April 11, 1999
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Notre Dame freshman catcher Paul O'Toole hit two home runs but it was sophomore second baseman Alec Porzel who stole the show, drilling a first-pitch home run in the bottom of the ninth to give the Irish a 9-8 victory and a three-game weekend sweep over visiting Pittsburgh in BIG EAST Conference action Sunday at Eck Stadium.
Notre Dame (25-8, 12-1 BIG EAST) maintained its cushion over second-place Rutgers (9-3) in the BIG EAST standings, but the Irish needed to overcome two deficits and another late rally by the opposition before posting their 11th comeback victory of the season and their seventh one-run win of 1999. Notre Dame has also won 10 of its last 11 games and 21 of the last 23, while remaining perfect at home this season (11-0).
Pittsburgh (18-14, 7-5) enjoyed early leads of 1-0 and 4-2 before erasing an 8-4 Irish lead with two runs in the seventh and two in the ninth. The Panthers collected 14 hits, led by sophomore third baseman Joe Lydic (2-for-5, two-run home run, three runs scored) and sophomore DH Darrin Lenhart (3-for-5, two-run home run).
Freshman Drew Duff (3-1) picked up the one-batter-faced victory, after striking out Mike Gonda on a 2-2 pitch in the top of the ninth. Junior lefthander Tim Kalita posted his fifth no-decision of the season, allowing six runs (five earned) on 11 hits and three walks over seven innings (with seven strikeouts).
Junior righthander Steve Vickroy (1-1) took the loss while sophomore starter Josh Knauff allowed seven runs (six earned) on five hits and four walks over four and one-third innings (with three Ks).
Notre Dame's amazing last-minute magic in 1999 has included: 11 comeback victories, six games when the Irish scored the winning run in the final inning and three other victories where the Irish game-winner was scored in the second-to-last inning. The 25 Irish wins include seven by one run, five by two runs and six by three runs. In the last 11 games alone, the Irish have posted five comeback wins (one of which was won in the last inning)-plus three other victories where the winning run came in the final inning.
Pittsburgh opened the scoring with a run in the first, after Chris Delsignore's single and stolen base, Lou Melucci's bunt single and a dropped ball by first baseman Matt Strickroth on an attempted pickoff. The Irish answered with two runs, as O'Toole sent a 2-0 pitch into the gusting winds and over the rightfield fence before Jeff Wagner's single down the leftfield line plated Brant Ust.
Doug Caraway's RBI double tied the game in the second inning and the Panthers went back ahead with two runs in the third, thanks to Melucci's full-count double and Lydic's 1-2 home run to right field.
O'Toole then drilled another solo shot to right field, on a 3-1 pitch in the third, and the Irish tied the game when Jeff Perconte's groundout scored Ben Cooke in the fourth.
Notre Dame stretched to an 8-4 lead with four runs in the fifth. O'Toole walked on four pitches and Porzel stroked a single to left field, with the runners moving up on wild pitch before Ust's sacrifice fly to center. A second wild pitch allowed Porzel to score and Wagner walked before Strickroth parked a 1-1 pitch over the fence in left-center field for his first career home run with the Irish.
Lenhart connected on a 1-2 pitch in the seventh inning, slicing the Irish lead to 8-6, and the Panthers then rallied with two outs in the ninth, versus junior righthander Scott Cavey. Lenhart and Lydic both reached base on slow grounders to the left side of the infield. The runners then moved up on a passed ball before Steve Dickinson's single to right field produced an 8-8 game.
Porzel then added to his reputation for hitting dramatic home runs, sending a first-pitch offering from Vickroy over the leftfield fence for his fifth home run of the season (and fourth in the last 13 games). Porzel also hit a leadoff, eighth-inning home run earlier in the week to give Notre Dame a 5-4 lead over Detroit (the Irish went on to win 6-4). As a freshman, Porzel's leadoff home run in the seventh and final inning sparked a three-run rally and a 4-3 win over West Virginia. A day later, his two-out, two-strike shot beat WVU in the 15th inning (5-3).
NOTES: In other BIG EAST action Saturday, Rutgers posted a 9-5 win over 10th-place Connecticut (3-9) while St. John's (6-5) moved into a tie for fourth with a 2-0 win at eighth-place West Virginia (5-9) ... two other games were rained out and are rescheduled for Monday: Seton Hall (5-5) at Villanova (6-5) and Providence (5-6) at Georgetown (2-9) ... Wagner's hit was the 224th of his career, moving him into a tie with Joe Binkiewicz for 10th in Irish history ... Ust moved into sole possession of ninth place on the Irish career runs scored list (155) ... Ust extended his hitting streak to 11 games, batting 1-for-1 with two walks and a sacrifice fly ... Ust is now hitting .429 (85-for-198) in his career during BIG EAST regular-season games, just shy of the record (.432) set by Seton Hall's Marteese Robinson from 1985-87 ... Notre Dame is now 135-27 (.833) all-time at Eck Stadium, including 102-18 (.850) during the five-year Mainieri era and 65-8 in the last 73 home games ... the Irish are 47-11 in their last 58 BIG EAST regular-season games while owning the best BIG EAST regular-season winning percentage over the past four seasons (55-18, .753).
PITTSBURGH 1-1-2 0-0-0 2-0-2 8 14 1
NOTRE DAME 2-0-1 1-4-0 0-0-1 9 10 2
Knauf, Lazeski (5), Vickroy (7) and Caraway.
Kalita, Cavey (8), Duff (9) and O'Toole.