May 15, 2005
PITTSBURGH, Pa. - The Notre Dame baseball team's season-long road woes continued on Sunday at the unique venue of Trees Field, as the University of Pittsburgh posted a pair of three-run wins over the Irish (4-1, 8-5) - adding further drama to the race for the four spots in the BIG EAST Tournament.
Notre Dame (28-21-1, 10-9-1) - which brought home just six of 30 baserunners during the doubleheader - dropped behind Pittsburgh (26-18, 11-9-0) into the fourth and final playoff spot. The Irish no longer can catch second-place Boston College (15-7; the Eagles are idle from BIG EAST play this weekend, as is 16-4 frontrunner St. John's) but Notre Dame still controls its fate in the standings versus the other top contenders: Pittsburgh, Connecticut (10-10), Rutgers (10-10) and West Virginia (10-12).
The Irish received some help in Sunday's other league games as the two teams at the bottom of the standings - Seton Hall (vs. UConn) and Georgetown (vs. Rutgers) - posted upset wins over teams with playoff hopes. WVU visits Eck Stadium next weekend after taking 2-of-3 at Villanova, all but ending the Wildcats slim postseason hopes.
Notre Dame fell to 9-18 on the road this season, compared to a 19-3-1 record in home games this season - but the Irish have faced the toughest road schedule of any BIG EAST team this season, having to play on the road versus four top contenders (St. John's, BC, Pitt and Rutgers). The BIG EAST's 25-game, unbalanced scheduled also resulted in Notre Dame playing the bottom teams in the standings (Seton Hall and Georgetown) just twice, while the other teams in the league were scheduled to face SHU and GU three times.
Clutch hitting and extra-base production proved to be the difference in Sunday's action. Pittsburgh held just a 19-15 edge in hits during the doubleheader but the Panthers collected nine of the day's 11 extra-base hits (including four home runs), yielding a key 34-19 edge in total bases. Both teams put eight leadoff batters on base in the doubleheader but the home team also hit .385 with runners on base (10-for-26) and .375 (6-for-16) with them in scoring position - compared to Notre Dame's frustrating day that included just 2-for-16 batting (.125) with runners in scoring position (7-for-30/.233 with runners on).
Notre Dame's 30 baserunners included eight walks, four batters who reached by errors and three who were hit-by-pitch. The Irish had 13 runners in scoring position during the doubleheader but only six of them came around to score. The 24 runners who failed to scored included 15 left on base, three who were picked off and six erased on double plays (including a pair of strikeout-throwout DPs in the opener).
The Irish have struggled in the past at Trees Field and now are just 5-5 at the facility. Being swept in a doubleheader remains a rarity for the Irish, who have been swept in just seven doubleheaders during their 10 BIG EAST seasons (six of those have come on the road).
Junior rightfielder/catcher Cody Rizzo was hit-by-pitch in both games, pushing his career total to 66 (two shy of 4th place in the NCAA record book). Rizzo's first HBP gave Notre Dame a team-record 107 for the season (besting the '04 team's total) and the Irish now have 109 HBPs, good for 7th in NCAA history (top six listed below).
Notre Dame's post-finals losses have featured some unusual statistical results. The Irish entered finals with: a 21-1 record when leading at the end of the 6th inning (then lost such a game at St. John's); 15-1-1 when outhitting the opponent (then lost to Michigan and in game-1 vs. Pitt, despite owning the hit edge in both); and 6-0 when playing error-free ball (then lost twice at SJU and game-2 vs. Pitt, all when not making an error).
Sunday's doubleheader featured two of the top hitting tandems in the BIG EAST but the homestanding duo had the better day, as Ben Copeland and Jim Negrych combined to bat 8-for-12 with 9 of Pitt's 12 RBI (3 HR) while Notre Dame's Brett Lilley and Matt Edwards combined for a 2-for-10, no-RBI day.
Junior centerfielder Alex Nettey (2-for-3, RBI) was the only Irish player with multiple hits in the opener while Rizzo (2-for-3, HR, 2 RBI, R) was ND's only multi-hit player in game-2. Lilley was 0-for-5 earlier in the week vs. Michigan and went 0-for-3 in game-1, yielding just the second back-to-back hitless games of his stellar freshman season and first since early March.
Sophomore righthander Dan Kapala (4-3) had a solid outing in the opener but was done in by the long ball. Kapala allowed the four runs (three earned) on seven hits and four walks, with five strikeouts. Pittsburgh righthander Billy Muldowny (6-2), a transfer from Duke, picked up the complete-game win (8 H, 2 BB, 5 Ks)/
The lefthanded-hitting Negrych plated the day's first runs with men on the corners and one out in the 3rd. Kapala threw a 1-2 fastball high and outside but Negrych went the other way for his eighth home run of the season, over the short leftfield fence.
The Irish came back to score in the 4th, thanks to junior DH Matt Bransfield's single to center field and Nettey's RBI double high off the fence in left-center. But the Panthers came right back and restored the three-run cushion, on a leadoff home run from Jeff Stevens.
Nettey and Rizzo singled to start the 7th and final inning of the opener and Lopez added a 1-out walk to load the bases - but Muldowny rolled up the 4-6-3 double play to end the game.
Junior lefthander Tom Thornton (5-5) experienced rare early-game struggles and had yielded six runs on six hits before departing with one out in the 2nd. Copeland and Jimmy Mayer (RBI) doubled to start the bottom of the 1st and Negrych then pulled a 1-2 pitch down the rigthfield line for the early 3-0 lead. Second-inning singles from Edgard Sucre and Dan Williams preceded Copeland's sixth home run of the season, to dead-center field.
Pittsburgh also sent a lefthander to the mound in game-2 and Robert Brant (5-2) stayed out of major trouble to pick up the win (3 R, 6 H, 4 BB, 7 Ks) before righthander Eli Friedman closed out the game.
Notre Dame had managed a run in the top of the 2nd (after a Rizzo HBP, Lopez walk and Craig Cooper single) but the Irish ultimately failed to generate the big inning they needed to get back in the game. Lilley and Edwards drew 2-out walks in the 5th and Bransfield sent an RBI single into left field for a 7-2 score. Rizzo then yanked a 3-1 pitch down the leftfield line in the 6th, for his third home run of the season and a four-run deficit.
A pair of errors helped the Irish score two unearned runs in the 9th, with the inning also including a full-count walk by Edwards.
NOTES - Lilley now owns 40 error-free games this season (at 2B and 3B) while Lopez has 39 ... Lopez had a 4-game error streak earlier this season but had not made errors in back-to-back games at any other time this season until getting an E vs. Michigan and in game-1 vs. Pitt ... the only teams in Div. I history with more HBPs in a season than the '05 Irish team (109) are Nevada (125, in '97), Long Beach State (124, in '98; 114, in '99), College of Charleston (122, in '04), Cal State Fullerton (122, in '03) and Arizona State (115, in '00) ... the game-1 run helped maintain the 2nd-longest scoring streak in ND history (now 196; also 427 of last 428 and 666 of 672 in 11-year Paul Mainieri era) ... two seniors (LHP Scott Bickford and RHP Tyler Jones) and sophomore RHP Jess Stewart turned in solid relief outings in game-2 to save the Irish bullpen for Monday's game (noon EDT, 11:00 in South Bend) ... sophomore RHP Jeff Samardzija is ND's likely game-3 starter ... Bickford, Jones, Edwards and John Axford each were part of a special graduation ceremony at the team's hotel on Saturday ... Alumni Association president and former ND baseball player Chuck Lennon was on hand to present the diplomas while Rev. Al D'Alonzo said a special mass (team members and parents also were present for the special ceremony) ... Nettey has hits in 10 of the past 11 games ... Lilley (2) and Rizzo (2) are the only ND players with more than one multi-hit game in the post-finals stretch (7 GP) ... Monday's game will be broadcast in South Bend on 1490 AM ... Pittsburgh unexpectedly has begun to offer livestats, thanks to a wireless card at Trees Field (check for Monday's livestat link on und.com).
Notre Dame 0-0-0 1-0-0 0 - 1 8 1
Pittsburgh 0-0-3 1-0-0 X - 4 7 0
Dan Kapala (L, 4-3) and Sean Gaston.
Muldowney (6-2) and Jeff Stevens.
Home Runs: Jim Negrych, Pitt (2 on in 3rd; 8th of season); Stevens, Pitt (solo in 4th; 6th of season).
Double: Alex Nettey (ND).
Notre Dame (28-21-1, 10-9-1 BIG EAST) 0-1-0 0-1-1 0-0-2 - 5 7 0
Pittsburgh (27-18, 12-9 BIG EAST) 3-3-0 1-0-1 0-0-X - 8 12 4
Tom Thornton (L, 5-5), Scott Bickford (2), Tyler Jones (6), Jess Stewart (7) and Cody Rizzo.
Robert Brant (W, 5-2), Eli Friedman (7) and Jeff Stevens.
Home Runs: Jim Negrych, Pitt (1 in on 1st; 9th of season); Ben Copeland, Pitt (2 on in 2nd; 6th of season); Cody Rizzo, ND (solo in 5th; 3rd of season, 11th of career).
Triple: Edgard Sucre (Pitt)
Doubles: Copeland 2 (Pitt), Jimmy Mayer (Pitt), Dan Williams (Pitt).