April 9, 2006
TAMPA, Fla. - Jeff Manship logged eight strong innings while Craig Cooper strengthened his case for being the top hitter in BIG EAST baseball history, as Notre Dame completed a dominating three-game sweep at South Florida with Sunday's 10-1 win at McEwen Field. The Irish outhit USF .409 to .231 in the series and now are riding a 12-game winning streak, with wins in 20 of 23 games spanning the past five weeks.
Notre Dame (22-8, 8-1 BIG EAST) has matched the seventh-best 30-game start in the 114-year history of the program, with just three teams in the 12-year Paul Mainieri owning a better record at the 30-game mark (26-4 in '04, 24-5-1 in '01 and 24-6 in '03). The current stretch marks the sixth time in the Mainieri era that the Irish have posted a winning streak of 12-plus games and includes three-game sweeps of the teams picked to finish second (Pittsburgh) and third (USF) in the BIG EAST preseason poll.
The Irish kept pace with BIG EAST co-leader St. John's atop the BIG EAST standings, with those teams set to meet in a showdown series at Eck Stadium on Thursday, April 13 (12:05 doubleheader, televised by CSTV) and Saturday, April 15 (12:05).
Cooper - whose .429 season batting average includes a .524 clip during the current win streak - continued his hot hitting from the leadoff spot, batting 3-for-4 with an RBI, two runs scored, a triple and a walk. The senior first baseman is batting .529 in BIG EAST games this season and now owns a .439 career batting average in BIG EAST regular-season games, the second-best average in the 22-year history of BIG EAST baseball, just behind former Rutgers player Joe Cirrone's .443.
Notre Dame rapped out 49 hits in the three games versus USF, the most hits for the Irish in a BIG EAST series since the 1998 team totaled 50 hits in a three-game sweep of Georgetown. The Irish also had 15 hits in Friday night's 9-6 wins and 17 in the 10-4 game on Saturday, with Sunday's 17 hits yielding the first time since 1997 that a Notre Dame team has posted 15-plus hits in three consecutive games at any point in a season.
Notre Dame also has totaled double-digit hits in eight straight games, a feat unmatched at Notre Dame since at least 1995 (pending further research into the record books).
Cooper - whose impressive leadoff skills now include reaching base 17-of-21 times (13-for-17 batting, 3 BB, HBP) when opening the game for the Irish offense - and 2-hole hitter Brett Lilley (2-for-5) both batted 9-for-13 in the series while combining to score 11 runs and strike out just once in 31 combined plate appearances. Cooper joined teammate Ross Brezovsky in extending their hitting streaks to 11 games while the surging Lilley moved to fourth on the team batting charts at .333.
Manship (4-1) entered the weekend with one of the top ERAs in the BIG EAST and lowered that number to 1.96, after limiting South Florida (14-19, 5-7) to the single run on four hits and one walk in eight fill innings. The junior righthander struck out four USF batters, pushing his season total to 54 Ks with just 10 walks in 46 innings. Manship located 63 of his 99 pitches for strikes, allowed just one leadoff batter to reach base and held USF to 1-for-10 batting with runners on base and 2-for-10 with 2-outs.
Freshman shortstop Jeremy Barnes led the Irish on Sunday by batting 4-for-5 with two RBI, a pair of runs scored, a triple and a double in the cleanup spot. Nine Irish players collected hits in the game, including two-hit efforts from seniors Alex Nettey (2 RBI) and Greg Lopez (RBI) near the bottom of the lineup.
USF's 8-hole hitter Joey Angleberger sent a wind-blown, opposite-field home run over the rightfield fence to avert the shutout in the bottom of the fifth. It marked just the fourth home run allowed by the Irish all season and the first in 25 games, with that homer-less stretch spanning 943 batters faced.
The explosive day from the Notre Dame offense included five leadoff batters reaching base, 7-for-14 batting with runners on base and six 2-out hits. The Irish drew three full-count walks, executed one sacrifice bunt with a two-strike count and delivered four straight RBI hits (spanning the 7th and 8th innings) with two-strike counts on the batters. The Notre Dame batters also jumped on first-pitches for three key hits, including the leadoff triples off the bats of Cooper and Barnes.
Notre Dame broke open a 2-1 game by scoring five times in the seventh and three more in the eighth. Cody Rizzo led off the seventh with a full-count walk, ending the day for lefthanded starter Davis Bilardello (3 R, 6 H, 4 BB, 3 Ks). With the top of the order due up, USF stayed with a lefthander and sent Nick Manganaro to the mound - but Cooper parked the first pitch into the right-center gap for an opposite-field triple and Lilley brought him home by sending a high chopper over the right side of the drawn-in infield. Dressman followed with a sacrifice bunt, Barnes singled to left (taking second on the throw) and Bransfield failed to execute the squeeze bunt, with Lilley tagged out at home.
Sophomore second baseman Ross Brezovsky - who like his classmate and fellow lefthanded hitter Lilley (.480-.282) has batted at a higher clip this season vs. LHPs (.400) than RHPs (.333) - then came through with two outs, sending a 1-0 pitch into right field for the 5-0 lead. Sophomore righthander Jim Cassidy then took the mound to face the bottom of the order, but the righthanded-hitting Nettey and Lopez both delivered on two-strike, opposite-field hits to cap the five-run inning. Nettey dropped an 0-2 pitch into right-center for an RBI single and Lopez placed a 1-2 offering down the rightfield line for a run-scoring double.
Cooper now has reached base a team-best 62% of the time when leading off any inning, including a single up the middle to start the eighth. Dressman later pulled a single through the right side and Barnes greeted righthanded closer Chase Lirette by going the other way on an 0-2 pitch, duplicating Lopez's RBI double down the rightfield line. Sean Gaston added an RBI single to left (on a 1-2 count) and Nettey sent a first-pitch single into center, scoring Barnes for the final margin.
The first inning saw Cooper hit a leadoff single for the third straight game, moving up on his 41st career stolen base and the catcher's throwing error but being tagged out at home on Dressman's groundball. The Irish still managed to score a first-inning run for the 17th time this season, as Barnes sent an opposite-field single into right and Dressman motored all the way around from first base. It marked the 17th time that the Irish have scored in the first inning this season, with a decisive 35-11 scoring margin in the opening frame.
The Irish scored again in the second, with Brezovsky coaxing a full-count walk to start a sequence that included Nettey's sacrifice bunt and singles through the left side from Lopez and Rizzo.
(**See additional updated ND notes below the linescore.**)
Notre Dame (22-8, 8-1 BIG EAST) 1-1-0 0-0-0 5-3-0 - 10 17 2
South Florida (14-19, 5-7 BIG EAST) 0-0-0 0-1-0 0-0-0 - 1 6 2
15-PLUS HITS AGAIN AND AGAIN - Notre Dame posted 15-plus hits (15-17-17) in all three games of the USF series, with the second and third game matching the team's season-high for hits set vs. Southern Illinois ... it marks the first time since 1997 that the Irish have totaled 15-plus hits in three straight games at any time in a season, doing so on April 5-6 of that season vs. Providence (17) and in a doubleheader with Boston College (16-20) ... the Irish now have posted 15-plus hits seven times this season.
IRISH NEARLY REACH 50 HITS IN SERIES - ND hit .408 while totaling 49 hits in the USF series ... that's the most hits for an Irish offense in a BIG EAST series since the 1998 team rapped out 50 hits while batting .439 in a series vs. Georgetown at Eck Stadium (7-6, 19-7, 10-2; on April 28-29).
DOUBLE-DIGIT HIT STREAK REACHES EIGHT GAMES - The Irish have totaled 10-plus hits in each of the past eight games, a feat unmatched by any previous ND team since at least 1995 (the ND online archive only dates back to 1996 - stay tuned for further research).
IRISH POST ROAD SWEEP - ND Irish turned in a three-game BIG EAST road sweep for the eighth time spanning 11 seasons in the conference, with earlier road sweeps coming at Boston College in 1998, Georgetown in '99, Rutgers and St. John's in '01, Seton Hall in '02, and three times in '04 (at West Virginia, vs. Georgetown at Bethesda's Povich Field, and at UConn) ... USF became the eighth different BIG EAST team that ND has swept 3-0 on the road ... the Irish now have totaled 24 total three-game sweeps in BIG EAST play, vs. 10 different teams: five vs. Georgetown; three each vs. Seton Hall, West Virginia and Connecticut; two each vs. Boston College, Rutgers, Villanova and Pittsburgh; and one each vs. St. John's and USF.
DANDY DOZEN - This marks the 16th time in the program's history that Notre Dame has posted a winning streak of 12-plus games ... 11 previous ND teams (four in the Mainieri era) have compiled winning streaks of 13-plus: 18 in 1991; 17 in 1907 and 2003, 16 in 1988, 2001 and 2002; 15 in 1910; 14 in 1993; and 13 in 1908, 1992 and 1998.
RARE DEFICITS ¬ Notre Dame has trailed in just three games during the current 12-game winning streak (none in the past five), for a total of four and one-half innings ... only one of four total deficits in the win streak has lasted longer than a half-inning ... in the 6-1 win over Pittsburgh on March 31, Jimmy Mayer's singled scored David Cline for a 1-0 Panthers lead but the next two batters were forced out and ND's Sean Gaston quickly tied the game after singles by him and Greg Lopez, a double steal, Craig Cooper's intentional walk and Brett Lilley's sac. fly ... two days later (in ND's 9-8 win), Pitt struck in the first on Morgan Kielty's three-run double ... ND came right back to score twice in the first (after a Cooper double, a Jeremy Barnes one-out walk, a Ross Brezovsky two-out walk, Gaston's bases-loaded walk and a passed) and Cooper tied the game with a leadoff home run in the fifth (a Danny Dressman bunt single, Matt Bransfield's one-out walk and Brezovsky's RBI single then produced a 4-3 lead) ... Pitt came back in that game to briefly claim an 8-7 lead, after Jimmy Mayer's two-run double in the top of the ninth (an intentional walk and hit batter followed but Jess Stewart came on to get the third out) ... ND then snatched the lead back after Greg Lopez dove headfirst for an infield since, Alex Nettey bunted him over, Cooper (intentional) and Dressman walked and Barnes ended the game with a two-run single to left-center ... most recently (April 5), Ball State's Mike Sullivan hit a two-run single and scored to give the Cardinals and 4-3 lead in the seventh - but ND again answered in the bottom of the inning, as Dressman drew a one-out walk and scored on Bransfield's two-out double before Brezovsky's two-run blast yielded the final 6-4 score.
SERIES STATS - ND's .408 batting avg. vs. USF included 9-for-13 (.692) efforts from Craig Cooper (4 RBI, 7 R, HR, 3B, 2 BB, 2 SB) and Brett Lilley (.692, 9-13, 2 RBI, 4 R, 2B, 3 BB, K), who batted a combined 18-for-26 (6 RBI, 11 R, HR-3B-2B, 5 BB, 2 SB, just 1 K in 31 PA) ... USF as a team totaled just six more hits in the series than Cooper and Lilley's combined total ... other top ND hitters in the series included: Sean Gaston (4-for-10, 2 RBI, R, 2 2B, 2 Ks), Jeremy Barnes (.385, 5-for-13, 4 RBI, 3 R, 3B, 2B, 3 BB, 2 Ks) and Ross Brezovsky (.364, 4-for-11, 4 RBI, 2 R, 3 BB, 4 Ks, SB, E) ... the ND staff posted a 2.67 ERA (.231 opp. batting, 22 Ks, 13 BB, 24 H in 27 IP).
MULTIPLE THREAT - Craig Cooper's diverse offensive tools include a .509 on-base pct. and .612 slugging pct. and .509 that yield a 1.121 OPS (on-base plus slugging) that may rank atop the BIG EAST stat leaders this week (as of Monday morning, some BIG EAST teams had yet to update their season stats online but Cooper entered Sunday's action just a couple points out of second among the league's OPS leaders, with WVU's Justin Jenkins atop the list at 1.154).
WIN STREAK STATS - ND is batting .362 in the 12-game win streak, led by: Craig Cooper (.524, 22-for-42, 9 RBI, 16 R, 3 HR, 3B, 4 2 B, 5 BB, 2 Ks, 3 SB), Brett Lilley (.462, 18-for-39, 4 RBI, 8 R, 4 2B, 9 BB, HBP, 2 Ks, 2 SB), Danny Dressman (.442, 19-for-43, 4 RBI, 13 R, 2 2B, 8 BB, 3 Ks, 2 SB), Ross Brezovsky (.421, 16-for-37, 12 RBI, 10 R, HR, 3B, 4 2B, 8 BB, 7 Ks, 2 SB) and Greg Lopez (.390, 16-for-41, 13 RBI, 5 R, 3B, 2B) ... the Irish have a 2.50 staff ERA in the win streak, with a lowly .210 opp. batting avg., nearly a 3-to-1 K-to-walk ratio (98/35) and 26 more innings pitched (108) than hits allowed (82) ... ND's fielding pct. in the win streak is .974 (12 Es) ... ND owns a 31-7 combined scoring edge in the 1st (17-6) and 2nd (14-1) innings of the win streak, plus 18-2 in the 5th.
STRONG ROTATION - The weekend rotation of senior LHP Tom Thornton (5-1) and junior RHPs Jeff Manship and Jeff Samardzija (both 4-1) has combined to go 13-3 this season, with losses to Nebraska (Thornton), Minnesota (Samardzija) and Georgetown (Manship).
IN BIG EAST GAMES - Cooper leads the Irish with a .529 batting avg. during BIG EAST games this season (18-for-34), followed by Lilley (.452, 14-for-31), Lopez (.417, 15-for-36), Barnes (.405, 15-for-37) and Brezovsky (.379, 11-for-29) ... ND is batting .355 as a team in BIG EAST play (69-36 scoring margin), with a 3.38 staff ERA (.247 opp. avg., 72 Ks, 28 BB, 75 H in 80 IP) and a .971 fielding pct. ... Tom Thornton leads the weekend starters with a 2.49 ERA in BIG EAST games (2-0, 21 Ks, 3 NN, 18 H/.234, 21.2 IP), followed by Jeff Manship (2.57, 2-1, 22/5, 16/.200, 21.0) and Jeff Samardzija (3.98, 3-0, 16/8, 19/.250, 20.1).
CONFERENCE COMMAND - Notre Dame now has won 69 all-time BIG EAST series (of 96), with 14 series ties and 13 series losses ... the Irish have won nearly 75% of their all-time games during the BIG EAST regular season (179-64-1; .735).
THE MAN - Jeff Manship dropped his season ERA below 2.00, which would rank 17th in the ND record and sixth-best among Mainieri-era pitchers ... he is on pace for 113 strikeouts (just shy of Aaron Heilman's ND-record 118) while his .187 opponent batting avg. would rank 3rd-best by an ND pitcher (since '91), behind David Sinnes (.163, in '92) and Heilman (.173, in '02; .) ... Sunday's home run is the only run allowed by Manship after the 4th inning this season (18 IP).
RECORD WHEN ... - ND now is 13-4 when scoring in the first inning, 20-1 when leading at the end of the seventh and 20-3 when outhitting the opponent and 17-2 when posting double-digit hits
BEATING THE BIG EAST - ND is 15-1 in its past 16 games vs. BIG EAST teams, including 3-0 in the 2005 BIG EAST Tournament.
LOVING IT IN FLA. - The senior class now is 18-4 in Florida during their careers.
FIRST-INNING FOCUS - ND has erupted for a .383 first-inning batting average this season, led by Craig Cooper (.737, 14-for-19), Ross Brezovsky (4-for-8), Sean Gaston (4-for-9) and Brett Lilley (6-for-18).