NORWICH, Conn. -- Junior righthander and 1998 BIG EAST pitcher of the year Brad Lidge turned in seven strong innings and freshman righthander Aaron Heilman came on for his eighth save as the second-seeded Notre Dame baseball team became the only unbeaten team remaining in double-elimination BIG EAST Tournament with a 3-2 victory over defending champion and third-seeded St. John's Thursday night at Dodd Stadium.
Notre Dame (40-15)--which extended its string of consecutive 40-win seasons to 10--next plays on Friday night at 7:00 p.m. against the winner of Friday's noon elimination game between top-seeded Rutgers and St. John's. Fourth-seeded Providence and fifth-seeded West Virginia will meet in the 3:30 p.m. elimination game.
If Notre Dame wins Friday night, it will have two chances to defeat the PC-WVU winner in Saturday's championship round. If the Irish lose Friday, there will be there teams remaining (all with one loss) and Notre Dame would have to face the PC-WVU winner in an elimination game on Saturday at 3:30. The winner of that game then would face Friday night's winner in a 7:00 p.m. title game.
St. John's (28-16-1) mounted came back from a 3-0 mid-inning deficit but could not plate the equalizer.
SJU's John Aramento reached to open the ninth, despite swinging and missing at a high full-count pitch from Heilman. The ball skipped over the head of catcher Mike Knecht, who recovered the ball near the first base line but pulled Dan Leatherman with the throw (the ball bounced out of Leatherman's glove and the play was scored as a strike out/wild pitch).
Aramento stole second and advanced to third on Chris Fallon fly out to center. Heilman then worked to a 2-1 count on John Fierro before inducing a weak ground out to shortstop J.J. Brock, will Aramento holding on the throw.
Steven Lewis then worked to a full count but kept the bat on his shoulder on the next pitch, with plate umpire Joe Driscoll signaling the game-ending strikeout on an inside fastball.
Lidge (8-2) allowed two runs on six hits and four walks over his seven-inning, 121-pitch outing. Lidge's five strikeouts pushed his season total to 93, second-most in Irish history behind Frank Carpin's 102 in 1958. Heilman faced just seven batters over the final two innings, recording two strikeouts while dropping the nation's second-lowest ERA to 1.44.
Sophomore righthander Patrick Collins (4-3) took the loss, allowing three runs on six hits, two walks and one hit batter over six and two-third innings, with six strikeouts.
Irish junior DH Jeff Wagner led off the bottom of the second by stroking his 14th home run of the season and 41st of his career, sending a full-count pitch from Collins over the third row of billboards in left field.
The Irish tacked on two runs in the fourth. Leadoff man Brant Ust was hit by a pitch before Wagner sent a linedrive double into left field (the 46th double of his career), with Ust holding at third. Alec Porzel then hit a one-hopper back to the mound and Collins quickly threw to third base trying to nail Ust cheating off the bag. But Ust made a perfect fall-away slide around the tag of third baseman Mike Dzurilla and sophomore rightfielder Jeff Felker delivered moments later with an RBI single threw the right side of the infield. Wagner then tagged up and scored on Dan Leatherman's sacrifice fly to left field for the 3-0 lead.
St. John's scored a run in the sixth, when Gary Villacares' sacrifice fly plated Giancarlo DiPrima. The Redstorm added a run in the seventh, when Matt Gilante doubled home Lewis.
R H E St. John's 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 2 6 0 Notre Dame 0 1 0 2 0 0 0 0 - 3 6 0WP: Lidge (8-2)
LP: Collins (4-3)
NOTES: Each of Notre Dame's last nine game has been decided by 1-3 runs (including three straight one-run games vs. SJU) ... the Irish are 30-8 when hitting a home run and 12-5 in games decided by one run or in extra innings ... Notre Dame has won 13 of its last 14 road games ... Thursday marked Notre Dame's 13th error-free game of the season ... Notre Dame dropped its season ERA to 3.78 (sixth-best in the nation while St. John's remained at 3.60, fifth in the nation) ... Thursday's other games included a 7-2 elimination-game win by West Virginia over Seton Hall and Providence's 3-2 win over Rutgers (Friars scored twice in the bottom of the ninth).