April 12, 2003
OMAHA, Neb. - The Notre Dame baseball team's return to the site of the College World Series featured another tension-filled game and the Irish again came out on the winning end, as a pair of early runs held up for a 2-1 win over Creighton at Rosenblatt Stadium - extending the team's winning streak to 15 games. The teams will meet for the third time this season at noon on Sunday, at the Creighton Sports Complex, with the Irish looking to sweep the unique three-game non-conference series.
Notre Dame (24-6) - which played without junior catcher and 5-hole hitter Javi Sanchez for the third straight game, due to back spasms - had thrived on big innings in recent games but the Irish failed to score after plating two unearned runs in the first, with the teams combining for 20 runners left on base (11 by Notre Dame). The Irish improved to 5-1 in one-run games this season.
The 15-game winning streak ranks as the third-longest of the nine-year Paul Mainieri era, just one shy of streaks by the 2001 and '02 Irish teams, and matches the seventh-longest winning streak in the program's 110-year history (three shy of the team record). Notre Dame now has reached the 30-game mark with the second-best record at that point in the program's history, behind the 24-5-1 start by the 2001 team.
Sophomore righthander Chris Niesel (4-1) improved to 8-1 in his Irish career, working out of several jams in his six-inning stint while allowing the one run on four hits and three walks (with six strikeouts). Senior setup man Brandon Viloria then retired two of the three batters he faced in the seventh and his classmate J.P. Gagne came on for his sixth save of the season, setting down seven of nine batters faced (with a hit, walk and strikeout).
Creighton (12-19) stayed in the game behind the strong pitching of junior lefthander Tom Oldham (5-3), who struck out five Irish batters while scattering five hits and three walks over five and two-third innings. Righthanded relievers Brian Furlong and Steve Grasley then maintained the one-run deficit but the Bluejays were unable to plate the tying run.
Notre Dame had managed just 11 first-inning runs in its previous 29 games before scoring twice in Saturday's games. Steve Sollmann - who collected his 17th multi-hit game of the season (2-for-4) - opened the game be sending a 1-2 pitch into left field before Creighton made a pair of unusual errors that resulted in Irish batter Brennan Grogan twice being hit with thrown balls.
Oldham hurt himself with the first miscue on Grogan's sacrifice bunt, flicking the ball off Grogan's back and allowing Sollmann to scamper to third. Matt Edwards followed with a routine groundball to the left side but shortstop Gabe Lapito stunningly sent the short throw wide of the second-base bag, with the ball glancing off the chest of the sliding Grogan as Sollmann was scoring the game's first run.
Grogan then was thrown out on the double steal and Oldham induced a popup for the second out - but freshman Cody Rizzo (who started at catcher) was hit by a full-count pitch and sophomore shortstop Matt Macri plated Edwards on a single up the middle on an 0-1 pitch.
Creighton loaded the bases in the fourth but managed just one run. Matt Daeges drew a leadoff walk, followed by Pete Wiedewitsch's single to center and Dan Norquist's sacrifice bunt. Niesel then hit Dave Schultz with a full-count pitch, loading the bases, and Ryan Fitzgerald brought home Daeges with a first-pitch single into left field.
Notre Dame altered its outfield alignment, with Alex Nettey becoming the fourth freshman to start in center field for the Irish this season - compared to the previous four seasons that saw Steve Stanley start all 256 games in center.
Notre Dame 2-0-0 0-0-0 0-0-0 - 2 7 0
Creighton 0-0-0 1-0-0 0-0-0 - 1 6 3
Chris Niesel (W, 4-1), Brandon Viloria (7), J.P. Gagne (7) and Cody Rizzo.
Tom Oldham (L, 5-3), Brian Furlong (6), Steve Grasley (8) and Tony Daniel.
Doubles: Craig Cooper (ND), Gabe Lapito (CU).