PITTSBURGH, Pa.- Junior righthanders Alex Shilliday and Brad Lidge highlighted a dominating 25-strikeout doubleheader by the Notre Dame pitching staff while every starter recorded a hit in both games, as the Irish remained atop the BIG EAST Conference standings Saturday night with an 11-0, 12-1 sweep of Pittsburgh at Three Rivers Stadium.
Notre Dame (29-10, 10-0 BIG EAST)--winners of nine straight and 19 of its last 20--has won 30 of its last 36 BIG EAST regular-season games and is 44-17 over the past three seasons in all games vs. BIG EAST teams.
Pittsburgh (8-21-2, 2-14) managed just one hit in the opener and four in the nightcap, with a late unearned run preventing a two-game shutout. The Panthers hit just four balls out of the infield over the 16 innings.
Shilliday (8-2) and Lidge (6-2) both pitched seven innings while sophomore righhanders Steve Szczepanski and Scott Cavey each pitched an inning to close out the nightcap. The Irish hurlers' dominating 48 outs broke down as follows: 25 strikeouts, 15 groundouts, 3 double-play balls, 3 infield popups, 1 caught stealing and 1 flyout. The Irish allowed just nine baserunners on four hits, four walks and one hit batter while facing 53 batters, five over the 16-inning minimum.
Every starter had a hit for the Irish in both games while offensive highlights in the nightcap included home runs from freshman leftfielder Alec Porzel, senior first baseman Dan Leatherman, junior centerfielder Allen Greene and junior DH Jeff Wagner. Senior second baseman Todd Frye--who is 11-for-23 over the last seven games--went 4-for-6 in the doubleheader, with two walks and his seventh sacrifice bunt of the season.
Shilliday--who is 14-3 in his last 17 decisions with the Irish, in addition to going 9-0 last summer in the competitive Alaska League--was working on a no-hitter in the sixth inning before Aaron Vicari laid a leadoff, first-pitch bunt down the first-base line. Shilliday ultimately faced just 23 batters, two over the seven-inning minimum, allowing one hit, one walk and one hit batter while totaling nine strikeouts.
Saturday's first game marked the first solo one-hitter by an Irish pitcher in five years, since David Sinnes posted a 6-0 win at Evansville on April 24, 1993 (Chris McKeown and Tim Kalita one-hit Bowling Green last season). The last Irish no-hitter came May 11, 1988, when Brian Piotrowicz posted a 4-0 seven-inning win over Ball State.
Shilliday allowed just one ball to leave the infield--Harry Ciavarella's flyout to center field that ended the game. He had two strikeouts in each of the first four innings while serving up eight groundouts and two infield popups to go along with his nine K's (the other out came on a caught-stealing).
Lidge kept things going in the nightcap, racking up a career-best 12 strikeouts and facing just 25 batters over seven innings, allowing two hits and three walks while totaling six groundouts, one infield popup and two double-play balls. Lidge's 12 K's equal the most by an Irish pitcher--former teammate Darin Schmalz also had 12, in a nine-inning 1996 game vs. Georgetown--since Bob Bartlett totaled 13 K's vs. Bethel in 1980.
Szczepanski yielded an unearned run on two hits in the eighth, with one K, while Cavey came on to strike out three straight batters in the ninth.
Notre Dame jumped ahead in the opener, when Greene doubled home Leatherman in the third, before adding five unearned runs in the fifth, courtesy of catcher David Hoopes' bounced throw to first after dropping Leatherman's third strike. The five-run fifth included RBI singles from senior shortstop J.J. Brock, sophomore rightfielder Jeff Felker and sophomore third baseman Brant Ust while Wagner snapped out of an 0-for-15 career slump vs. Pitt with a two-run triple to right-center.
The Irish added five runs in the sixth. Greene brought home Porzel with a bases-loaded walk and Brock then plated Leatherman and Frye on a single to right-center, with Greene and Brock moving up on an error by rightfielder Chris Delsignore. Wagner added an RBI single to left and Ust's sacrifice fly brought home Brock as an unearned run.
Porzel put the Irish on the board in the third inning of the nightcap, plating Ust and Leatherman with a shot to left-center for his fourth home run of the season. Leatherman and Greene then both hit their seventh home runs of the season, to lead off the fourth and fifth, respectively. Brock followed Greene's home run with a single to left and Felker then stroked a double to the left-center gap. The Panthers tried to nail Brock on a close play at the plate but the ball ended up with the pitcher Kevin Lazeski, who was backing up the plate and threw back to second in an attempt to catch Felker overrunning the bag. But the ball skipped into the vacated center-field area, with Felker coming all the way around to score on the error.
Wagner led off the seventh by drilling a first-pitch offering from Jory Coughenour to dead-center field, tying Ust for the team lead (12) while extending his Irish career home run record to 39. Wagner's 19 career home runs in BIG EAST games trail only Mo Vaughn (26, Seton Hall, 1987-89) and Jason Grabowski (21, UConn, 1995-97) in BIG EAST history.
The Irish capped the scoring with four runs in the eighth. Frye doubled home Porzel before freshman pinch-hitter Andrew Stohl' sent a bases-loaded, slow roller down the third base line that hit off the bag, with senior catcher Mike Knecht scoring on the play. Ust finished things off with a two-run single to left, scoring Frye and sophomore Larry Zimont.
NOTRE DAME 0-0-1 0-5-5 0 -- 11 14 0 PITTSBURGH 0-0-0 0-0-0 0 -- 0 1 1Shilliday and Wagner. Balazentis, Galllick (6), Irvin (6) and Hoopes.
NOTRE DAME (29-10, 10-0 BIG EAST) 0-3-0 1-3-0 1-4-0 -- 12 14 2 PITTSBURGH (8-21-1, 2-14 BIG EAST) 0-0-0 0-0-0 0-0-0 -- 1 4 2Lidge, Szczepanski (8), Cavey (9) and Knecht. Lazeski, Coughenour (5), S. Schultz (8) and Hoopes.
NOTES: Notre Dame has home runs in 18 of its last 21 games (38 in that stretch) and 56 overall, 10 shy of last year's team record ... the Irish season batting average is up to .324, including .404 in BIG EAST games ... Ust's 5-for-8 night boosted his batting avg.to .421 (.590 in the BIG EAST) while Frye upped his avg. to .277 ... the team ERA has dropped to 4.21, just 2.87 in the 31 games since the Miami series ... the Irish staff has 316 K's, 83 shy of the team record, and is averaging 8.58 K's per nine innings (3rd-best in Irish history and best since 1963) ... other BIG EAST averages: Leatherman (.516), Brock (.488) and Wagner (.439) ... Ust (1st, .454) and Wagner (3rd, .422) now rank among the top-three career leaders in BIG EAST batting avg. while Brock (.408) has slipped to 9th ... other BIG EAST action Saturday: 2nd-place Rutgers (10-1) swept at 7th-place UConn (6-8), 9-6 and 13-8 (in 11); 3rd-place Providence (10-4-1) swept at home over 9th-place Georgetown (3-13), 7-1 and 2-1; 5th-place Seton Hall (9-4) swept at home over 8th-place Villanova (4-9), 10-2 and 12-0; 6th-place West Virginia (7-4) split at home with 11th-place Boston College (1-9-1), 8-4 and 6-9 ... 3rd-place St. John's (7-3) was idle.