was selected on the first day (third round, Boston Red Sox), five more were drafted on day two. The six collegiate players drafted are tied for the most ever for the Irish, equaling the total from the 2001 draft. David Phelps, Wade Korpi, Brett Graffy, Sam Elam and Brett Lilley all were taken between the 14th and 29th rounds.
Schrage was introduced on July 18, 2006, as the 19th head coach in the history of the Notre Dame baseball program.
Prior to accepting the position at Notre Dame, Schrage completed his fourth year at Evansville in 2006 while guiding the Aces to the most successful season in the program's history, highlighted by winning the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season and tournament titles, reaching the NCAA regional championship round and finishing as high as 19th in the national polls.
Already regarded as one of the nation's top coaches, Schrage hit the ground running at Notre Dame in the summer of 2006 and proceeded to hire an impressive group of assistant coaches before signing a recruiting class (the team's current group of juniors) that ultimately was rated by Collegiate Baseball magazine as the fourth-best incoming class in the nation.
The first class of the Schrage era at Notre Dame included three pitchers (Evan Danieli, Brian Dupra and Ryan Sharpley) who each were rated by Perfect Game among the nation's top-40 pitching prospects. Schrage's final class at Evansville also was rated high on a national scale, after being ranked 21st on Baseball America's list of the top recruiting classes.
The four previous stops in Schrage's head coaching career - most recently at Northern Illinois (2000-02) and Northern Iowa (1991-99), prior to Evansville - have seen him mold unproven teams into record-setting units, with several seasons spent rebuilding underfunded programs while earning top honors on the conference and national levels.
A lifelong fan of Notre Dame's athletic teams and a former standout centerfielder at Creighton, the Chicago native is highly-regarded as a consummate student of the game, with a vast baseball knowledge contributing to his skills as a developer of talent and teacher of the game. His teams traditionally have been founded on pitching and defense while playing with a scrappy, aggressive approach that has helped build confidence and a winning tradition among former players.
After inheriting an Evansville team that had won 22 games in 2002, Schrage guided the Aces in making steady strides while building the program's victory total each season: 24-31 in 2003, 28-32 in '04, 35-23 in '05 and a 43-22 mark in 2006 that represents the second-most wins in the program's history. The 48-year-old Schrage ranks second on the Evansville career victories list, at 130-108.
Only 21 teams in all of D-I baseball totaled more wins in 2006 than upstart Evansville, which claimed the MVC regular-season and tournament titles before turning in stunning double-digit NCAA regional wins over host Virginia and an NCAA-veteran South Carolina squad. It marked the first time Evansville ever had reached an NCAA regional title game and was only the third NCAA trip in the program's history.
Evansville's performance at the 2006 MVC Tournament included a key 14-3 victory over home standing Wichita State. The strong season turned in by the Aces caused longtime Wichita State coach Gene Stephenson to concede in his postgame comments that Evansville had become the "class" of the MVC.
Four seasons at Evansville prepared Schrage for the high level of academic expectations that exist at Notre Dame. Evansville - a private liberal-arts university with an enrollment of only 2,500 - is rated among the top schools in the Midwest and is noted for selective admissions criteria. Schrage showed the ability at Evansville to recruit academic-minded players who went on to excel at the collegiate level. Most notably, catcher Gabe Bauer and pitcher Zach Grage received the Missouri Valley Conference's prestigious Presidents' Award, presented to graduating seniors with grade-point averages of 3.8 and higher.
The Notre Dame baseball program has continued its stellar academic tradition under Schrage, as the Irish players combined to post a 3.07 team GPA in the 2006 fall semester and a 2.97 during the 2007 spring term. Notre Dame continued that trend during the 2007-08 academic year with a 3.05 GPA in the fall and a 2.94 during the spring.
2008 Notre Dame graduate Brett Lilley (3.74 cumulative GPA, as an accounting major) was named a CoSIDA first team Academic All-American in 2007 and 2008. He was the first Irish baseball player to ever earn first team distinction on multiple occasions. Lilley also earned a 2007-08 NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship.
Schrage is one of only five coaches in the history of Missouri Valley Conference baseball who have been named MVC Coach of the Year three or more times, with only WSU's Stephenson (11) and former Southern Illinois coach "Itchy" Jones (four) receiving that honor more times than Schrage.
The MVC rates as one of the nation's top college baseball leagues, led by perennial national power Wichita State, Missouri State - which advanced to the 2003 College World Series (as Southwest Missouri State) - and Schrage's alma mater Creighton. Four different MVC teams advanced to the NCAAs during a four-year span from 2003-06 and all nine current MVC teams have made NCAA appearances.
There are nearly 300 teams currently competing in D-I baseball but only a small portion - roughly 10 percent (33 teams) - totaled more combined victories in the 2005-06 seasons than Evansville's 78. Notre Dame's 83 wins from 2005-06 were 20th-most in the nation during that two-year period.
Schrage's teams have relied on a recipe for success that mirrors that of recent Notre Dame teams. His Evansville squads were built around the traditional core of pitching and defense, yielding a 3.39 staff ERA and .975 team fielding percentage in 2006 that both ranked 12th in the final NCAA rankings. Cal State Fullerton was the only other team in the nation ranked among the top-12 in both pitching (1st) and defense (6th) for 2006.
Several Evansville players ranked among the 2006 national leaders. Ben Norton (9-3) finished one victory outside the top-50 on the national wins list (68th) while fellow junior right-hander Matt Brinkmann ended up just outside the nation's top-100 ERA leaders (110th; 2.97). Kasey Wahl, a junior first baseman, batted .371 to nearly finish among the nation's top hitters (114th) while sophomore outfielder Jim Viscomi fueled the running game, ranking 10th nationally with 34 stolen bases.
The Aces' stellar middle infield in 2006 included a second baseman (Kyle Smith) that played error-free over the final 42 games of the season and a slick-fielding shortstop (Minor) that was rated the MVC's top player at his position for 2007.
Evansville's emergence was seen in both its championship finishes and statistical leaders. In 2006 MVC play, Evansville led the league in batting (.295) and fielding (.978; 20 errors in 24 games) while ranking second with a 3.33 league ERA. The Aces also led the MVC during 2006 league play with a .420 slugging percentage and 144 runs while the pitching staff yielded the fewest walks (51) and wild pitches (7) and second-fewest home runs (9) during MVC games.
Other noteworthy stats for Evansville in 2006 MVC games included ranking second in on-base percentage (.370) and stolen bases (29), plus third in home runs (14), doubles (42) and low opponent batting (.256). The Aces also led the conference in overall ERA (3.39) and conference (3.39), while ranking second in on-base (.370), runs (395), stolen bases (98), walks drawn (236), sacrifice bunts (70) and opponent batting average (.256).
Schrage earned his third career Missouri Valley Conference coach-of-the-year honor in 2006, after guiding Evansville to the first MVC title in the program's history. The Aces had a memorable third day at the NCAA Charlottesville Regional, knocking off the host team Virginia in a 15-4 elimination game and coming back to stay alive with a similar 15-5 win over South Carolina. That game saw Evansville stunningly send 18 men to the plate while scoring 12 times in the third inning - but the Gamecocks later won the decisive game, 5-1.
Schrage earlier helped develop Evansville's first MVC batting champ (Luke Miller, in 2003) and first MVC newcomers of the year (Cody Strait in '04; Norton in '06). His Evansville players combined for two Freshman All-America honors, a first team Summer All-America honor and 17 spots on the all-MVC team (including six in 2006).
Schrage came to Evansville after a three-year stint at Northern Illinois, where he took a team that was 4-51 the year prior to his 2000 arrival and helped transform it into a Mid-American Conference Tournament team. Virtually the same Northern Illinois team that won four games in 1999 rebounded to win 24 in 2000, prompting Collegiate Baseball magazine to recognize Schrage as runner-up for its 2000 national coach-of-the-year award. Baseball America also took notice, selecting Schrage as one of the nation's "top-10 up-and-coming coaches."
Prior to his three years at Northern Illinois, Schrage spent nine seasons as head coach at Northern Iowa. He took a UNI program that had only one scholarship in his first season (1991) and transformed it into a perennial contender in the MVC. Schrage was named Missouri Valley Conference coach of the year in 1995 and again in '97, when he guided the Panthers to one of the best marks in school history at 32-23.
Since 1991, Schrage has developed 64 all-conference selections and 34 players who have moved on to professional baseball - most notably OF A.J. Pollock, RHP Kyle Weiland, LHP Sam Elam, 1B Erik Lis and SS Jeremy Barnes - all of whom have been drafted in the top 11 rounds of the draft since 2005. He has coached 10 Freshman All-Americans and also tutored the 1997 MVC player of the year, Brian Jergenson.
Schrage's standout playing career at Creighton included all-MVC honors in 1982, after leading the conference with a .400 batting average. He then raised that mark to .433 as a senior and received 1983 CoSIDA Academic All-America honors. Schrage is the only individual to gain all-MVC baseball accolades as a player and later earn the league's coach-of-the-year honor. In 2006-07, the Missouri Valley Conference celebrated a century of excellence as the nation's second-oldest NCAA Division 1 conference. As a part of the Centennial Celebration, The Valley named an all-centennial team for baseball and Schrage was one of 10 outfielders honored, including the likes of Joe Carter, Steve Finley and Kirby Puckett.
Former Notre Dame head coach Paul Mainieri gave Schrage his first job in coaching when he hired him to his 1984 staff at St. Thomas University (located in Miami and also known as Biscayne College). Schrage spent the 1983-84 season as a graduate assistant at Biscayne/St. Thomas before returning to Creighton to work two seasons ('84 and '85) with current Chicago Cubs general manager Jim Hendry, who ultimately coached the Bluejays to the 1991 College World Series. Schrage was instrumental in signing the 1985 Creighton recruiting class that featured three future professional players and was rated fifth-best in the nation.
Schrage coached overseas in 1987-88 with the Mt. Gravatt Eagles Club in Brisbane, Australia, and returned to direct the baseball team at Waldorf Junior College (now a four-year college in Forest City, Iowa) for three seasons (1988-90) before taking over at Northern Iowa. Schrage was inducted into the Waldorf College Hall of Fame in 2009.
A two-sport standout in baseball and basketball at Chicago's Fenwick High School - where his basketball teammates included the son of former Notre Dame Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Lattner - Schrage later received his bachelor of science degree in business administration from Creighton ('83) and a master's in sports administration from Biscayne/St. Thomas.
His father, Jack Schrage, was a high school football player at Quincy (Ill.) Notre Dame High School and later served in the Korean War before marrying his wife Carolyn, a professional dancer in Las Vegas and later at the Palmer House in downtown Chicago. Schrage's younger brother, Greg, played basketball and baseball at Loras College in the mid-1990s (when former Notre Dame athletics director Kevin White was the Loras AD) and finished his baseball career in South Carolina, at Francis Marion.
Schrage was married to the former Jody Jenison for 20 years. Jody passed away in January 2007, following a brief battle with cancer. Schrage has two daughters - Kaitlyn and Brianne.
On November 14, 2009, Schrage married the former Kay Kollar of Fergus Falls, Minnesota. She has a son, Jason.