May 26, 2005
BRIDGEWATER, N.J. - The 21-year history of the BIG EAST baseball tournament has seen 18 of the previous champions win their opening game and - for the fourth consecutive year - that's just what Notre Dame did on Thursday night at Commerce Bank Ballpark, winning a back-and-forth game with Boston College that sends the Irish into Friday's winners-bracket game. Third-seeded Notre Dame next will face #4 seed Pittsburgh on Friday in a 3:30 EDT (2:30 in South Bend) game at Commerce Bank Ballpark. Jeff Samardzija will take the mound for the Irish while Pittsburgh is expected to counter with its own sophomore righthander, Billy Muldowney.
Notre Dame (34-22-1) - which has won six of its past seven games - forged an early tie and then claimed a 4-1 lead with three runs in the top of the 3rd. Junior lefthander Tom Thornton was in line for the win, despite allowing a two-run, 6th-inning home run by Jason Delaney, but Boston College (36-19) surged into the lead with a pair of 6th-inning runs vs. sophomore righthander Jeff Manship.
Manship (1-1) recovered to pitch through the 8th and 9th while his teammates reclaimed the lead in the top of the 9th. The go-ahead rally included a single down the rightfield line from pinch-hit specialist Steve Andres, Craig Cooper's four-pitch walk and a pair of groundball outs that left runners on second and third. Cody Rizzo's check-swing then placed the ball down the first-base line and catcher Shawn McGill sailed his throw over the first baseman, as Cooper and Matt Edwards scurried home for the 6-5 win.
Note: see Friday's pregame notes for ND-BC gameday photos.
Boston College and top seed St. John's will meet in Friday's noon elimination game, with another elimination game to be played Friday night at 7:00 (between the winner of the SJU-BC game and the loser of the ND-Pitt game). Pittsburgh defeated St. John's in Thursday's opener, as the Red Storm were forced to use their No. 2 starter (SJU announced after the game that ace Anthony Varvaro's status is uncertain for Friday's action).
Notre Dame played just .500 ball (12-12) during its first seven trips to the BIG EAST tournament but the three-time defending champs now have won five straight and are 10-2 in their past 12 games at the conference championship.
Thornton - whose 2-0 record and 2.38 career ERA vs. BC included a win at the 2004 BIG EAST tournament - allowed three runs on seven hits and a pair of walks in the 6.0 innings, with three strikeouts in his 91-pitch outing. Manship yielded his two runs on three hits and two walks, with four strikeouts in his 60-pitch stint.
The game was a matchup of two of the BIG EAST's top lefthanders, with BC senior Mike Wlodarczyk failing to duplicate his impressive complete-game win over the Irish earlier this season (in the 7-inning series opener). The Notre Dame offense rapped out 11 hits vs. the big southpaw, who struck out seven Irish batters and walked just one in his 112-pitch outing (one of the four runs charged to him was unearned).
Freshman RHP Terry Doyle (6-3) had been a top setup man for the Eagles this season but he took the hard-luck loss after the pair of unearned runs (2 IP, 2 H, BB, 3 Ks).
Thornton rolled up a pair of timely double plays, giving Notre Dame 60 for the season (only the 2002 College World Series team, with 66, has turned more double plays in ND baseball history). The Eagles put four leadoff batters on base, compared to just two for the Irish, but Notre Dame owned a key .286-.200 edge in batting with runners on base.
Notre Dame had several chances to break the game open in the middle innings, ultimately leaving 10 runners on base (including a bases-loaded chance in the 6th).
Three players with two hits - freshman 2B Brett Lilley, junior C/RF Cody Rizzo (R) and junior SS Greg Lopez - paced Notre Dame's 13-hit attack. The nine Irish starters each combined for the team's first nine hits of the game, before Lilley, Rizzo and Lopez added their second hits of the night. Junior OF Craig Cooper and senior 1B Matt Edwards both scored two precious runs in the narrow win.
Lilley opened the game by legging out an infield single to the leftside but Wlodarczyk popped up Alex Nettey's sac. bunt try and struck out Cooper and Edwards to strand Lilley.
The Eagles cashed in their early chance, as Ryan Hutchinson singled to left field and moved up on a groundout and wild pitch before scoring on Shawn McGill's two-out linedrive into shallow center field.
The Irish came right back to tie the game in the top of the 2nd. Rizzo reached on a one-out single to left field before motoring to third base when junior DH Matt Bransfield deposited a 1-1 pitch off the rightfield wall (for an opposite-field double and a near-home-run for the second consecutive year at the BIG EAST tournaments). Ross Brezovsky's rightside groundout then produced the 1-1 score.
Thornton hit Tom Mackor with a 1-2 pitch moments later but induced Dave Preziosi into a 4-6-3 double play.
Notre Dame's key three-run 3rd started with junior CF Alex Nettey's first-pitch single into left field. Cooper followed with a one-out, opposite-field single to right and Edwards then ripped a double off the glove of the first baseman Preziosi, who threw errantly on the ensuing relay (allowing Cooper to follow Nettey home, with Edwards scooting to third). Tony Langford's leftside groundout brought home Edwards for an unearned run and the 4-1 lead.
Hutchinson hit another leadoff single in the bottom of the frame but Thornton caught Drew Locke looking at an 0-2 pitch before inducing BIG EAST player of the year Jared McGuire into a 5-4-3 double play. Lopez then hit a two-out single in the 4th but Wlodarczyk served up a groundout to maintain the three-run deficit.
Delaney sent a leadoff single up the middle moments later but Rizzo - making his 11th start behind the plate in the past month - pounced on a potential wild pitch and threw out Delaney as he slid into second base. McGill's four-pitch walk then was erased on a 1-3-6 pickoff play, which combined with Rizzo's throw to be big moments in the inning when Mike Flynn doubled into left field (it would have been a two-RBI hit, if not for the erased baserunners). Thornton added his own clutch play, sending an 0-2 pitch by Marco Albano keep the Irish ahead by three runs.
Edwards coaxed a full-count walk with two outs in the 5th and moved up on Langford's single through the left side, but Wlodarczyk forced a comebacker from Rizzo to end the threat.
The Irish loaded the bases in the 6th - after singles from Brezovsky, Lopez and Lilley - but Nettey went down looking at a third strike and Cooper grounded out to strand three baserunners.
The Eagles set up the tight finish moments later, thanks to McGuire's one-out single through the right side and Delaney's ninth home run of the season, pulling a 1-0 pitch down the leftfield line to forge the 4-3 score.
Rizzo tried to grab back a run in the 7th vs. Doyle, reaching on a two-out infield single and moving up on a stolen base before Bransfield went down swinging.
Albano sparked BC's go-ahead rally when his full-count pitch landed down the rightfield line (Cooper hustled over to hold the runner to a single). A wild pitch put the tying run in scoring position but Manship sent a full-count pitch past pinch-hitter Ryne Reynoso and added a second strikeout vs. Preziosi (2-2 pitch). But Hutchinson delivered his third hit of the game for the game-tying RBI, on a bouncer that narrowly eluded Manship and the middle infielders Lopez and Brezovsky. A wide pitchout throw sent Hutchinson up a base and he stole third before watching McGuire battle to a full-count walk. Manship then bounced another pitch past Rizzo, allowing Hutchinson to score for the 5-4 lead.
Andres had delivered several key hits at Commerce Bank Ballpark in previous BIG EAST tournaments and he delivered again in the 9th inning of Thursday's game, poking a pinch-hit single down the rightfield line. Andres now is a .407 career hitter with the Irish in pinch-hit situations (11-for-27), including 3-for-6 this season (the rest of the team is 7-for-25).
Cooper's four-pitch walk ended the night for Doyle and sophomore RHP Kevin Boggan then came on to force a pair of groundball outs. Edwards worked to a full-count before his leftside grounder forced Andres to be tagged out. Sean Gaston then sent an 0-1 pitch to the right side, advancing both runners into scoring position.
Rizzo's check swing sent a 1-0 pitch down the first-base line and the catcher McGill slid to field the ball before lobbing a throw to his base - but the ball sailed high and carried down the line, as the tying and go-ahead runs scurried home.
Preziosi placed a one-out double down the leftfield line in the bottom of the 9th but Manship forced Hutchinson into a rightside groundout and Locke went down swinging at a 1-2 pitch to end the game.
Notes - Cooper extended his career-best hit streak to 11 games ... Edwards hit his 49th career double, tying former teammate Paul O'Toole for 10th in the ND record book ... it also was the 190th career RBI for Edwards, putting him alone in 5th place on that ND list ... Lilley (47) and Lopez (41) have combined for 88 error-free games this season ... Lilley has 23 E-free games in 29 GP at 3B, including a current 10-game errorless streak (31 fielding chances) ... ND was not hit by a pitch for just the sixth game this season (it also ended ND's streak of games with an HBP at 22) ... Rizzo is batting .319 (15-for-47) in the post-finals/May period (he had been 2-for-20 in previous games vs. BC) ... ND improved to 28-2 when holding the lead at the end of the 6th, 21-3-1 when outhitting the opponent and 8-3 when playing error-free ... Brezovsky still has just a single E in his past 12 games (at 2B) ... Edwards is 4 hits shy of becoming the fourth ND player with 80-plus hits and 40-plus walks in the same season ... ND improved to 7-7 in 1-run games this season ... Nettey and Rizzo both have hits in 9 of the past 10 games ... Delaney had been 1-for-10 vs. Thornton in previous ND-BC games (he was 2-for-3 with a walk in Thursday's game) ... Thornton's 2 walks equaled his total from the previous 47 IP ... ND improved to 6-4 in BET opening games ... ND won the '03 BET as the #3 seed ... the 2nd-longest scoring streak in ND baseball history now stands at 204 games (also 435 of past 436, 674 of 680 in 11-year Paul Mainieri era).
Notre Dame (34-22-1) 0-1-3 0-0-0 0-0-2 - 6 13 0
Boston College (36-19) 1-0-0 0-0-2 2-0-0 - 5 10 2