May 10, 2003
PISCATAWAY, N.J. - Chris Niesel - just one week removed from his near-no-hitter versus West Virginia - strengthened his case for BIG EAST pitcher-of-the-year honors with another shutout outing in Notre Dame's 2-0 opening win but Rutgers bounced back to win the 10-2 nightcap, as the Irish and Scarlet Knights split a doubleheader in Saturday's BIG EAST showdown at the Class of '53 Complex.
Notre Dame (37-13, 15-5) moved closer to clinching a spot in the four-team BIG EAST Tournament, with the Irish needing only to win one of their remaining four league games (Sunday at Rutgers, moved up to 11:00 a.m., and then a series at fourth-place Virginia Tech) - or have Boston College lose one of its four (Sunday at St. John's, then a home series next week versus second-place West Virginia).
Rutgers (29-16, 16-5) clinched a BIG EAST Tournament spot while slipping percentage points behind idle West Virginia (14-4, with a series at 10th-place Villanova starting Sunday) atop the BIG EAST standings.
The day provided a microcosm of the history of the heated ND-RU series, with nearly half of the 25 games (12, eight won by ND) decided by 1-2 runs while seven others have been blowouts decided by eight-plus (five won by RU). The Irish hold a 15-10 series edge, including wins in 11 of the last 14.
Rutgers scored in six of the first seven innings of the nightcap while the Irish had their chances to get back in the game but left 11 runners on base. The slumping ND offense has converted just 11 runs in the last five games (all versus BIG EAST competition) while totaling 36 runners left on base in those five games.
Niesel (8-1), now victorious in his last eight decisions, tossed six scoreless innings in the seven-inning opener, scattering six hits and one walk while posting two strikeouts. Senior closer J.P. Gagne then gave up a hit in the seventh before closing with a pair of strikeouts for his 12th save of the season - besting the ND record (11) set by his former teammate John Corbin during the 2002 season.
Freshman DH Steve Andres was the offensive hero in game one while making his first start since the April 23 Cleveland State game. Andres opened the fourth inning by facing a 1-2 offering from sophomore righthander Jack Egbert before lifting his third home run of the season over the fence in right-center field.
The Irish added an insurance run in the sixth, sparked by sophomore first baseman Matt Edwards' leadoff double to left field. Kris Billmaier's rightside groundball then moved Edwards to third and Andres pounded a 2-2 pitch through the right side to plate Edwards for the 2-0 lead.
Niesel had received a huge assist from classmate Matt Macri in the bottom of the fourth, after RU had put runners on second and third and one out. Niesel then blew a 2-2 pitch past Nick Cerulo but Alberto Vasquez sent a bouncer up the middle that appeared to be the go-ahead hit - but the shortstop Macri was ranging far to his left before fielding the grounder, turning 360-degrees and firing to first base to stunningly end the threat.
Egbert (7-4) suffered the hard-luck loss, after allowing seven hits and one walk (with four Ks). Junior lefthander Shaun Parker (3-2) then won the nightcap with 5.2 solid innings (R, 5 H, 4 BB, 3 Ks) while ND sophomore righthander John Axford (9-2) had his second consecutive rough start (3.2 IP, 6 R, 3 H, 6 BB, 2 HB, 2 WP, 4 Ks).
NOTES - Niesel lowered his season ERA to 2.43 and now has won 30 of his last 32 decisions (dating back to his All-America senior season at Aquinas HS) ... since suffering the only loss of his ND career (Feb. 28 vs. Nebraska), Niesel (12-1) has dominated in his last 11 outings to the tune of an 8-0 record, 1.55 ERA, .205 opponent batting avg. and a 6-to-1 K-to-walk ratio (72/16) ... Gagne - who dropped his season ERA to 2.44 - has not allowed an earned run in his last seven outings (11.2 IP) while his 18 career saves now are two shy of that ND record (also held by Corbin) ... Niesel has pitched in several low-scoring games this season: 3-1 vs. Vanderbilt (10 inn., no dec.), 3-2 vs. Eastern Illinois (win), 3-2 loss at Villanova (no dec.), 2-1 vs. Creighton (win) and the 1-0 win over WVU ... Niesel's seven BIG EAST starts include a 6-0 record, 2.09 ERA, .232 opp. batting avg. and nearly an 8-to-1 K-to-walk ratio (46/6) in 47.1 IP.
Notre Dame 0-0-0 1-0-1 0 - 2 7 1 Rutgers 0-0-0 0-0-0 0 - 0 7 0Chris Niesel (W, 8-1), J.P. Gagne (7; SV, 12) and Javi Sanchez.
Jack Egbert (7-4) and Alberto Vasquez.
Home Run: Steve Andres, ND (solo in 4th; 3rd of season).
Double: Matt Edwards (ND).
Notre Dame 0-0-0 0-0-1 1-0-0 - 2 7 2 Rutgers 2-0-1 3-1-1 2-0-X - 10 9 1John Axford (L, 9-2), Tom Thornton (4), Martin Vergara (6), Tyler Jones (8) and Javi Sanchez, Cody Rizzo (5).
Shaun Parker (W, 3-2), O.J. DeChristofono (6; SV, 1) and Colin Gaynor.
Triple: John DeFendis (RU).
Double: Gaynor (RU).