April 4, 2004
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - The Notre Dame baseball team had been looking to rediscover the offensive firepower that characterized the first two weeks of its 2004 season and this weekend's BIG EAST Conference series with Villanova produced that type of domination, as the fifth-ranked Irish won their ninth straight game while completing a three-game sweep of the Wildcats in Sunday's 13-1 game at Eck Stadium.
Notre Dame (22-3, 6-0 BIG EAST) racked up 34 runs over the weekend, representing the program's biggest offensive output in a BIG EAST series since the 2000 team scored 36 times in a lateseason series with Pittsburgh (that Eck Stadium series featured a wild 22-18 win for the Panthers). The program's 75 all-time BIG EAST series (dating back to '96) include just two other larger run totals, in Eck Stadium action vs. Georgetown in 1997 (37) and '98 (36).
One of Notre Dame's season-long struggles had been a lack of early-game offense but that trend also changed in a big way in the weekend series. Saturday's 15-7 opener featured the Irish erupting for eight runs in the 2nd (easily the highest-scoring inning of the season) while Sunday's action saw ND open with six runs for its highest-scoring 1st inning of 2004, doubling the three 1st-inning runs scored vs. Detroit. The Irish sent 10 batters to the plate in the 1st and 10 more in the five-run bottom of the 6th - marking the first time that ND has scored five-plus runs in multiple innings of the same game this season.
The Irish continued to play without senior second baseman Steve Sollmann, who suffered a fractured jaw in a collision during the 5th inning of the series opener. Sollmann has returned with his family to his hometown of Cincinnati and is scheduled to undergo surgery on Monday (further details on Sollmann's recovery will be forthcoming).
Sollmann's top backup at second base is senior catcher Javi Sanchez (the team's ace utility infielder) but the Irish were unable to shift Sanchez during the series, as freshman catcher Sean Gaston also is sidelined with a hand injury suffered in Thursday's win over Hillsdale. The Irish again looked to Sollmann's classmate Zach Sisko to fill in at second base, with Sisko playing error-free on five fielding chances. He also scored two runs, after reaching on a hit and a walk.
Matt Macri again hit in Sollmann's No. 2 spot in the batting order, after batting mostly in the 7-hole all season, and the junior third baseman completed a strong week by hitting 2-for-5 with a walk, three runs scored and an RBI. The 6-2, 190-pounder also put on a defensive display with three lunging stops that showcased his keen glovework and strong arm. Each play somehow was more dazzling than the previous one, with the last featuring a full dive to his right and a long throw to just nip the runner.
Macri raised his season batting average to .356 after hitting .500 in the series (6-for-12) with three walks, another time hit-by-pitch, eight runs, four RBI and a pair of triples. He also stole two bases in the weekend action and did not make an error in 11 chances (including seven fielding assists in Sunday's game), yielding 19 error-free efforts in 23 games played this season (with just five errors).
Another highly-regarded member of the junior class, righthander Grant Johnson (1-0), opened the game with four solid innings to pick up the win in a planned rotation, his first victory since the opener of the 2002 NCAA Super Regional Series at then-No, 1 Florida State. Johnson - who is being eased back into the rotation after undergoing 2003 shoulder surgery - faced just 14 batters in his 63-pitch outing, with three strikeouts, four groundouts and an infield popup. He held VU without a hit but walked three batters, with one erased on a stolen-base attempt.
Johnson has allowed just one earned run in 11 innings of work this season, good for a 0.82 ERA thanks ranks second among Irish pitchers with 10-plus innings. The first member of the staff on that list is freshman righthander Jeff Samardzija (0.49), who rejoined the team on Sunday after taking part in Saturday's spring football practice. The 6-5, 205-pound wide receiver continues to impress as NDs first football/baseball two-sport athlete since Sollmann's brother Steve played for the Irish in '94-'96.
Samardzija logged 3.1 shutout innings to squelch any hopes of a VU comeback, allowing four hits and one walk while striking out two Wildcats batters. He located 28 of his 46 pitches for strikes, with his other season totals now including a .131 opponent batting average, 10 Ks, 7 BB and 8 H in 18.1 innings.
Villanova (17-8-1, 3-3) had loaded the bases in the 5th - on a hit, walk and hit-by-pitch - when Samardzija was called out of the bullpen, with the Wildcats managing an RBI single before Samardzija sent a 2-2 pitch past VU top hitter Alan Day to end the threat with the clutch strikeout.
Freshman righthander Kevin Mulvey (2-3) suffered the loss after being touched for six runs (five earned) in five innings (6 H, 4 BB, 4 Ks).
Sophomore rightfielder Craig Cooper boosted his season batting average to .362 (second among Irish regulars behind Greg Lopez's .372) after batting 2-for-3 in Sunday's game, with a walk, RBI and two runs scored. Junior first baseman Matt Edwards (BB, RBI, R) and sophomore DH Matt Bransfield (3 RBI, R) added multiple hits to the 14-hit attack.
Sanchez completed a long weekend by slapping an RBI single and scoring in the six-run 1st, in addition to adding an RBI groundout. Sophomore leftfielder Steve Andres continued to show his balanced offensive approach by drawing three walks before adding an RBI single (to go along with two runs scored). The 5-10, 190-pound lefthander raised his BIG EAST-leading on-base pct. to .538 while seeing his slugging pct. dip slightly to .655 (3rdr in the BIG EAST).
Notre Dame's early six-run eruption included hits from Macri, Bransfield, Sanchez, Lopez and Cooper, plus walks by Sisko and Andres and Cody Rizzo's sacrifice fly. The five-run bottom of the 6th then included singles from Sisko, Edwards and Bransfield, walks issued to Cooper, Andres and Chris Fournier, and RBI groundballs off the bats of Macri and Sanchez.
NOTES - ND had hit just .181 in the 1st inning of the previous 24 games this season, with a 14-10 scoring edge (now 20-10) ... the Irish easily could have broken open the second game of the series that ended 6-5 in 10 innings, but Sanchez's early scorcher with the bases loaded was juggled and caught by pitcher Mike Loree ... the staff ERA has dropped to 3.62, with sophomore closer Ryan Doherty owning a 0.71 ERA and .119 opp. batting avg. after two relief outings on Saturday (12.2 IP, 14 Ks, 6 BB, 5 H) ... the Irish now have won by 5-plus runs in 12 games this season (plus four wins by 10-plus runs) ... Sunday's 14 hits marked ND's 14th double-digit hit game of '04 (11 with 12-plus hits) ... the Irish hit .423 (11-for-23) with runners on base to build their big lead on Sunday while the ND pitchers held VU to 2-for-13 batting with runners on and 2-for-10 with 2 outs ... the Irish hit .355 in the series with more runs (34) than runners left on base (29), plus 21 walks, 2 HBPs, 22 Ks, .514 slugging (2 HR, 2 3B, 7 2B), a .462 on-base pct., 4 SBs and .964 fielding (4 Es) ... Sanchez his 6-for-13 in the series (.462, 3 RBI, 4 R, 2B, HBP, K) while Bransfield was 5-for-12 (.417, 7 RBI, 3 R, HR, BB) ... the ND pitchers posted a 4.15 ERA during the series (.240, 21 Ks, 11 BB, 23 H, 26 IP) ... Macri has played error-free in 13 of the last 14 games, with just one E in 49 fielding chances during that span ... Bransfield has hits in nine of the last 10 games ... the Irish now are 61-8 during the month of April over the past four seasons ('01-'04) ... ND now leads the Villanova series 20-5 (11-0 at Eck Stadium) ... ND is 49-7 in its last 56 games at The Eck ... the Irish have scored in 109 straight games, 338 of the last 339 and 581 of 585 in the 10-year Paul Mainieri era ... ND has totaled posted the 3-0 sweep 17 times in nine BIG EAST seasons ... since an 0-4 start in '02, ND is 40-11 in its last 51 BIG EAST games ... Sollmann's 2-for-3 start in the series opener pushed his career hit total to 280, passing former double-play partner Alec Porzel (279) into 4th on the ND career hits list ... he also tied Mike Amrhein for 6th in runs scored (195), in addition to ranking 9th in career batting avg. (.362) and at-bats (774), 7th in triples (13), 5th in stolen bases (72) and 4th in fielding assists (561, just one behind Porzel) in 202 games played/200 starts ... Sollmann had pushed his season batting avg. to .294, after hitting 10-for-21 (.476) in his six games played leading up to the injury.
Villanova (17-8-1, 3-3 BIG EAST) 0-0-0 0-1-0 0-0-0 - 1 5 3 #5 Notre Dame (22-3, 6-0 BIG EAST) 6-0-0 0-0-5 2-0-X - 13 14 0
Kevin Mulvey (2-3), Joe McCoy (6), Dan Farino (8) and Kelly Pickel, Jim Gillin (8).
Double: Chris Fournier (ND).