May 20, 2005
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Tom Thornton and Dan Kapala combined with reliever Jeff Manship to throttle the potent West Virginia offense, as the Notre Dame baseball team remained on pace for making its 10th straight BIG EAST Tournament appearance with Friday's 3-1, 5-1 doubleheader sweep of the visiting Mountaineers.
Notre Dame (32-22-1, 13-9-1 BIG EAST) - in the midst of playing eight games in seven days and now 22-4-1 at home this season - can claim the third seed in the four-team BIG EAST Tournament by winning Saturday's series finale vs. West Virginia (25-29, 10-14), which saw its slim postseason hopes end after the game-1 loss. Even if the Irish lose Saturday's game, they would qualify (as the #4 seed) if Rutgers loses one of its three games vs. Seton Hall this weekend. St. John's (17-4) and Boston College (16-8) will be the top seeds in the BIG EAST Tournament while Pittsburgh (15-10) clinched its spot after finishing a series sweep at Georgetown. Notre Dame and Rutgers remain the only other teams in the running for the tournament field.
Clutch all-around performances - at the plate, on the mound and in the field - helped Notre Dame post the pair of narrow wins, as both games ended the top of the 7th with the same 3-1 score.
The Notre Dame offense enjoyed just a 26-21 edge in total baserunners during the doubleheader but the Irish were much more efficient with their chances, batting 6-for-16 with runners in scoring position (.375; to WVU's 3-for-16/,188) while collecting four 2-out hits to WVU's two. The hosts had a runner on third base and fewer than 2 outs six times in the doubleheader and cashed in three of those chances while WVU failed to score in all four of its prime chances.
Thornton (6-5) and Kapala (5-3) both improved to 4-0 at Eck Stadium this season while taking different routes to their pair of pressure-packed victories. Manship logged the day's final three innings for the first save of his Notre Dame career, combining with the Irish starters in holding the WVU offense more than 100 points below its .312 team batting avg. in the doubleheader (12-for-57, .211). The Mountaineers also entered the day as the BIG EAST leader in home runs (58) and slugging pct. (.503) but WVU managed only four doubles and no other extra-base hits among its 12-hit day.
Kapala yielded a 1st-inning run but went on to retire 14 straight at one point, en route to facing just 27 batters (six over the minimum in the 7-inning opener). The sophomore righthander scattered five hits and did not walk a batter while locating 70% of his pitches for strikes (64 of 91; with a hit batter and balk).
Kapala kept 16 of his 21 outs in the infield, with five strikeouts (two "looking"), eight groundouts, two foulouts to infielders and a popup. One of his five outfield flyouts was caught in foul territory.
Thornton again was not his sharpest but he showed his veteran moxy by avoiding the big inning, en route to picking up the 20th win of his Notre Dame career (20-8). The junior lefthander allowed the lone run on seven hits and a rare walk (his first in 24 innings and second since early April) in 6.0 innings, with one strikeout in his 76-pitch outing.
Manship - the nation's #3-rated freshman entering the 2003 season - has been slowed during the past two seasons by injury but he showcased his tremendous pitching ability (namely a devastating curveball) to close the deal on Friday. The sophomore righthander overcame a pair of walks in the 7th, an error in the 8th and a passed ball that allowed a strikeout victim to reach in the 9th, ultimately facing 12 batters in the 3.0 innings with four strikeouts to counter the two walks.
Junior outfielder Craig Cooper (3-for-7, RBI, 2 R, BB) had hits in both games to extend his hitting streak to nine games while freshman leftfielder/DH Tony Langford hit 3-for-6 in the doubleheader with a walk and a timely two-run single. Junior catcher/rightfielder Cody Rizzo launched a solo shot in the opener for his third home run in six games and added an RBI double in game-2.
Notre Dame's position players also rose to the challenge with several above-average plays, particularly in the second game. Freshman second baseman Ross Brezovsky made a pair of highlight-reel plays in back-to-back innings to earn Comcast Local player-of-the-game honors in the nightcap while his classmate Brett Lilley had a pair of defensive gems at third base (one in each game).
Senior lefthander Marty Fagler (6-3) suffered the complete-game loss in the opener (5 H, 3 BB, 3 Ks, 2 WP, BK) while freshman LHP Kenny Durst dropped to 0-3 in the nightcap (7.1 IP, 9 H, 5 R/4 ER, 3 BB, 2 Ks, HB).
GAME-1 NOTES - WVU's Justin Jenkins hit a one-out single in the 1st and advanced on a balk and deep foulout before scoring on Stan Posluszny's double to left-center (Posluszny added a stolen base but Kapala caught Kyle Matuszek looking at a 2-2 pitch) ... the Irish quickly answered with a pair of runs in the bottom of the frame ... Brett Lilley drew a full-count walk and advanced on an Alex Nettey bunt and Cooper's infield single ... a wild pitch put two in scoring position for Langford, who delivered the clutch 2-out hit by sending a 1-2 pitch into right-center for the opposite-field, two-run single ... Kapala retired 14 straight from the 2nd-6th innings, with the outs including 5 Ks, 6 GOs, 2 FOs and a popup ... ND had a chance in the 3rd after Cooper's two-out single up the middle and a balk but Fagler induced a groundout to maintain the 2-1 score ... Rizzo came through with two outs in the 4th, depositing a 1-1 pitch over the leftfield fence for the first home run allowed by Fagler this season (it was Rizzo's 5th HR of '05 and 13th of his career) ... Nettey hit a one-out double in the 5th and stole third (followed by Cooper's walk) but Fagler rolled up a double play ... WVU's big chance came in the 6th, loading the bases with 1-out on singles by Tyler Kuhn and Lee Fritz and a Jenkins HBP ... the heavy-hitting Pozluszny then worked to a 2-2 count and flared a foul ball down the left side - as Lilley showed off his defensive skills with an overhead basket catch before quickly throwing the ball back to the infield to stop a potential tag play (Kapala then induced a flyout from Matuszek to leave the bags loaded) ... the Irish had another chance in the 6th after Matt Bransfield's HBP and a wild pitch but Fagler rolled up two groundouts ... Brandon Drespling hit a 2-out single in the 7th but Kapala served up another groundout (off the bat of David Carpenter) to end the game.
GAME 2 NOTES - WVU scored to start the game again, after singles from Jenkins (up the middle), Fritz (down leftfield line) and Posluszny (to left) ... a throwing error left two more runners in scoring position but Thornton induced a leftside groundball and the surehanded Lilley caught Posluszny in a 5-2-5-3 rundown (Doug Nelms then popped up to leave the score 1-0) ... a double play wiped out two ND baserunners in the bottom of the 1st ... Chad McKown hit a leadoff double in the 2nd and moved up on sac. bunt but the LF Cooper threw him out at home for a key double play ... Langford's leadoff single moments later was negated by another double play turned by WVU ... Jenkins reached on a 1-out double in the 3rd before Brezovsky made a huge play ranging to his left, getting the 4-3 forceout for the second out (Thornton then sent a 2-2 pitch past Posluszny to keep the score 1-0) ... Lilley was stranded later in the inning after a 2-out HBP ... Matuszek's leadoff double and a sac. bunt gave WVU another chance in the 4th but McCown sent a shallow popup to right field and Brezovsky made possibly ND's biggest defensive play of the season, leaping to stab a linedrive off the bat of Drespling ... ND took the lead with a pair of runs in the 4th ... Cooper reached on infield single (0-2 count) and stole second before moving up on a Matt Edwards single to left field ... Langford's five-pitch walk loaded the bases and Rizzo's double-play ball plated one run before Sean Gaston sent the go-ahead single up the middle (0-1 pitch) ... Carpenter appeared to have placed a leadoff single through the left side in the 5th but a diving Lilley smothered the ball, jumped to his feet and threw out the runner (Kuhn later singled but Thornton forced Jenkins into a flyout and Gaston nailed Kuhn trying to swipe second) ... ND added a run in the 5th, after Brezovsky's single up the middle, Durst's fielding error on Lilley's sac. bunt, Nettey's sac. bunt and Cooper's RBI groundout (unearned run; Edwards then walked but a flyout left Brezovsky at third) ... Matuszek had a 2-out walk in the 6th but Brezovsky made another tough play on a Nelms popup, tracking the ball into shallow center field ... Manship lost Drespling and Carpenter on 1-out walks in the 7th but he induced Kuhn into a harmless flyout and caught the dangerous Jenkins looking at a full-count curveball ... Lilley's 1-out single moments later was negated by a flyout and caught-stealing ... WVU had another chance in the 8th after an error put leadoff man Fritz on base but Posluszny went down swinging at an 0-2 pitch, Matuszek flew out and Nelms grounded out weakly back to the mound ... the Irish added key insurance runs in the 8th, thanks to a 1-out walk by Edwards, a passed ball, Langford's single up the middle and Rizzo's RBI double to the left-center gap ... Gaston added a sac. fly down the leftfield line vs. another freshman LHP, Matt Yurish, for the 5-1 lead ... pinch-hitter Trent Ridgley reached to start the 9th on a K/PB but Manship rolled up two groundballs, including the game-ending double play off the bat of Carpenter.
UPDATED TEAM NOTES - Bransfield and Lilley's HBPs give ND 116 for the season, moving into 5th in the NCAA record book behind Nevada's 1997 team (25), Long Beach State's 1998 squad (124), the 2004 College of Charleston team (122) and the 2003 Cal State Fullerton team (117) ... ND played that '03 CSF team in the 2003 NCAA Regionals ... Lilley's 24 HBPs are four shy of Rizzo's ND record ... Lilley has totaled 57 free passes this season (also 33 walks) to go along with 66 hits ... the ND offense has at least one HBP in 21 consecutive games and in 50 of 55 games this season ... Cooper is batting .441 in his current 9-game hit streak (15-for-34, 8 R, 4 2B, 13 RBI, 2 HR, 3 BB, HBP, 4 Ks, SAC, SB) ... Brezovsky has hits in 4 of the past 5 games (8-for-17, 3 RBI, 6 R) while Nettey (8-for-29, 2 RBI, 5 R) and Rizzo (9-for-26, 6 RBI, 8 R) each have hits in 7 of the past 8 games ... ND's five games this week have included a 2.30 staff ERA in 43 IP (35 H/.216 opp. avg., 13 BB, 27 Ks), a .341 team batting avg. and 9.0 runs per game (6 HR, 10 2B, 20 BB, 7 HBP, 20 Ks) ... Gaston started game-2 behind the plate, just his second start in the 12 post-finals games (due to back injury) ... WVU is slated to start sophomore LHP Wes Osbourn (5.30, 7-3, 69.2 IP, 29 Ks, 35 BB, 84 H, .301) in game-3 while ND will counter with sophomore RHP Jeff Samardzija ... ND now is 26-2 when leading at the end of the 6th inning, 21-3 when holding the opponent to 0-3 runs, 19-3-1 when outhitting the opponent (game-2), 18-8-1 when scoring a 1st-inning run and 7-3 when playing error-free (game-1) ... ND now leads the WVU series 30-13 (21-10 in Mainieri era), including 13-5 at ND (7-5 at Eck Stadium) ... the Irish are 11-3 in the past 14 games vs. WVU ... ND now has lost just one of its last 34 BIG EAST series at Eck Stadium ('99-'05; loss was vs. WVU in '03; 28 series wins, 5 splits) ... ND's 48 all-time BIG EAST series at Eck Stadium include 38 series wins, 7 splits and just 3 series wins by the opponents (also WVU in '96, SJU in '98) ... Thornton has just 2 BB in his past 47 IP ... the 2nd-longest scoring streak in ND history now stands at 202 games (433 of last 434; 672 of 678 in Mainieri era) ... Edwards drew two walks in game-2 and has 102 in his career (17 in the 12 post-finals games) ... the ND batters drew 8 free passes in the doubleheader (WVU had just 4) ... the ND pitchers have allowed just 8 HRs at home this season ... Kapala has posted a 2.48 ERA and 4-0 record at Eck Stadium this season (36.1 IP, 19 Ks, 9 BB, 33 H) while Thornton has a 2.25 home ERA (4-0, 36 IP, 15 Ks, 5 BB, 38 H) ... Samardzija is 2-0 with a 3.04 home ERA this season (23.2 IP, 20 Ks, 6 BB, 22 H) ... Lilley's 45 error-free games this season include 22 in 27 games at 3B (7 Es) ... since Lilley's shift to 3B, ND has just 31 Es in 27 games (0-1 Es in 21) ... ND's all-time BIG EAST record includes 66 series wins (14 series ties, 13 series losses) and 51 doubleheader sweeps (30 splits, 8 opp. sweeps) ... Lopez posted his 40th error-free game of the season in the opener and 82nd during the past two seasons ... Cooper's .431 career batting avg. in BIG EAST games (44-for-102) ranks 3rd in the BIG EAST record book behind former Rutgers player Joe Cirrone (.443; '97-'00) and former Seton Hall standout Marteese Robinson (.432; '85-'87) ... ND has scored 51 runs in the 1st inning this season ... Kapala sliced his season ERA to 3.55 (.270 opp. avg.), Manship to 3.00.
West Virginia 1-0-0 0-0-0 0 - 1 5 0
Notre Dame 2-0-0 1-0-0 X - 3 5 0
Home Run: Rizzo, ND (solo in 4th; 5th of season, 13th of career).
Doubles: Alex Nettey (ND), Stan Posluszny (WVU)
West Virginia (25-29, 10-14 BIG EAST) 1-0-0 0-0-0 0-0-0 - 1 7 2
Notre Dame (32-22-1, 13-9-1 BIG EAST) 0-0-0 2-1-0 0-2-X - 5 9 2
Doubles: Cody Rizzo (ND), Justin Jenkins (WVU), Kyle Matuszek (WVU) and Chad McCown (WVU).