April 9, 2003
NOTRE DAME, Ind. (4/9/03) - Sophomore righthander John Axford racked up 12 strikeouts with no walks in seven strong innings while the Notre Dame offense clinched the team's 12th consecutive victory with five runs in the eighth, as the 16th-ranked Irish defeated visiting Western Michigan, 7-1, in non-conference action Wednesday at Eck Stadium.
Notre Dame (21-6) - which also has won 16 straight home games and 28 of the last 29 - is on track with the best 27-game starts in the program's history, bested only by the 1959 (22-5) and 2001 (21-5-1) teams. The 12-game winning streak ranks as the fourth-longest in the nine-year Paul Mainieri era, behind a 16-game run in 2002, a 15-game streak in '01 and a 13-game streak in '98.
Axford and senior closer J.P. Gagne combined for 16 strikeouts, tying the team record for most Ks at a game in Eck Stadium history (dating back to 1994). Axford's 12 punchouts are the most ever by an ND pitcher at The Eck and one shy of the facility's overall record (13), set by Alabama's Will Schleuss in 1995.
Axford (6-0) - who dropped his season ERA to 2.14 and already has bested his freshman-year win total (5-2) - scattered six hits in the 104-pitch stint but was sharp in his first outing in 10 days, after last week's doubleheader at Boston College was cancelled due to weather. Gagne then entered a 2-1 game in the eighth and struck out four of the seven batters he faced for his fifth save of the season and 11th of his career (fifth-best in ND history). Gagne (six saves in '02) joins John Corbin (nine in '99, 11 in 2000) as the only Irish pitchers ever to post five-plus saves in multiple seasons.
Western Michigan (11-15) tied the game in the third on senior second baseman Steve Horn's leadoff home run over the leftfield fence - with the Irish reclaiming the lead after Cody Rizzo's leadoff single, a wild pitch, Matt Macri's bunt single and a run-scoring groundout by Greg Lopez.
Senior righthander Keith Perez was the hard-luck loser, allowing two runs (one earned) on five hits and no walks over six innings (with five Ks).
Axford became the 17th Notre Dame pitcher ever to post 12-plus Ks in a game and is just the fourth to do so since 1980, joining Darin Schmalz (12 in 9 IP at Georgetown, in '96), Brad Lidge (12 in 7 IP vs. Pittsburgh, at Three Rivers Stadium in '98) and Aaron Heilman in that distinction. Heilman posted 12-K games in 2000 (vs. Georgia in the Metrodome, 8 IP) and 2001 (vs. Rutgers in the BIG EAST Tournament, 9 IP), in addition to an historic 18-K game at West Virginia in 2000 (10 IP).
Notre Dame's five-run 8th represented the team's 11th "big inning" (5-plus runs) of the season, with eight coming in the last seven games.
Sophomore first baseman Matt Edwards - fresh off a BIG EAST player-of-the-week performance - went 2-for-4 to extend his hitting streak to nine games. He is batting .442 (19-for-43) in the current 12-game winning streak while his .390 season average places him first among the Irish batters (junior 2B Steve Sollmann's 0-for-4 day dropped him to .386).
The clinching rally in the eighth included full-count walks by Brennan Grogan and Kris Billmaier, singles from Edwards and Javi Sanchez (RBI), Rizzo's 12th hit-by-pitch of the season (pushing home a run) and Macri's RBI single through the left side of the infield - with a misplay by leftfielder Andy Roy allowing two unearned runs to score.
NOTES: Notre Dame boosted its season fielding pct. to .969 after posting its ninth error-free game of the season S the Irish are 44-4 in April during the past three seasons S Axford's season totals now include 47 Ks, just 16 walks (nearly a 3-to-1 K-to-walk ratio), 36 hits allowed and a .224 opponent batting average in 42 innings.
Western Michigan 0-0-1 0-0-0 0-0-0 - 1 7 2 Notre Dame 1-0-0 0-1-0 0-5-X - 7 0 0
Keith Perez (L, 2-2), Charles Christner (7), Zach Straayer (8), Clark Sterley (8) and Joe Zacharzewski.