April 15, 2006
Sean Gaston drew a five-pitch walk, Ross Brezovsky drove the right-center gap for a game-tying triple and Alex Nettey deposited the next pitch over the leftfield fence for the game-ending home run, as the 21st-ranked Notre Dame baseball team kept the nation's longest winning streak alive in dramatic fashion with Saturday's 7-5 victory over St. John's. Notre Dame (27-8, 11-1 BIG EAST) - which again played in front of an Eck Stadium record-setting crowd - saw a 4-0 lead disappear in the eighth but staged its own rally for the team's 17th straight victory, equaling the longest win streak of the 12-year Paul Mainieri era and one shy of matching the team record set by the 1991 squad. The Irish also now have won 11 consecutive BIG EAST games, tying the second-longest win streak in 22 seasons of BIG EAST baseball while remaining ahead of second-place Connecticut (11-3) in the conference standings.
For the second time in the series and third time in the past eight home games, Notre Dame set an Eck Stadium record for tickets sold (3,101), surpassing the 3,052 from Thursday's doubleheader versus St. John's and the 3,028 sold for the Friday-night series opener versus Pittsburgh.
The two longest winning streaks posted by Division I teams this season each have spanned 18 victories, by Mississippi State (Feb. 24-March 24) and Old Dominion (March 4-April 2). Three other teams have compiled 17-game winning streaks in 2006, including Florida State from Feb. 11-March 17.
Senior first baseman Craig Cooper struck out and then walked twice before sending a 2-1 pitch through the left side of the infield for a sixth-inning single that extended his hitting streak to 16 games, tied for the third-longest in the Mainieri era.
Nettey's heroics marked the 12th time in the Mainieri era - but the first time at Eck Stadium in five years - that the Irish have won on a game-ending home run. The three previous Notre Dame wins to end on a home run have come in other stadiums: Joe Thaman's 2002 blast vs. Arkansas-Little Rock (at San Antonio's Wolff Stadium); Brian Stavisky's shot that upset top-ranked Rice in the 2002 College World Series; and Cooper's home run that beat Purdue in a 2005 game at South Bend's Coveleski Stadium.
The last time an Eck Stadium crowd had been treated to a game-ending home run was nearly five years earlier to the day (April 19, 2001), as Ken Meyer's grand slam completed a two-out rally that beat Central Michigan, 6-4, and helped the Irish claim the nation's No. 1 ranking days later (Meyer, his wife and newborn son visited Eck Stadium just two weeks ago, during the series vs. Pittsburgh).
The teams combined to score in just one of the first seven innings - when the Irish pushed across four runs in the second - but St. John's (22-11, 8-4) rallied to take the lead by scoring five times in the eighth. The Irish then failed to cash in a bases-loaded chance in the bottom of that inning but delivered in the ninth, as three straight batters did their job with no outs on the board as the thrilling game came to an end.
SJU closer Rich Armento (1-2) had wriggled out of the jam in the eighth but the freshman righthander failed to register any more outs, first losing the lefthanded-hitting Gaston on the five-pitch walk to start the bottom of the ninth. The Red Storm then appeared ready for the bunt from the next lefthander batter but Brezovsky had instructions from head coach Paul Mainieri to show the bunt early in the at-bat but then swing for the fences - in hopes of replicating his recent two-run blast that capped the late comeback win over Ball State.
Brezovsky followed his coach's advice, working to a 1-1 count before pulling a fastball into the right-center gap and sliding in for the game-tying triple. Nettey had launched his first home run of the season earlier in the week versus Oakland and quickly delivered the fly ball needed to win the game, sending Armento's split-finger fastball over the leftfield fence before being mobbed by his green-clad teammates after completing the fourth home-run trot of his Irish career.
For the third time this season, Jeff Manship turned in a strong start for the Irish without the benefit of picking up the victory. The junior righthander limited St. John's to a pair of runs on six hits and four walks over seven-plus innings, adding seven strikeouts in his 104-pitch outing that included 59 strikes. Manship entered the day with the third-best ERA and second-lowest opponent batting average among BIG EAST pitchers and remained among the favorites for BIG EAST pitcher-of-the-year honors, with his season stats now including a 2.04 ERA, a .194 opponent average, a 4.4 K-to-walk ratio (61 Ks, 14 BB) and 15 more innings pitched (53) than hits allowed (38).
St. John's scored in the first inning of both games during Thursday's doubleheader and nearly added another first-inning run in game-3, after Will Vogl's leadoff single and a sacrifice bunt - but senior catcher Cody Rizzo gunned the runner out trying to steal third base.
Notre Dame - now 13-1 at home this season and riding a 25-3 extended run over the past six weeks - sent 10 batters to the plate while claiming its 4-0 lead in the second inning. Matt Bransfield went the other way on a 1-2 pitch from freshman lefthander Scott Barnes (2 IP, 4 R, 4 H, 4 BB, K) for a leadoff single to right field and Brezovsky walked on four pitches before Nettey's bunt put two runners in scoring position. Lopez - who ultimately batted 3-for-3 with two doubles and a walk - had been the team's leading RBI producer all season and the 8-hole hitter came through again, turning on a 2-1 pitch and sending it into left field for a standup double and the 2-0 lead.
Cooper later walked on four pitches and Brett Lilley followed with a one-out single down the leftfield line, plating Lopez on the opposite-field hit (0-1 pitch). Danny Dressman made it a 4-0 game by sending a 1-1 pitch into center field - and the Irish then nearly had a "big inning" (five-plus runs) for the seventh straight game, but the leftfielder Bryan Dirr made a diving catch to rob Bransfield of his second hit in the inning.
SJU's Jeff Grantham drew a leadoff walk in the third but Lopez, Brezovsky and Cooper turned a tough 6-4-3 double play to quickly erase the runner. The visitors then threatened in the sixth, loading the bases with one out after singles from Vogel and Sam DeLuca and a rare error on Lopez (just his fifth of the season) on a double-play ball. But Manship forced Anthony Smith into a rightside groundball - with Cooper throwing home for the forceout - fittingly sending Manship's former Reagan High School teammate Chris Anninos to the plate for one of the day's biggest at-bats. The matchup of San Antonio natives ended quickly, as Anninos went down swinging at a 1-2 pitch to maintain the 4-0 score.
The Red Storm had another chance in the seventh after singles by Gil Zayas and Grantham and Jarod Hickle's sac. bunt. Vogl then flew out to right field and a strong throw from Dressman kept the runner at third base, with Dirr then going down looking at an 0-2 pitch as Manship again was dealing in the clutch.
The go-ahead sequence for St. John's included five hits, a walk, an error and a wild pitch. A DeLuca walk and Chris Joachim's single ended the day for Manship but lefthander Mike Dury could not retire the lefthanded-hitting Smith, as his single to left-center put SJU on the board. Freshman righthander Kyle Weiland (1-3) then took the mound but his perfect save-conversion mark (9-of-9) came to an end, as four runs came home on an Anninos single, just the sixth error of the season from Brezovsky, a wild pitch and Hickle's go-ahead single up the middle.
UPDATED TEAM NOTES - The current seniors also were part of a 17-game winning streak as freshmen, spanning March 24-April 14 of that 2003 season (the same time frame as the current March 25-April 15 run) ... the only other 17-game win streak in the program's 114-year history came in 1907 while the 1991 team won 18 straight from April 7-28 of that season ... ND is 18-1 in its past 19 games vs. BIG EAST teams ... ND had totaled just 11 home runs in its first 30 games of the season but left the yard eight times in five games this week ... the Irish have faced a total of only eight deficits in the win streak, spanning a total of just 14.0 innings (only two have lasted more than 1.5 innings) ... the Irish are outhitting the opponents .353- .252 in the win streak (2.65 staff ERA, .975 fielding pct./17 Es) ... Mike Amrhein (21, in '97) and Jeff Felker (18, in '99) are the only Mainieri-era players with longer hit streaks than Cooper ...ND now leads the series vs. SJU 19-10 (10-5 at Eck Stadium) ... ND's strong all-around 2001 team is the only squad in BIG EAST history to post more consecutive wins in BIG EAST play than the current team (Seton Hall's potent 1989 team also won 11 straight BIG EAST games) ... Lopez is third on the team with a .354 overall batting average but is batting 84 points higher (team-best .438, 21-for-48) with runners in scoring position, helping produce his team-best 30 RBI (his 5-to-1 ratio of RBI to errors is an elite number for a college shortstop) ... Lopez now owns a .485 career batting avg. vs. SJU (16-for-33, 7 RBI, 7 R, BB) ... the Irish pitchers have been airtight with the bases-loaded this season, holding the opponents to .135 batting with three men on base (5-for-37, BB, 4 SF, 12 Ks, 2B) ... Manship has yet to allow a run when facing a bases-loaded situation (4 BF, 0-for-4, 2 Ks) ... ND as a team is batting .346 with runners in scoring position while holding opposing batters to .268 batting with RISP ... Lopez had hit just three doubles all season before his pair of two-baggers on Saturday ... the game marked just the fourth time all season that ND has totaled three errors (none with 4-plus Es) ... despite the miscues, ND's 10 regular position players have combined for just 30 errors in 35 games (at their regular positions) ... ND's strong all-around season stats include a .321 team batting avg., 3.25 staff ERA and .972 fielding pct. (on pace for team record) ... the Irish are batting .353 in BIG EAST play with the same number for its league ERA (3.53) ... Cooper (11 RBI, 16 R, 4 HR, 3B, 2B, 7 BB, 3 Ks, 4 SB) and Lopez (15 RBI, 8 R, 3 2B, 3 BB, HBP, K, 2 SB) share the team batting league in BIG EAST play, both at .468/22-for-47 ... the ND pitchers still have allowed just four home runs all season (none in the 14 home games) ... ND improved to 13-1 when hitting a home run, 25-1 when leading at the end of the 7th and 23-3 when allowing 0-5 runs ... Saturday's game marked the second time this season (2-5, also game-1 vs. SJU) that ND has won despite being outhit ... the Irish are 23-3 in games with Cooper in the leadoff spot and 25-2 when Jeremy Barnes start ... the Irish have totaled 175 more wins than losses while compiling an .815 win pct. during the month of April in the Mainieri era (227-51-1).
St. John's (22-11, 8-4 BIG EAST) 0-00 0-0-0 0-5-0 - 5 11 2
Notre Dame (27-8, 11-1 BIG EAST) 0-4-0 0-0-0 0-0-3 - 7 9 3