May 27, 2005
BRIDGEWATER, N.J. -
Notre Dame's recent mastery of the BIG EAST Baseball Championship continued on Friday at Commerce Bank Ballpark, as the Irish rode the clutch pitching of sophomore righthander Jeff Samardzija and another balanced offensive day to defeat Pittsburgh, 4-2, in the winners-bracket game of the double-elimination tournament. Notre Dame (35-22-1) advances to Saturday's championship round (3:30 EDT; 7:00, if necessary) for a rematch with Pittsburgh, which won Friday night's elimination game versus Boston College. Pittsburgh must win twice on Saturday to stop Notre Dame from claiming its fourth straight BIG EAST tournament title.
Notre Dame has won six straight BIG EAST tournament games (spanning the 2003, '04 and '05 seasons), for the longest winning streak in the 21-year history of the event. The Irish also are 9-1 in their past 10 BIG EAST tournament games and have gone 11-2 over the course of the '02-'05 tournaments.
Samardzija (8-1) delivered his third big-game victory in the past 13 days, limiting Pittsburgh (33-21) to one earned run and an unearned run (both scored in the 7th) on six hits and three walks in 6-2 innings, with six strikeouts. Three relievers - sophomore lefthander Mike Dury, freshman righthander Tony Langford and junior righthander Ryan Doherty - then closed out the win, with Doherty picking up his sixth save of the season and 19th of his career (one shy if tying the ND record).
Senior first baseman Matt Edwards registered his team-best 24th multiple-hit game of the season (2-for-4) and scored the first run of the game while six other players contributed to Notre Dame's eight-hit day. Junior DH Steve Andres has made a name for himself with key hits in previous BIG EAST tournaments and he delivered again in the 4th inning of Friday's game, pulling a ball down the rightfield line that grazed off the foul pole for a 3-0 lead and his fifth home run of the season (his HR ended up being the only extra-base hit of the game).
Notre Dame improved to 7-1 in its past eight games, batting .341 in those games while outscoring the opponents 62-28 (top hitters in the 7-1 streak include Craig Cooper's .484 batting avg., plus Edwards' .480, Cody Rizzo's .357 and Ross Brezovsky's .321). Samardzija has led the way for a pitching staff that owns a 2.57 ERA and .234 opponent batting avg. during the current 7-1 run (the ND defense has a .963 fielding pct. and 11 errors in those eight games).
Samardzija's past three starts include the pressure-packed win in game-3 at Pittsburgh and the win over West Virginia in the regular-season finale (clinching the BIG EAST Tournament berth). His stats in the past three starts include a 2.29 ERA and 3-0 record, plus 14 Ks, 6 walks and 17 hits allowed (.227 opp. avg.) in 19.2 innings.
Langford retired three of the four batters he faced (H, K) before Doherty set down all four he faced (three via strikeouts) to produce one of the biggest saves of his career. His 19 saves are tied with former teammate J.P. Gagne ('03) for second in Notre Dame history, just one shy of John Corbin's record (20; '97-'00).
Pittsburgh sophomore righthander Brian Muldowney (7-3) had posted a 4-1 win over the Irish in the series opener three weeks ago but he failed to match Samardzija, allowing four runs (two earned) on eight hits and no walks in 8.0 innings (with 6 Ks).
Pittsburgh leadoff batter Ben Copeland opened the game with a single to center field and stolen second - but Edwards stabbed a linedrive off the bat of Jimmy Mayer and snapped a throw to second base for the quick double play.
Sean Conley then led off the 2nd with a bunt single down the third-base line and Samardzija hit Jeff Stevens with the next pitch - but Daniel Ford went down swinging and centerfielder Alex Nettey made a great catch at the wall on Edgard Sucre's deep drive.
Edwards stroked a single to left field moments later and Muldowney hit Rizzo with a pitch, marking the 69th HBP of Rizzo's career (still 4th in the NCAA record book and 23 shy of the record) and his 20th HBP of the season. The Irish failed to execute the sacrifice bunt but Edwards showed his improved baserunning skill by swiping third base and trotting home on the throwing error by the catcher Stevens. The Irish could have tacked on another run but Nettey tapped weakly back to the mound and Rizzo was caught in a rundown.
Pitt's Jim Negrych led off the 4th with a single up the middle and stole second with one out - but Samardzija caught Conley looking at a 2-2 pitch and forced Stevens to hit a groundball back to the box.
The Irish then cashed in their chance in the bottom of the frame, with Brett Lilley reaching on an infield single before Andres worked ahead in the count and lifted a 3-1 pitch down the rightfield line. The crosswind kept the ball in play and Andres' 13th career home run glanced off the foul pole for the 3-0 lead. Rizzo followed with a one-out single through the left side but Muldowney rolled up a double-play to keep Pitt within range.
Pitt's Dan Williams drew a two-out walk in the 5th and Copeland - who nearly finished as the BIG EAST's leader in overall batting average - strode to the plate. Samardzija avoided further trouble, as Nettey collected the flyout to maintain the shutout.
Notre Dame's Greg Lopez sent a two-out single up the middle in the 5th but Cooper (who was hitting back in the leadoff spot) flew out to center field. Pitt then had a chance in the 6th when Mayer walked and Negrych singled to center - but Samardzija forced Peter Parise into a leftside popup, served up Conley's flyout to Nettey and sent a 2-2 pitch by Stevens to maintain the 3-0 lead.
Lilley reached in the bottom of the 6th on an error by the shortstop Mayer and Edwards sent a single into right field - but the Irish failed to pad their lead as Rizzo struck out and Gaston tapped back to the mound.
Pittsburgh rallied with two outs in the 7th, cutting the Irish lead to 3-2. Williams drew a five-pitch walk and moved up on a wild pitch before Copeland sent a chopper to the left side of the mound. The ball glanced off Samardzija's glove and the shortstop Lopez didn't have enough time to throw out the speedy Copeland, leaving runners on the corners as the tying run came to the plate.
Mayer then hit a 1-0 ball that hopped over the head of the third baseman Lilley, scoring Williams and ending Samardzija's day. Dury came in to face the dangerous Negrych and jumped ahead in the count (0-2), followed by two balls before Negrych sent a grounder back to the mound. Dury fielded the ball cleanly but his throw was a tad strong and low, with Edwards unable to make the rally-ending putout as another run came home on the E-3 - but Langford then took the mound and Lopez fielded the ensuing groundout to keep the Irish in front (3-2).
Notre Dame responded with a key insurance run moments later, as Brezovsky reached on a fielding error by his counterpart at second base, Negrych. Lopez followed with a sac. bunt and Cooper sent a 2-2 pitch into center field for the RBI single.
Conley led off the 8th with a single to left and moved up on a one-out stolen base and groundout, bringing Doherty out of the bullpen for his strikeout of Sucre on a 2-2 pitch.
Gaston placed a two-out single down the leftfield line in the bottom of the inning but Nettey fouled out to leave the Irish margin at two runs. Doherty then made quick work of the Panthers in the 9th, as Williams and Copeland went down swinging before the rightfielder Rizzo tracked down Mayer's foul ball against the fence.
UPDATED TEAM NOTES - Thursday's win over BC continued ND's streak of never going 0-2 in a postseason tournament during the 11-year Paul Mainieri era (11 conference tournaments, 7 NCAA regionals, the '02 Super Regional and '02 CWS) ... ND will be looking to duplicate its 2003 BIG EAST title as the #3 seed ... the Irish pitchers have allowed just 12 runs in the past 5 games ... ND is riding a 3-game winning streak on the road (despite an overall road record of 12-18) ... ND now is 23-14 all-time in the BIG EAST Tournament, for a .621 winning pct. in the BET (St. John's is next, at 11-10/.524) ... ND improved to 29-2 when leading at the end of the 6th (4-18 when trailing), 22-3-1 when outhitting the opponent and 23-3 when holding the opponent to 0-3 runs ... ND owned a +40 "Red Ratio" (measuring plate discipline) in the regular season (BB+HBP-Ks) but the Irish have managed to post two wins this week despite -8 and -5 ratios in those games ... ND is 21-8-1 since moving Lilley to 3B at the midseason point (0-1 Es in 23 of those 30 games, with 32 total Es in that stretch) ... the 2nd-longest scoring streak in ND baseball history now stands at 205 games (also 436 of last 437; 675 of 681 in Mainieri era) ... the Irish now have at least one HBP in 52 of 58 games this season (23 of past 24) ... ND's 119 HBPs remain 4th in the NCAA record book behind the 1997 Nevada team (125), the '98 Long Beach State squad (124) and the 2004 College of Charleston team (119).
UPDATED INDIVIDUAL NOTES - Mainieri now owns a 485-194-2 record in 11 seasons at Notre Dame (816-473-3 in 23 overall seasons as a college head coach) ... Cooper now is batting .444 with 18 RBI in his career-best 12-game hitting streak (20-for-45, 31 TB, 9 R, 4 BB, HBP) ... Rizzo's 69 HBP trail only Tony Hurtado (92; San Francisco, `97-'00), Gabe Somarriba (81; Florida Atlantic, `99-'02) and Jeff Ontiveros (74; Texas, `99-'02) in the NCAA record book) ... Rizzo has hits in 10 of the past 11 games, batting .378 in those games (14-for-37, 5 RBI, 10 R, 3 HR, 2 2B, 2 BB, 4 HBP, 3 Ks, 2 SB, E) ... Edwards is batting .480 (12-for-25) in the past 8 games (6 RBI, 8 R, 8 BB), has totaled 24 walks in the past 17 GP, has made 98 straight starts with the Irish (played in 180 of past 181, starting 178) and is a .400 career hitter in the BET (14-for-35, 11 R, 9 RBI, HR, 2B, 6 BB, HBP, 5 Ks, 2 E) ... he needs two more hits to become the fourth ND player with 80-plus hits and 40-plus walks in the same season ... Lopez hit just .238 in the final six games of the regular season but is batting 3-for-6 at the BET (ending an 0-for-12 slump) ... Lopez now owns a .429 career batting avg. at the BET (9-for-21, RBI, 2 R, 2 HBP, 3 Ks) ... Andres again has more extra-base hits (11; 5 HR, 3B, 5 2B) than singles (10) this season ... he had just three hits in the month of May before already picking up two at the BET ... Andres now is a .320 career hitter in the BET (8-for-25, HR, 3B, 3 2B, 6 R, 8 RBI) ... Lopez (42) and Lilley (48) now have combined for 90 error-free games this season ... Lopez also had 42 E-free games in '04 while Lilley has gone error-free in 25 of his 30 games at 3B ... Doherty's last 3 outings include 7 Ks, 1 BB and no hits allowed in 5 IP ... Langford has not been charged with a run in his past 9 appearances (9.2 IP, 8 Ks, 4 H, 4 BB) ... Lilley is riding an 11-game errorless streak (1 E in past 15 games) while Brezovsky has just 1 E in the past 13 games.
Pittsburgh (32-21) 0-0-0 0-0-0 2-0-0 - 2 7 3
Notre Dame (35-22-1) 0-1-0 2-0-0 1-0-X - 4 8 1
Billy Muldowney (L, 7-3) and Jeff Stevens.
Jeff Samardzija (W, 8-1), Mike Dury (7), Tony Langford (7), Ryan Doherty (8; SV, 6) and Sean Gaston.
Home Run: Steve Andres, ND (1 on in 4th; 5th of season, 13th of career).