April 4, 2008
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Sophomore Billy Boockford (Glen Ellyn, Ill.) hit a tiebreaking RBI single in the bottom of the eighth inning to give Notre Dame a 6-5 lead, which it would not relinquish. The Irish would add another run in the inning and go on to defeat the Scarlet Knights, 7-5.
Junior Jeremy Barnes (Garland, Tex.) led off the eighth with a walk. After a sacrifice bunt by senior Ross Brezovsky (Naples, Fla.), senior Sean Gaston (Brownsburg, Ind.) was hit by a pitch, bringing Boockford to the plate, who delivered to put the Irish up for good in a see-saw affair. Senior Brett Lilley (North Canton, Ohio) would add an RBI later in the inning after hustling to beat out a potential inning-ending double play.
Junior closer Kyle Weiland (Albuquerque, N.M.) picked up the win for Notre Dame (14-9-1 overall, 5-2 BIG EAST) despite blowing the save in the top of the eighth. Weiland improves to 2-0 on the year. Left-handed reliever Matt Patterson (2-1) took the loss for Rutgers, who falls to 8-16 on the year and 2-5 in the BIG EAST.
"That was big," said Notre Dame coach Dave Schrage about Lilley's RBI groundout. "Lilley is a hustler. He was giving it all he had. I think he knew what was at stake running down the line. It definitely helped for Weiland, giving him a two-run lead."
Junior David Phelps (Hazelwood, Mo.) started for Notre Dame but struggled with a high pitch count, leaving the game after 6.0 innings and 110 pitches. Phelps gave up four runs on ten hits, walking two and striking out five. It was the 22nd time in the last 23 starts that Phelps has lasted at least five innings. Phelps' counterpart, Matt Giannini, also went 6.0 innings, giving up four runs on seven hits.
Sophomore David Mills (Battle Creek, Mich.) and Boockford paced the Irish with two hits apiece, with Boockford also driving in two and Mills stealing the first base of his career. Brezovsky and A.J. Pollock (Hebron, Conn.) each hit go-ahead home runs, the second of the season for each player.
The Irish struck quickly in the bottom of the first inning. Lilley led off the game with a hard ground ball past an outstretched Jaren Matthews and just inside the first base bag. The ball went all the way into the right field corner and Lilley raced into third with a stand-up triple, his first of the year. Mills then sent a 2-1 pitch from Rutgers starter Matt Giannini up the middle for an RBI single. Mills advanced to second on a check-swing ground ball by Pollock and to third on a deep fly ball off the bat of junior Evan Sharpley (Marshall, Mich.), but was left stranded when Barnes grounded to second to end the inning.
Notre Dame nearly added another run in the second. After a two-out walk to Boockford, freshman Greg Sherry (Mendham, N.J.) laced a double over the head of left fielder Donny Callahan, but Boockford was thrown out at the plate on a perfect relay throw from Rutgers shortstop Dan Betteridge.
The Scarlet Knights knotted the score at one in the top of the third. Phelps walked Victor Cegles to lead off the inning, and after a balk and a sacrifice bunt, Betteridge singled through the right side of the infield to plate Cegles.
Rutgers took the lead 2-1 in the fourth. After the first two batters of the inning went quietly, center fielder Luis Feliz hit a 1-0 offering from Phelps into the right field alley for a two-out double. Feliz advanced to third on an errant pickoff throw by Phelps and scored on Brett Garlick's single up the middle. Phelps promptly proceeded to pick off Garlick at first to end the inning, his third pickoff of the year.
The Rutgers lead would be short-lived, however. Evan Sharpley led off the bottom of the fourth with a walk and advanced to second on Barnes' sacrifice bunt. Brezovsky stepped to the plate and crushed a 2-1 pitch from Giannini over the right field fence for a home run, giving the Irish a 3-2 lead. The home run was Brezovsky's second of the season and the ninth of his career. The Irish were not finished, as Sean Gaston followed Brezovsky's homer with a double past a diving Tom Edwards and down the third base line. Boockford followed with a double over the head of Luis Feliz in center, his sixth of the year, stretching the Notre Dame lead to 4-2. Sherry walked to put Giannini in a two-on, one-out jam, but Rutgers escaped when Lilley grounded into a double play to end the inning.
Rutgers would continue the back-and-forth affair with a run in the top of the fifth. Victor Cegles led off the inning against Phelps with a single off the glove of a diving Jeremy Barnes, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by leadoff man Donny Callahan, and scored on a single over the head of Barnes to make it 4-3. Tom Edwards followed with another single, but Phelps escaped further damage on a sensational double play turned by the Irish defense. Jon Gossard laced a sharp one-hopper to Sherry at third, who saw it go off his glove but recovered to start the 5-4-3 twin killing.
The Scarlet Knights tied the game in the sixth with a two-out rally. Victor Cegles followed back-to-back two-out singles by Luis Feliz and Brett Garlick with a double down the right field line to score Feliz.
After Phelps exited the game after six innings, sophomore Steven Mazur (Round Rock, Tex.), Mills, and senior Tony Langford (Fort Worth, Tex.) combined to pitch a scoreless inning of relief. Mazur left with one out in the seventh after giving up a hit and a walk, but Mills struck out Jaren Matthews and Langford got Luis Feliz to fly out to right to end the threat.
A.J. Pollock hit a towering solo home run to left field off of southpaw reliever Matt Patterson in the bottom of the seventh inning to break a 4-4 tie and give the Irish the lead. The home run was Pollock's second of the year and the fifth of his career.
Kyle Weiland entered the game in the eighth for the Irish to try to nail down his 21st career save (which would have set the school record). However, a bloop two-out single by Donny Callahan with two outs scored Brett Garlick and spoiled the save for Weiland.
A scary moment for the Irish came in the eighth. After Boockford's go-ahead RBI single, Sherry was hit in the side of the face by a Jason Downey pitch. Remarkably, Sherry stayed in the game after being attended to by coaches and trainers.
Though Notre Dame hit two home runs in the game, Schrage praised the little ball that led to the victory.
"It was a grinder-type game," said Schrage. "Of all of our wins this year I think I am most proud of this one. We couldn't hold a lead, but we responded after every rally and I am proud of our guys for sticking with it. We got a clutch hit from Boockford and came away with the win. This was a big win for us."
Notre Dame and Rutgers return to action Saturday afternoon with the second game of the three-game set. First-pitch at Frank Eck Stadium is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. Senior left-hander Wade Korpi (Lake Worth, Fla.), winner of four straight starts, will take the mound for the Irish against sophomore right-hander Kyle Bradley of the Scarlet Knights.