April 19, 2006
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Sean Gaston's sacrifice fly followed 10th-inning singles by Jeremy Barnes and Greg Lopez, as the 16th-ranked Notre Dame baseball team overcame a season-high four errors - and the absence of two starting infielders - to survive a 4-3 game with IPFW, setting the team single-season record with its 19th consecutive victory. Notre Dame (29-8) now owns the longest win streak by any Division I team this season and is one victory shy of reaching 30 wins quicker than all but two teams in the 114-year history of Notre Dame baseball.
David Gruener pitched strong enough to win but the sophomore lefthander left the game with a 3-2 deficit, after back-to-back errors and the only hit he allowed - a home run by Ryan Keena - gave IPFW (15-17) a brief lead in the top of the sixth. The Irish quickly tied the game in the bottom of the frame but the action carried into extra innings before the winning sequence yielded Notre Dame's 27th victory in the past 30 games.
Senior first baseman Craig Cooper's RBI single in the third inning pushed his hitting streak to 18 games, matching Jeff Felker's 1999 tear for second-longest in the 12-year Paul Mainieri era behind Mike Amrhein's 21-game hitting streak in 1997.
Freshman righthander Kyle Weiland (2-3) picked up the win as Notre Dame's third relief pitcher of the game, retiring five of the six batters he faced (one via strikeout) in 1.2 innings of work. Gruener and Weiland combined with juniors Jess Stewart and Mike Dury in limiting IPFW to a pair of hits over the 10 innings, with the Irish pitchers totaling six strikeouts and no walks but still facing six batters over the minimum (36) due to three of the errors and a pair of hit batters (one runner was erased on a double play).
A win on Friday night over Rutgers would put Notre Dame at 30 wins in just 38 games, a start bested by just the record-setting 2004 (30-5) and 2001 (30-5-1) teams. The Irish are 15-1 at Eck Stadium this season and are 30-2-1 in their past 33 home games, spanning the 2005 and '06 seasons.
Just four days earlier, Gaston's walk had sparked the ninth-inning rally as the Irish scored three times to beat St. John's, 7-5. The junior catcher's heroics came at the end of Wednesday night's sequence, lifting the first pitch from junior righthander Adam Gibson into shallow left field. With two outs on the board, Notre Dame head coach Paul Mainieri sent Barnes home from third base and the freshman slid in as the throw was arriving, with the ball being dislodged from catcher Brent Doty as Barnes tagged home plate once and touched it again just to be on the safe side.
Barnes - no stranger to clutch late-game hits, after delivering the two-run single that beat Pittsburgh two weeks ago - snapped out of his 4-for-26 funk (.154) during the current seven-game homestand, pulling the first pitch from sophomore righthander Cole Uebelhor (3-4) through the left side of the infield for a leadoff single in the 10th. Gibson induced Matt Bransfield into a harmless flyout but Notre Dame's top hitter with runners on base then strode to the plate in the form of Lopez.
Lopez's previous at-bat had yielded an impressive hit the other way, sending a first-pitch from Uebelhor that sailed through the right side of the infield. With the setting sun beating down on the right side of the infield, the senior shortstop again jumped on the first pitch and sent a scorcher that had double down the rightfield line written all over it. First baseman Caleb Smith appeared shocked to find the ball rip into the glove on his left hand but he failed to squeeze the well-struck ball, with the play ultimately scored a hit (Barnes scooted to third as the ball trickled into foul territory).
Notre Dame's pair of sophomore infielders - third baseman Brett Lilley and second baseman Ross Brezovsky - both missed the game due to injury but could return to action for the weekend series versus Rutgers.
Gruener, who struck out three IPFW batters, was charged with three runs but just one of them was earned, with his only hit allowed being the three-run blast off the bat of Keena (after infielder errors had allowed the No. 8 and 9 hitters to reach). Brezovsky's injury put Barnes at second base while his fellow freshman Eddy Mendiola filled Lilley's spot at third. Both of those players ended up making the costly errors in the sixth, as the backpedaling Mendiola misplayed Brent Alwine's groundball while Barnes dropped the toss from Gruener after Zach Walton's sacrifice bunt.
Alex Nettey's single up the middle (on an 0-2 pitch) sparked the game's first scoring sequence, as the Irish scored twice in the third inning versus senior lefthander Eric Lambert (5.1 IP, 3 R, 7 H). Mendiola then reached on a fielder's choice and moved up on a balk before scoring on senior catcher Cody Rizzo's double over the shortstop's head (on another 0-2 pitch). Rizzo - who entered the game batting nearly 100 points higher (.348) this season with runners in scoring position - then stole third base and scored when Cooper pulled an 0-1 pitch through the left side of the infield for the 2-0 lead.
Notre Dame has faced a total of 10 deficits in the win streak but only two of them have lasted more than one-and-a-half innings, including IPFW's shortlived lead that spanned just a few minutes of game time. Junior rightfielder Danny Dressman continued his impressive opposite-field hitting by sending Lambert's first pitch of the sixth into the leftfield corner for a standup double. Barnes then bunted the tying run over to third and Bransfield laced the next pitch into the left-center gap for an RBI double. It was the team-leading 12th double of the season for the senior leftfielder but his first in the past nine games.
NOTES - The Irish have allowed just one earned run in each of the past two games, dropping the staff ERA to 3.12 (which would rank as the best by an ND staff since the 1992 pitchers posted a 3.06) ... the Irish had not played an extra-inning game since the second week of the season (a 2-0 loss to Arizona, in 10 innings) ... Gaston (1-for-3, BB) is riding a career-best eight-game hitting streak ... the Irish are 53-10 vs. teams from the state of Indiana during the Mainieri era, including other 2006 wins over Indiana State, Valparaiso, Ball State and Manchester ... ND used its 34th different batting order of the season.
IPFW (15-17) 0-0-0 0-0-3 0-0-0 0 - 3 2 0
#16 Notre Dame (29-8) 0-0-2 0-0-1 0-0-0 0 - 4 11 4