May 18, 2006
PLYMOUTH MEETING, Pa. - Jeff Samardzija logged possibly his best all-around outing of the season - in a duel with fellow top-50 pro prospect Kevin Mulvey - while seniors Cody Rizzo and Steve Andres were two of four Irish players with multiple hits, as the 19th-ranked Notre Dame baseball team finally came out on the winning end of a tight game in Thursday's 3-1 victory over Villanova. The win leaves Notre Dame on the verge of claiming the BIG EAST regular-season title while the team's 19 conference wins match the fourth-most in the 22-year history of BIG EAST baseball (three previous teams, all from Notre Dame, won 20-plus).
Notre Dame (39-14-1, 19-5-1 BIG EAST) - which had lost five times in the past two weeks by a total of just eight runs - can claim its sixth BIG EAST regular-season title in 11 seasons as a member of the conference, with the Irish needing just one more win in the three-game series at Villanova Ballpark to secure the first-place finish (with two games versus VU remaining). Notre Dame also would claim the regular-season title if second-place Connecticut (16-6-1) loses one of its two remaining games versus Rutgers (the Huskies won game-1, 11-7).
Samardzija (7-2) set down the Wildcats in each of the first three innings and logged 8.1 innings for the longest outing of his career, limiting the Wildcats to the single run on four hits and no walks while striking out seven. The junior righthander picked up his 20th career win with the Irish and allowed just seven balls to reach the outfield, with 22 of his 25 outs coming via strikeouts, groundball outs (14) or infield popups (1). The two-sport standout located 71 of his 109 pitches for strikes and allowed just 1-of-9 leadoff batters to reach base.
Junior lefthander Mike Dury entered the game with a runner on first in the 9th and rolled up a groundout before Kyle Weiland caught Frank Cirone looking at a third strike to end the game. It marked the 14th save of the season (in 15 chances) for the freshman righthander, breaking the Notre Dame single-season record (13) set by J.P. Gagne in 2003.
Villanova (27-25, 8-16) entered the day with slim chances to qualify for the BIG EAST Tournament, with the loss and South Florida's 8-1 win over West Virginia officially eliminating the Wildcats from the postseason.
Mulvey (3-8) - who joins Samardzija and his Notre Dame teammate Jeff Manship as BIG EAST pitchers currently rated by Baseball America among the top-50 college prospects for the 2006 Major League draft - allowed the three runs on 10 hits and one walk over 8.2 innings, with six strikeouts in his 128-pitch outing.
Rizzo and Andres are part of a senior class that is set to graduate in three days and the veteran duo played key roles in delivering the program's 173rd win during their four-year careers. Rizzo - appearing in his 224th career game with the Irish (8th-most in ND history) - sparked the offense from the 9-hole, batting 2-for-4 while also reaching when he was hit by a pitch in the 8th. It marked the 82nd career HBP for the senior catcher/rightfielder, good for second-place in NCAA history behind the 92 by former University of San Francisco player Tony Hurtado. Andres - making just his 11th start of the season and first since mid-April - had a single and solo home run that provided a key insurance run to lead off the 6th inning.
Notre Dame - which totaled five key 2-out hits in the game - opened the scoring after hitting three singles in the 3rd. Rizzo lined a 1-0 pitch up the middle for a leadoff single and Brett Lilley executed the hit-and-run two batters later with a first-pitch single into right field. Ross Brezovsky then delivered with 2-outs, working ahead in the count (2-0) before pulling the RBI single through the right side of the infield.
Ryan Arcadia's leadoff double helped Villanova tie the game in the next inning. Samardzija struck out Derek Shunk with 1-out and runners at the corners before Jeremy Hunt dropped a single into shallow center field to tie the game. Hunt went 3-for-4 from his cleanup spot but the rest of the Villanova batters combined to bat just 2-for-28 versus the Irish pitchers.
The Irish retook the lead in the 5th, despite a failed hit-and-run after Rizzo had punched a single over the third baseman's head (he then was thrown out at second). Cooper atoned for the missed sign by coaxing his team-leading 34th walk of the season and moved up on a Lilley groundout before scoring when Barnes pulled a full-count pitch down the leftfield line for a 2-out single.
Andres led off the 6th with his 18th career home run, jumping all over a first-pitch fastball from Mulvey and depositing it over the fence in deep right-center.
NOTES - Cincinnati's 7-0 win over 3rd-place St. John's (15-9) made the Bearcats (12-13) the seventh team to clinch a spot in the eight-team BIG EAST Tournament ... South Florida (11-14) has closed in on the final spot while West Virginia remains tied with Rutgers for 5th (13-12)... Pittsburgh is tied with Georgetown in 9th place (9-16), after beating GU 14-0 ... 12th-place Seton Hall (7-18) lost in a wild finish at 4th-place Louisville (15-10), 8-7 in 12 innings... Rizzo moved past Andrew Bushy into 8th on the ND career games played list (four behind Jeff Felker) while senior SS Greg Lopez (222) moved past former teammate Steve Sollmann into 10th place on the career GP list ...Cooper (1-for-4, BB) now is batting .441 in his career during BIG EAST games (115-for-261), two points shy of the record ... Cooper entered the week leading the nation in runs per game and crossed the plate for the 69th time this season (he has scored 41 times in 48 games played, with hits in 42 of his games while reaching base in 46) ... Weiland entered the week ranked 7th among the nation's saves leaders.
#19 Notre Dame (39-14-1, 19-5-1 BIG EAST) 0-0-1 0-1-1 0-0-0 - 3 10 1
Home Run: Steve Andres, ND (leadoff in 4th; 1st of season, 18th of career).