April 25, 2005
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Sean Gaston and Greg Lopez each hit three-run home runs to spark a strong day from the bottom of the Notre Dame batting order and Dan Kapala notched another complete game in the opener, as the Irish baseball team saw its winning streak come to an end - yet still is riding an eight-game unbeaten streak - after Monday's 9-4, 7-7 scores versus Villanova in BIG EAST doubleheader action at Eck Stadium.
Just 16 days ago, Notre Dame (24-15-1) had lost its series opener versus Boston College to fall under .500 in the BIG EAST standings (3-4) - but the Irish have not lost in their past eight conference games, improving to 10-4-1 (.700) and moving percentage points ahead of BC (11-5/.688; after Monday's 7-2 loss to Georgetown) into second place in the BIG EAST standings. St. John's (11-3; two games lost to rainout) remains the frontrunner and will play host to 4th-place Rutgers (8-7) and Notre Dame during the next two weekends before a bye weekend and a final series at 5th-place Villanova (23-12-2; 7-8-1). The Irish also have series left at Pittsburgh and at home vs. WVU.
That all shakes out to Notre Dame suddenly being able to control its own fate in the race for the BIG EAST regular-season title and the corresponding top seed at the BIG EAST Tournament. BC next remains at home for series vs. Villanova and Pittsburgh, followed by a bye weekend and a series at 6th-place Connecticut (6-8). Pittsburgh and West Virginia are tied for 7th (5-8) and will play a key showdown series next weekend at Pitt's Trees Field (Seton Hall and Georgetown are tied for 9th, at 5-11). Notre Dame would own the head-to-head tiebreaker with BC if the teams finish with identical records, but they likely will finish with a different number of games played (BC currently has played one more game).
The final BIG EAST standings will be based on winning pct. and not the traditional "games back" (that terminology is not applicable in this case) - meaning, for example, that a team with a 19-4 record would finish ahead of a 20-5 team. Rainouts only can be made up on the weekend/makeup day of each series (ND and RU each lost one game while SJU and UConn did not play two games during the first week of league play). BIG EAST policy dictates that a series that already has been extended a day must end in time for the visiting team to depart for their flight (thus not having to stay another night, miss more class days, etc.). A similar scenario existed a few weeks ago at Rutgers, when RU beat the Irish in the bottom of the 10th (that game was on the verge of ending in a tie).
The tie is just the second in Paul Mainieri's 11 seasons at Notre Dame and his third in 23 seasons as a college head coach. Notre Dame's 2001 team played to a tie with Navy at the Fresno State Classic, with time limits set on those games to keep that eight-team tournament schedule in place (many other college games have ended in ties when played at fields without lights).
Notre Dame is 10-1-1 in its past 12 games, including no losses in the past eight games (both overall and in league play). Only two previous Irish teams have logged longer unbeaten streaks in BIG EAST action: the 2001 team's 18 consecutive BIG EAST wins (a league record, set from March 31-May 5 of that season) and 10 straight BIG EAST wins by the 1998 Irish squad (March 28-April 18).
Gaston's three-run shot provided an early 8-3 lead in the seven-inning opener while Lopez was the hero in the nightcap, going the other way and riding the wind to clear the rightfield fence and forge the 7-7 tie in the bottom of the 9th. Per BIG EAST policy, the game was halted after the 10th inning and will be recorded as a tie due to Villanova's flight schedule out of Chicago (the game had exceeded the predetermined time that the final inning could start).
Lopez hit 4-for-7 and Gaston 4-for-8 to lead a .406 batting day (13-for-32) from Notre Dame's #6 through #9 hitters, with the 1-5 hitters batting just .275 (11-for-40). Lopez batted 8th and the lefthanded-hitting Gaston was 9th in the opener but each was shifted up for the series finale, with Gaston slotted 6th and Lopez 7th (VU started a righthander in each game).
Kapala (3-1) - whose complete game beat UConn last week in an extra-inning thriller (3-2, in 8) - avoided major trouble versus the Wildcats while allowing four runs on eight hits, four walks and a hit batter. The 6-foot-5, 225-pound righthander located 69 of his 111 pitches for strikes (62%) and was effective keeping the ball low in the zone to avoid the gusting winds that caused problems for VU's outfielders all day. Kapala's 21 outs included 13 via groundballs, three strikeouts, an infield lineout and just four outfield flyouts. He allowed four leadoff batters to reach but then held the Wildcats to 3-for-13 batting (.231) with runners in scoring position.
Sophomore righthander Kevin Mulvey (3-2) was touched for six earned runs and three unearned in the six-inning stint, allowing eight hits and two walks while hitting four Irish batters and striking out three.
Villanova entered the series ranked third among BIG EAST teams in both staff ERA (3.53) and low opponent batting average (.241) but the Irish offense hit .343 vs. a Wildcats staff that boasted each of its top three starters and setup man Ted Aust ranked among the BIG EAST's top-12 ERA leaders (the VU staff ERA for the series was 6.38, nearly double its season mark).
Notre Dame held early leads in the opener (3-1 and 4-3) but the visitors scored the next four runs and ultimately were three outs away from earning a split of the day's action, with senior Mike Grodecki and his BIG EAST-leading six saves on the mound. Steve Andres reached to lead off the bottom of the 9th when his windblown popup to shallow left-center landed in no-man's-land. Gaston then promptly pulled a 1-0 pitch into right field and Lopez went to his opposite field on the next pitch, riding the gusts to clear the rightfield fence for his second home run of the season and fourth of his career. Alex Nettey later reached on a two-out single deep in the hole and advanced on the errant throw by the shortstop - but Brett Lilley flew out on the next pitch.
Both teams had chances in the 10th. Robert Parks started the inning with a full-count walk versus All-America closer Ryan Doherty and moved up on Alan Day's sac. bunt - but Doherty blew a 2-2 pitch by James Dolbier and induced a flyout from Mark Cardillo to end the threat.
Moments later, Matt Edwards drew his own full-count walk versus Grodecki and pinch-runner Cody Rizzo scooted to second on a groundout off the bat of pinch-hitter Tony Langford. Gaston then reached on the intentional walk and the hustle from pinch-runner Eddie Smith wiped out VU's only play on a scorcher from Lopez that was smothered by the diving shortstop Derek Shunk. That left the bases loaded - but pinch-hitter Matt Bransfield popped up the next pitch to end the game.
Villanova had opened the nightcap with a run versus freshman lefthander Wade Korpi but Notre Dame answered with a pair of runs. Lilley drew a full-count walk and motored all the way home on an Edwards double into the left-center gap. Sophomore righthander Mike Loree (6 IP, 10 H, 4 R, BB, K) then hit Craig Cooper with the next pitch and Gaston dropped a 2-out single into the opposite-field gap (left-center), plating Edwards for the 2-1 lead.
The Irish added a run in the 2nd - after singles from Danny Dressman, Nettey and Edwards (a 2-out, RBI hit to the shortstop) - but VU later tied the game with two runs in the 4th versus sophomore righthander Jeff Samardzija, who had replaced Korpi two innings earlier. Kevin Molloy and Shunk each had RBI singles as the visitors struck a 3-3 tie.
The teams continued to trade runs as Notre Dame scored once in the 4th (when Edwards again hit a 2-out double that scored Lilley from first) and Villanova another in the 5th, with the run scoring on one of Andy Wendle's three doubles in the game.
The visitors then surged into the lead with a pair of runs in the 7th. Senior lefthander Scott Bickford's throwing error on Cardillo's sac. bunt ultimately led to an unearned run, with the inning also including another RBI double from Wendle. Doherty inherited a jam and added to it by giving up a hit and walk to load the bases - but he escaped on consecutive groundballs to the third baseman Lilley (who forced the runner at home both times) and a strikeout by Robert Parks, who went down looking at a full-count pitch.
The Wildcats stretched to their 7-4 cushion in the 8th, on Wendle's final RBI double of the day.
Doherty logged the final four innings, allowing the one run on three hits and three walks while striking out five in his 69-pitch outing (41 strikes). His career stats now include ranking 2nd in the ND record book with 12.28 Ks per 9 innings, 3rd with 18 saves, 4th in low hits allowed per 9 IP (6.60), 6th in K-to-walk ratio (3.46) and 13th in ERA (2.94), plus a .203 career opponent batting avg. (stat not kept in ND record book).
Both teams squandered plenty of chances in the nightcap, with the Irish leaving 16 runners on base while the Wildcats stranded 15.
The teams began playing at 9:30 a.m. and Villanova claimed the early 1-0 lead (when Anthony Petracca's sac. fly scored Ryan Arcadia) before the Irish responded with two runs despite just one hit (Cooper's RBI single), plus two walks, a costly dropped foul ball and a wild pitch that yielded an unearned run.
VU quickly retook the lead (3-2) after RBI singles from Cardillo and Arcadia before three runs in the bottom of the 2nd put the hosts in front to stay. Freshman second baseman Ross Brezovsky - who turned in a pair of impressive defensive plays during the day's action - opened the sequence with a single through the right side before Mulvey hit Lopez with an 0-2 pitch. Gaston's groundout advanced the runners and Nettey was hit with a 1-1 pitch before Lilley's groundball plated the tying run. A throwing error then produced two more unearned runs for the 5-3 Irish lead.
Two-out singles from Brezovsky and Lopez preceded Gaston's first career home run with the Irish, pulling a 1-0 pitch over the rightfield fence at a similar spot where Lopez would homer later in the day. Gaston later added an RBI single in the 5th and VU pushed across a run in the 7th for the final 9-4 margin.
NOTES - The series included just two 1-2-3 innings (one by each team) and both came in Friday's 5-2 win by the Irish: in the bottom of the 5th, ND's Tom Thornton caught Wendle looking at strike three, induced a popup to the catcher from Molloy and threw out Arcadia on a comebacker; then, in the top of the 6th, VU's Nick Allen retired Gaston (1-3), Nettey (5-3) and Lilley (4-3) on three straight groundballs ... Lopez, Gaston and Edwards (4-for-9) shared for the team hit lead in the doubleheader ... ND was 14-14 before its current 10-1-1 stretch in the past 12 games ... top hitters in the series included Lopez (5-for-11, 3 RBI, 4 R, HR, 2 HBP, K), Gaston ( 5-for-11, 5 RBI, 3 R, HR, BB, SAC) and Nettey (5-for-12, 2 R, BB, 2 HBP) ... the Irish hit .343 in the series with 21 runs (2 HR, 4 2B, 8 BB, 9 HBP, 9 Ks, 1-2 SB, 5 Es/.949 fielding) while the ND staff posted a 4.15 staff ERA in the three games (26 IP, 33 H, 12 BB, 16 Ks, .337 opp. avg.) ... ND batters were hit-by-pitch eight times on Monday (two by Cooper in each game, three by Lopez, one by Nettey), bringing the team's season HBP total to 86 (already 16th in the NCAA record book) ... of the 18 teams that have totaled 86-plus HBPs in a season, ND owns the highest avg. of HBPs per game (2.15) ... the Irish now are on pace for 120 HBPs in the 56-game regular season (that would rank 4th all-time, behind Nevada's 125 in 1997, Long Beach State's 124 in '98 and the College of Charleston's 122 in '04) ... ND has totaled nearly 200 HBPs in the past two seasons, with 192 in 103 games (1.87 per game) ... ND joins LBSU (also 114 in '99) and Cal State Fullerton (117 in '03; 102 in '98) as the only teams ever to total 86-plus HBPs in multiple seasons (ND's 106 in '04 rank 7th) ... five ND players own double-digit HBPs: Lilley (17), Nettey (12) and three with 11 (Rizzo, Lopez and Cooper) ... top hitters in the current 10-game homestand include: Gaston (.424, 14-for-33, 9 RBI, 6 R, HR, 2B, 2 BB, SAC, 2 SB, only 2 Ks) and Lopez (.394. 13-for-33, 9 RBI, 12 R, HR, 3B, 8 HBP, SF, only 1 E) ... the current 10-1-1 streak includes just one error each from the leftside infielders Lopez and Lilley, in 117 combined fielding chances ... the Irish have totaled 0-1 errors in 10 of the past 12 games (including Monday's opener) ... ND now has racked up 40 first-inning runs in 40 games this season, scoring in the 1st inning of 18 games (11 games with multiple 1st-inning runs) ... the 2nd-longest scoring streak in ND baseball history now stands at 187 games (the Irish have scored in 418 of the past 419 games and in 657 of 663, or 99.10%, during the Mainieri era) ... Lopez owns 73 error-free games during the past two season (31 in '05), including 11 in the current 10-1-1 streak ... Edwards has made 80 straight starts with the Irish while missing a total of just three games in the past three seasons ... Edwards, who can return for a 5th year in '06, remains 6th in ND history for career RBI (now 180, in 172 games) and suddenly is only 41 shy of the record held by '93 grad. Eric Danapilis (221) ... others on that list include Alec Porzel (211; '98-'01), Dan Peltier (202; '87-'89), Mike Amrhein (202; '94-'97) and Jeff Wagner (189; '96-'99).
Villanova 1-2-0 0-0-0 1 - 4 8 2
Home Run: Sean Gaston, ND (2 on in 3rd; 1st of career)
Villanova (23-12-2; 7-8-1 BIG EAST) 1-0-0 2-1-0 2-1-0 0 - 7 15 1