April 7, 2006
TAMPA, Fla. - Jeff Samardzija settled down after a shaky first inning while Craig Cooper and Brett Lilley combined to bat 7-for-9 and score five times from the top of the order, as the Notre Dame baseball team pushed its winning streak to 10 games with Friday night's 8-5 victory over BIG EAST Conference newcomer South Florida at McEwen Field.
Notre Dame (20-8, 6-1 BIG EAST) - now 18-3 during the past six weeks - registered double-digit hits (15) for the sixth straight game, led by leadoff batter Cooper (3-for-5) and Lilley (4-for-4) in the No. 2 spot. The Irish continued their season-long production in the first inning by jumping out to a 3-0 lead, marking the 15th time this season Notre Dame has scored in the first.
The Irish now sit alone in second place in the BIG EAST standings, trailing only unbeaten St. John's (6-0). The Red Storm were winning Friday at Pittsburgh (2-1, in the 5th) when that game was postposed due to rain, to be concluded on Saturday.
South Florida (14-17, 5-5) - picked third in the BIG EAST preseason poll - answered Notre Dame's output with three runs of its own in the bottom of the first but the Bulls failed to catch the visitors, who stretched to an 8-4 lead after scoring twice in both the third and fourth and adding a run in the sixth. USF now finds itself tied with Rutgers (4-4) for seventh in the BIG EAST standings.
Samardzija (4-1; 17-5 career) was touched for the three early runs after yielding four walks, with the inning also including Addison Maruszak's RBI double, a wild pitch and a run-scoring groundout. The junior righthander left an 8-4 game in the bottom of the sixth, with an errant double-play throw opening the door for two more Bulls runs. Samardzija ultimately was charged with six runs on six hits and five walks while striking out five in a 93-pitch outing that spanned 5.1 innings.
Junior lefthander Mike Dury - who has yet to allow an earned run this season in 10 appearances and 12 innings - retired all seven batters he faced as the second of three Notre Dame relievers. Righthander Kyle Weiland then struck out two of his four batters, tying Aaron Heilman's record (9, in 1998) for saves by a Notre Dame freshman.
USF ace righthander Casey Hudspeth (3-4) failed to pitch beyond the fifth, allowing seven runs on nine hits and three walks, with five strikeouts.
Lilley steadily has returned to his all-BIG EAST form, after easing back from an offseason back injury and overcoming a .205 batting average three weeks into the season. The sophomore third baseman now has boosted that batting average to .310, with his strong game on Friday including a walk and two runs scored.
Cooper had a hand in four of the Irish runs, including a two-run blast in the fourth, while raising his career batting average in BIG EAST games to .430 - still third-best in the history of BIG EAST baseball, just shy of former Rutgers player Joe Cirrone's .432. The senior first baseman singled in the first inning, marking the 15th time in 19 plate appearances that he has reached base as Notre Dame's first hitter of the game.
Sophomore second baseman Ross Brezovsky joined Cooper in pushing his hitting streak to nine games, batting 2-for-3 with a pair of walks and a two-run single in the third. Senior leftfielder Matt Bransfield (3-for-5) added an RBI and run scored while giving the Irish three players with three-plus hits in the game.
Notre Dame's three runs to open the game included Cooper dropping a 2-2 pitch into shallow center field, Lilley's opposite-field double to left-center, a run-scoring groundball off the ball of Danny Dressman (with Lilley also scoring on the play when the first baseman threw wide of home plate), Brezovsky's two-out walk and Bransfield's RBI single to left (on a 2-2 count).
Lilley walked on a full count to start the third, with Dressman then showing his skill going the other way with a double that skipped past the third-base bag. Brezovsky followed two batters later with yet another hit on a 2-2 count, sending his two-run single back up the middle for the 5-3 lead.
The hosts answered with a run when Joey Angelberger's single scored Matt McHargue. But the Irish came right back to score twice in the fourth, as another error on the first baseman Brandin Daniel allowed Greg Lopez to reach before Cooper teed off on the next pich for a no-doubt blast over the fence in left-center (7-4).
The Irish stretched to 8-4 in the sixth, versus righthander Ryan Lau. Cooper and Lilley both reached on one-out singles, putting runners on the corners before Lau's balk forced home a run.
South Florida's best chance to get back in the game came in the sixth, as singles by Dexter Butler and Braullio Pardo brought junior righthander Jess Stewart out of the bullpen. A tailor-made double-play ball was destined to end the inning but the high throw to first extended the rally. One run scored on that error and another came home after singles by Maruszak and Kris Howell, for an 8-6 game.
The Irish answered with yet another run, with team RBI leader Greg Lopez again delivering with two outs and a full count. The senior shortstop showed his bat control with an opposite-field single to right-center, plating Bransfield for the final 9-6 margin.
NOTES - The Irish now have posted a double-digit win streak 11 times in 12 seasons under Paul Mainieri, doing so in nine of those 12 seasons ... the ND pitching staff still has allowed just three home runs all season and now has logged 23-plus games without allowing a home run, spanning 893 batters faced ... teams that have hit a home run in games involving ND this season are 12-1 (the Irish are 9-1 when hitting a HR this season but have lost all three games when the opponent has homered) ... there has been only one game this season when ND and its opponent have homered (the loss to Oklahoma) ... ND also improved to 11-4 when scoring in the first inning, 18-1 when leading at the end of the seventh and 18-3 when outhitting the opponent ... ND is 13-1 in its past 14 games vs. BIG EAST teams, including 3-0 in the 2005 BIG EAST Tournament ... the senior class is 16-4 in Florida during their careers, with the losses coming vs. Jacksonville in a 2003 extra-inning game (9-6, in 10), at Central Florida in a tight 2005 early-season game (2-1) and in a pair of games at the '05 NCAA Gainesville Regional (5-1 vs. UNC and 23-3 vs. the host Gators) ... ND has posted 15-plus hits in five games this season ... Cooper (.400) edged back in front of Dressman (.390) atop the team batting charts ... Cooper now has compiled two nine-game hitting streaks this season ... he also had a 13-game hitting streak late in the 2005 season and could become the ninth Mainieri-era player with multiple double-digit hit streaks in his career ... all three of Cooper's home runs this season have coming during the past eight games ... he now owns 20 career home runs to go along with 39 stolen bases and 40 doubles ... Lilley (103) eclipsed 100 career hits in his 88th game with the Irish ... Lilley now is batting .448 (13-for-29) in nine career games played within the state of Florida (.579 on-base pct., 8 HBP, BB, 9 R, 2 RBI, 2 Ks) ... prior to Friday's game, Dressman had totaled 38 at-bats with runners on base without grounding into a double play (he then had 2 GDPs vs. USF) ... Dressman and Cooper both have struck out just seven times all season ... the Irish now are batting .311 for the season but are hitting 60 points higher (at a .371 clip) in the first inning of '06 games, led by Cooper (.706; 12-for-17, 11 R, 4 BB, HBP), Gaston (4-for-9, 6 RBI, 2 R, 2 BB) and Brezovsky (3-for-7, 2 R, 5 RBI, 2 BB, HBP) ... West Virginia (5-2) dropped to 3rd-place in the BIG EAST standings after a 10-6 loss at Rutgers ... 4th-place UConn (6-3) also was postponed in its Friday home game vs. Villanova (1-5), to be made up Sat. at noon ... Cincinnato (4-3) won 5-1 at Seton Hall (2-8) and now is tied with Louisville for fifth in the BIG EAST (UL dropped a 7-4 road game to Georgetown, with the Hoyas now 2-5) ... Pitt entered its series vs. SJU with a 2-7 record (now 10th in the standings).
Notre Dame (20-8, 6-1 BIG EAST) 3-0-2 2-0-1 1-0-0 - 9 12 1
South Florida (14-17, 5-5 BIG EAST) 3-0-1 0-0-2 0-0-0 - 6 8 2