May 3, 1998
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - The Notre Dame baseball team made up for struggles by many of its veteran hitters as a pair of freshmen--leftfielder Alec Porzel and freshman righthander reliever Aaron Heilman--combined with junior catcher Mike Knecht to make the clutch plays in a 5-3, 15-inning victory over visiting West Virginia in BIG EAST Conference action Sunday at Frank Eck Stadium.
The game capped an entertaining series between the growing rivals while keeping alive Irish hopes for the BIG EAST regular-season title. Saturday's doubleheader saw the Irish score three runs in the seventh and final inning of the opener for a 4-3 win while WVU overcame two four-run deficits in the nightcap to win 11-9 in 10 innings.
WVU and Notre Dame have met 11 times since both schools joined the BIG EAST in 1995-96 with the Mountaineers holding a 7-4 edge in those meetings, which have included two 1-run games, five 2-run games and three 3-run games (the other game was Notre Dame's 8-1 win at the 1997 BIG EAST Tournament).
Notre Dame (37-13, 14-2 BIG EAST) remains 25 pct. points ahead of Rutgers (17-3) in the race for the BIG EAST title. RU wrapped up conference play with a 7-2 home win over Georgetown while Notre Dame is scheduled to conclude the regular season with a three-game home series vs. 3rd-place St. John's (May 9-10), with one Irish loss swinging the title to RU (determined by winning pct.).
Notre Dame forced extra innings with two unearned runs in the bottom of the 9th, capped by Knecht's two-out, two-strike single through the left side of the infield (Knecht also tied Saturday's first game in the team's final at-bat, with an RBI groundout). Porzel then followed a Brant Ust double in the bottom of the 15th with his seventh home run of the season and second of the series, ending the dramatic game in dramatic fashion. The game was Notre Dame's 16th come-from-behind victory of the season and the 10th in which the Irish had faced a first-inning deficit.
Heilman--who threw 66 pitches over the final four innings Saturday--turned in a gutsy six-inning effort to improve to 5-1 for the season while lowering his ERA to 1.44. His 74-pitch shutout outing included five hits, three walks, five strikeouts, six groundouts and two timely double-play balls. Heilman finished Sunday's 4-hour, 20-minute marathon having totaled 140 pitches over a 24-hour span. Sunday's game is the longest in WVU history (besting the record of 14 innings) and second-longest for the Irish since 1983 (data incomplete prior to '83). Notre Dame lost a 16-inning game to Michigan (7-6) at Old Kent Park in Grand Rapids, Mich. on May 2, 1995.
West Virginia (33-14-1, 11-8)--which stranded 16 baserunners--missed out on a chance to clinch the sixth and final spot in the BIG EAST Tournament (May 13-16 in Norwich, Conn.). WVU entered the week with a "magic number" of 3 vs. Connecticut but WVU lost to Pittsburgh on April 29 (5-3) while UConn was pulling off a 5-4 win at St. John's. WVU cut two games off its magic number with Saturday's split and UConn's 8-5 loss at Boston College but the Huskies stayed alive Sunday with a 12-6, 7-3 sweep at BC. UConn's only hopes to make the tournament require three losses by WVU in a home series next weekend vs. 8th-place Villanova.
Irish sophomore lefthander Tim Kalita allowed three runs (one earned) on nine hits and two walks over the first seven and one-third innings, with six strikeouts while WVU junior lefty Louie Ross allowed three runs (one earned) on 10 hits over a 136-pitch, nine-inning effort (five K's). Senior righthander David Kloes took the loss, allowing five hits and two walks over five and two-thirds innings (two K's)
Ust--who entered the day with a BIG EAST-best .576 conference batting avg.--broke out of an 0-for-6 slump by sending a 2-out, 1-2 pitch from Kloes into the right-center gap for his 20th double of '98. Porzel-who ignited Saturday's 7th-inning comeback with a leadoff home run--then worked to a 2-1 count before drilling the ball over the leftfield fence for his fourth home run in the last 12 games.
Notre Dame's #1-#5 hitters combined to go just 5-for-30 in Sunday's game, including a 1-for-7 day by leadoff hitter Allen Greene and an 0-for-6 outing by cleanup hitter Jeff Wagner. But the #9 hitter Knecht--who entered the season with one hit in three career at-bats--singled and scored in the 8th (extending the Irish scoring streak to 91 games) before providing the game-tying heroics in the 9th. Knecht is now hitting .338 (22-for-65) for the season, including 13-for-33 (.394) in 10 BIG EAST games.
Porzel reached base with one out in the 9th, after shortstop Jamie Hammond's high throw pulled first baseman Jim Kavourias off the bag. Dan Leatherman followed with a first-pitch, RBI double to right-center and pinch-hitter Larry Zimont moved Leatherman to third with a groundout to Hammond. Knecht then swung at the first two pitches, took a ball, fouled two more pitches back to his right and took another ball before sending a bouncer to the left of diving third baseman Kevin Olkowski, who was guarding the line.
WVU struck for a run in the 1st, after Lance Williams' one-out double over Porzel's head and Olkowski's RBI single to left. WVU added an unearned run in the 6th, after Brad Elwood's leadoff grounder skipped under the glove of shortstop J.J. Brock. Eddie Weightman's bunt moved the runner to second and Elwood stole third before scoring on Kavourias' single that bounced out of Greene's glove in center field.
The visitors stretched their lead with an unearned run in the 7th. Hammond drew a leadoff walk, moved all the way to third when second baseman Todd Frye mishandled a groundball from Matt Hart and scored on a wild pitch by Kalita. The Irish broke up the shutout in the 8th, behind Knecht's one-out single to left, Brock's drag bunt down to the third-base side and Jeff Felker's RBI single through the right side of the infield.
WEST VIRGINIA (33-14-1, 11-8 BIG EAST) 1-0-0 0-0-1 1-0-0 0-0-0 0-0-0 0-0-0 3 15 1 NOTRE DAME (37-13, 14-2 BIG EAST) 0-0-0 0-0-0 0-1-2 0-0-0 0-0-0 0-0-2 5 15 2 Ross, Kloes (10) and Elwood. Kalita, Cavey (8), McKeown (9), Heilman (10) and Knecht.
NOTES: WVU had hits in every inning but the 7th and 15th while stranding 11 runners in scoring position ... WVU left runners on second base in the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 8th, 9th and 15th innings while stranding runners on third base in the 7th and 10th and leaving the bases loaded in the 12th ... the Irish stranded 11 runners, leaving men on second in the 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 8th, 10th and 11th ... Knecht missed a squeeze play in the 5th, with Leatherman tagged out after breaking for home ... in the top of the 7th, Williams was on third with two outs but Joe McNamee--who went 0-for-6, despite a.439 season avg.-- got caught looking at strike three from Kalita ... the Irish had a runner on second with just one out in the 10th and 11th but could not deliver the clinching hit ... Ust flew out to center field and Porzel grounded out to second base in the 10th while Greene flew out in the 11th, followed by a dropping linedrive from Brock that McNamee was able to snare in left ... Elwood stroked a one-out triple in the 10th but Heilman blew a strikeout by Billy Patsy, intentionally walked Kavourias and struck out Jack Smarslak swinging ... WVU loaded the bases in the 12th, on Olkowski's leadoff single, McNamee's sacrifice bunt, a hit batter (Elwood), a two-out double steal and another intentional walk to Kavourias, but Smarslak again went down swinging ... WVU's final threat came in the 15th, after Kavourias' leadoff walk and Smarslak's sac. bunt, but Hammond popped up to Frye and Hart flew out to Greene ... in other BIG EAST action, 4th-place Providence (14-8-1) won 5-2 at 3rd-place St. John's (12-6) while 6th-place Seton Hall (12-8) clinched a tournament spot with a split at 10th-place Pittsburgh (8-0, 1-2) ... possible 1st-round opponents for Notre Dame and RU: St. John's, WVU, Seton Hall, UConn and Providence (the #1 seed cannot play PC) ... possible ranges of finish: St. John's (3rd-6th), PC (3rd-5th), WVU (3rd-7th), SHU (4th-6th) and UConn (6th-7th) ... if SHU loses Monday at Pitt, the Pirates would be locked into 5th or 6th.