May 17, 2004
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Sophomore lefthander Tom Thornton delivered the third strong start of the weekend by a Notre Dame pitcher while Matt Macri and Craig Cooper capped off their respective .500 hitting weeks with a pair of hits each, as the 8th-ranked Irish clinched a BIG EAST Tournament spot with Sunday night's series-sweeping win over BIG EAST rival Rutgers, 5-3.
Notre Dame (42-9,18-5 BIG EAST) pushed its winning streak to nine games while entertaining a spirited crowd of 2,382 that represented the third-largest in the 11-year history of Eck Stadium (which never before has featured a Sunday-night game for the Irish).
The Irish also sit on the verge of claiming at least a share of the BIG EAST regular-season title, with Sunday's other action featuring a Pittsburgh-UConn sweep, Seton Hall's upset of St. John's and a pair of Boston College wins over Virginia Tech that eliminated the Hokies from the race for one of the four BIG EAST Tournament spots (ND closes the regular season next weekend vs. VT).
Pittsburgh (16-7) needs to win at least two games next week vs. SJU to even have a chance of sharing the title with the Irish while third-place BC (14-9) maintains a slim chance at finishing above ND (a 17-7 BC record would be a better win pct. than an 18-8 ND mark). St. John's (15-8) only can earn a share of the title with ND while Rutgers (13-8, also 29-20 overall) is assured of finishing lower than the Irish.
Tiebreakers to determine seeding for the BIG EAST Tournament will be based on head-to-head results and then comparative results vs. the other top teams in the standings. BC and RU were rained out earlier this season and thus will play a maximum of only 24 BIG EAST games.
Thornton (7-2) retired the first nine batters he faced and carried a no-hitter into the 6th before Jason Glover sent a sharp hit off the backhanded stab of the third baseman Macri and down the leftfield line for a leadoff double. Thornton went on to post a career-best eight strikeouts while holding RU to a pair of runs on five hits and one walk in 8.0 innings (he located 73 of his 109 pitches, or 67%, for strikes). His outing also included nine groundball outs and just 1-of-8 leadoff batters on base, with lefhander hitters going just 1-for-7 vs. the big lefthander.
Notre Dame's three starters in the series - junior RHPs Grant Johnson and Chris Niesel, plus Thornton - combined for a 1.23 ERA and .218 opponent batting average in the series, with the starting totaling 20 Ks, 3 BB and 17 H in 22 IP.
Macri launched a booming home run that gave the Irish a 5-0 lead in the 5th while Cooper's two-hit night included a pair of runs scored. Senior second baseman Steve Sollmann continued his surge since returning from injury last week, batting 2-for-4 with a walk and run scored.
Macri completed a 7-for-10 series (3 RBI, 2 R, HR, 2B, BB, SF, 2 SBs) while Cooper hit 6-for-10 with a pair of doubles, three stolen bases and three runs scored in the RU series (RBI, BB). Both players hit .500 in five games this week, as Macri hit 9-for-18 with 7 RBI and a pair of home runs (5 G. 2 2B, .944 slugging pct., 2 BB, 2 HBP, .565 on-base, 1.509 OBS, SF, 0 Ks 2 SB, no Es in 11 chances at the hot corner) while Cooper was 10-for-20 with 5 RBI and 5 runs scored (HR, 2 2B, .750 slugging, BB, .524 on-base, 1.274 OBS, 4 Ks, 3 SBs).
Cooper also has hits in 16 of the last 17 games and batting 13-for-26 in his current seven-game hitting streak that has lifted him atop the team batting charts (.377, followed by Macri at .366).
Sunday was a long day for the Notre Dame baseball program's six seniors, who earlier in the day had extended the program's 100-percent graduation rate (for player who complete their eligibility) to 59-of-59. Each of the seniors also posted an in-season GPA above 3.55 in the 2004 spring semester - led by a 4.0 from marketing major Steve Sollmann (the Irish posted a 3.16 team GPA in the '04 spring term, with 11 at 3.4-plus and 20 above 3.0.
Notre Dame scored in the fist five innings (and 6-of-8 overall) in of Saturday's game-2 win over RU (7-1), with the Irish then scoring in four of the first five innings on Sunday for a two-game stretch of runs in 10 of 13 innings.
The Irish scored in the 1st inning for the fourth time in the last five games, thanks to Solllman's one-out walk and stolen base before Bransfield delivered in the hit-and-run by drilling a full-count single into left-center.
Notre Dame then scored twice more in the 2nd, after Cooper's leadoff, opposite-field single to right-center (followed by a stolen base) and the ninth home run of the season from Edwards, who faced a full-count offering from sophomore righthander Jim Jansen before pulling a blast down the line for the 3-0 lead.
The Irish scored again in the 4th, with sophomore centerfielder Cody Rizzo providing the RBI groundout (5-3) to cap an inning that also included sophomore leftifielder Steve Andres' single to right, a wild pitch, Cooper's full-count single to center and a double steal by Cooper and Edwards (after Andres was tagged out on Edwards' groundball to the third baseman).
Macri's 10th home run of the season came vs. relief ace OJ DiChistifino in the 5th, with the righthanded-hitting Macri leaving no doubt as he launched a 3-1 pitch over the leftfield fence.
Sophomore closer Ryan Doherty converted his ninth save in 10 chances, allowing a home run to Jeff Frazier while striking out two of the other three batters he faced in the 9th.
Freshman righthander Jeff Samardzija is slated to get the start on Tuesday vs. 19th-ranked Central Florida while the starter for Wednesday's game vs. UCF is to be announced.
SERIES NOTES - The Irish outhit RU by more than 100 points in the series (.318-.216), with both teams making just one error ... the ND pitchers combined for a 1.44 staff ERA (.216 opp. avg., 22 Ks, 5 BB in 25 IP) while the RU pitchers were touched for a 5.32 series ERA ... the Irish also owned a significant edge in batting with runners on base (.317 to .212, with Cooper batting 3-for-3 when runners were on board) ... ND now holds a 20-12 overall edge in the RU series (8-4 at Eck Stadium), with wins in 16 of the last 21 meetings ... Sunday's game was the 16th in the ND-RU series that has beem decided by 1-2 runs.
TEAM AND PLAYER NOTES - Sollmann is batting .417 (10-for-24) since returning from his fractured jaw injury, including 4-for-10 in the RU series ... he pushed his career hit total closer to 300 (290), still 4th in the ND record book but now just five behind Eric Danapilis (295; '89-'92) and six shy of Pat Pesavento (296; '85-'89) ... Sollmann's 202 runs are 6th in the ND record book but within range of Craig Counsell (204; '89-'92) and Danapilis (205) ... Macri (44) and sophomore SS Greg Lopez (34) now have combined for 78 error-free games on the left side while Sollmann still has yet to make an error and Edwards has 45 error-free games ... the Irish remain one of five teams with single-digit losses, as do East Carolina (45-8), Stanford (39-8), Oral Roberts (42-8) and Rice (38-9) ... the Irish are 33 games over .500 for the fifth season in the program's history, just three shy of the team record (+36) set in 2001 ... ND extended the 2nd-longest scoring streak in the program's history to 137 games ... the '01-'04 ND teams have combined to go 180-63-1 ... Doherty's nine saves rank 4th in the ND record book, behind former teammate J.P. Gagne (13, in '03), John Corbin (11, in '00) and Mike Coffey (10, in '89) ... ND now owns a 52-8 scoring edge in the 2nd inning ... Edwards' home run ended his 1-for-1 batting slunp.
RUTGERS 0-0-0 0-0-0 2-0-1 - 0 0 0
#8 NOTRE DAME 1-2-0 1-1-0 0-0-X - 5 9 0
Jim Jansen (W, 5-1), OJ DeChristofino and Colin Gaynor, Jeff Miller.
Double: Jason Grover (RU)