April 24, 2007
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Ross Brezovsky's two-run double and a three-run blast by Mike Dury highlighted another big inning for the Notre Dame offense while Tony Langford came out of the bullpen to deliver a pair of 5th-inning strikeouts with the bases loaded, as the Irish baseball team won for the ninth time in the past 11 games, 7-3, in Tuesday-night action at Eck Stadium. Notre Dame (22-18) matched Ball State with eight hits in the game, but the hosts had 13 other baserunners - thanks to eight walks, four hit batters and an infield fielding error.
(Note: ND baseball fans are advised that live video streaming - free through the All-Access program at und.com - will be available for all remaining Irish baseball games at Eck Stadium this season, with the exception of the May 18-19 games vs. UConn, which will be telecast on CSTV. The video stream will include a direct tie-in with the audio broadcast on und.com. Look for the "WATCH" links on the main page of und.com, to view the Irish during the stretch run at The Eck).
Langford - who missed all of the 2006 season due to reconstructive elbow surgery - could be a key to Notre Dame's bullpen production in the final month of the regular season, with his season stats now including a 1.74 ERA and four times as many strikeouts (12) as walks (3), in 10.1 innings. The junior righthander's seven appearances now include a 3-0 record, plus a save, with his five hits allowed and a lowly .139 opponent batting average.
Tuesday's high-drama moment saw Langford take the mound with the bases full, 1-out and 3-hole batter Kory Benbow at the plate at the potential tying run. Benbow worked the count to 2-2 but Langford froze him on the next pitch for the second out. Cleanup batter Matt Stoeklen, also a righthanded batter, then had his chance at tying the game with one swing but he went down swinging at a 1-2 pitch to leave all three runners stranded.
Langford went on to face just 10 batters in 2.2 innings, allowing a pair of hits while striking out four Ball State batters. Sophomore lefthander Sam Elam earlier came just shy of qualifying for the win, giving up just one run on two hits and four walks in his 4.1 innings (with one strikeout).
The Irish played error-free for the fourth time this season while inching the team's season fielding percentage up to .958 Notre Dame has totaled just 12 errors on the current 10-game homestand, including one other recent errorless game, plus five with 1-error and one game with more than 2 Es. Three of the errors on the homestand have been made by pitchers while the middle infielders - junior shortstop Brett Lilley (0) and sophomore second baseman Jeremy Barnes (1) - have combined for just one defensive miscue in that 10-game span (the ND outfield has no Es on the homestand and senior 1B Mike Dury has just one).
Notre Dame's most productive inning all season has been the 3rd and that continued to be the case on Tuesday, as Brezovsky and Dury combined to quickly bring home five runs. The Irish now have totaled 48 runs in the 3rd inning (in 40 games) while batting at nearly a .400 clip in the inning (.393), which typically corresponds with the second plate appearances for the top of the lineup.
Switch-hitting freshman Austin Pearce - whose first start of the season made him the sixth different ND player to start in right field this season - sparked the game's first scoring sequence by coaxing a 1-out, full-count walk versus sophomore RHP Jay Broughton (0-2), who then hit the leadoff batter Lilley with the next pitch and post A.J. Pollock on a five-pitch walk. Junior leftfielder Ross Brezovsky attacked the next pitch and pulled a sharp double down the rightfield line, plating two runners (and nearly sending Pollock home as well).
Two batters later, the switch-hitting Dury cleared the bases with his team-leading eighth home run of the season, launching the ball well over the rightfield fence for a quick 5-0 lead. Dury now has doubled his home run total from the previous three seasons combined while his 36 hits this season include 14 other extra-base hits (13 doubles and triple), plus 14 singles.
The Irish now have totaled 12 "big innings" (5-plus runs) this season, just three shy of the total big innings from the 2006 ND team. Four of those big innings have come in the past three games, with five of the 12 taking place on the current 8-2 homestand.
As much as the 3rd has been a big inning for the Irish this season, the 5th (a key momentum inning) has been a struggle for the 2007 Notre Dame offense. The Irish entered Tuesday's game batting just .213 in the 5th and being outscored 28-11 in the inning (compared to a 229-163 ND edge in all other innings combined). Notre Dame preceded to chip away at that run margin by scoring twice in the key middle inning vs. Ball State, with sophomore LHP Tom Mueller (the third of six BSU relievers) on the mound .
Dury moved to the righthanded side of the plate and walked on four pitches to start the 5th, before motoring to third when fellow co-captain Danny Dressman pulled a 1-2 pitch down the rightfield line. Barnes then sent an 0-2 pitch through the left side (scoring Dury) and the Irish executed the double steal, followed by Ryan Smith's leftside groundout that pushed the lead to 7-1.
Lilley (1-for-1, 3 HBP) reached on all four of his plate appearances, pushing his season on-base pct. to .511 (good for 17th-best in the nation, among players from nearly 300 D-I teams). Lilley now has totaled multiple times hit-by-pitch in 12 career games with the Irish, including three straight. His 3 HBPs vs. Ball State marked the first time since the fourth game of his ND career (4 HBPs, at Central Florida) that he has been hit more than twice in the same game.
Lilley's career HBP total (70) remains 6th in the NCAA record book but now is just four behind former Texas first baseman Jeff Ontiveros (74; '99-'02) and six back of recent Cincinnati player Mark Muscenti (76; '04-'07). The top three spots belong to former San Francisco player Tony Hurtado (92; '97-'00), Lilley's former ND teammate Cody Rizzo (84; '03-'06) and former Florida Atlantic player Gabe Sommariba (81, '99-'02).
NOTES - Lilley's impressive errorless streak now spans 19 games and 82 fielding chances (all at SS) ... ND has homered in three straight games, after not even managing back-to-back games with home runs previously this season ... the Irish now have won four of the past five series meetings with BSU and own a 16-12 overall series edge (ND has outscored BSU by only seven runs, 121-114, in the tightly-contested 28-game series).
Ball State (15-25) 0-0-0 0-1-0 0-2-0 - 3 8 2
Notre Dame (22-18) 0-0-5 0-2-0 0-0-0 - 7 8 0
Jay Broughton (L, 0-2), Adam Quinn (3), Josh Vollmer (4), Tom Mueller (5), Brad Piatt (6), Aaron Hammonds (7), Luke Behning (8) and Zach Dygert, Alex Schmid (7).
Sam Elam, Tony Langford (5; W, 3-0), Mike Dury (8), David Mills (9) and Ryan Smith.