May 27, 2006
CLEARWATER, Fla. - The Notre Dame baseball team's starting pitcher depth has been a strength throughout the 2006 season and the coaching staff's confidence in each of its top-four starters proved to be a key factor in the four-day BIG EAST Championship at Bright House Networks Field. It's not often that a team's No. 4 starter emerges as the MVP of a postseason tournament but that was the scenario that unfolded on Saturday afternoon, as sophomore lefthander Wade Korpi logged five shutout innings to headline the 7-0 victory over Louisville that delivered Notre Dame's fifth straight BIG EAST tournament title. Korpi also had won the team's pressure-packed opener versus the local team South Florida and received the Jack Kaiser Trophy, in recognition of being selected as the tournament's most outstanding performer.
Notre Dame (45-15-1) - playing its 12th straight game away from home - claimed the BIG EAST's automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament and now awaits two announcements: the selection of the 16 host sites for the regional round (Sunday, May 28; 3:30 EDT, on ESPN News) and the announcement of the 64-team NCAA field and regional pairings (Monday, May 29; 12:30 EDT, on ESPN).
The Irish had been one of 12 teams to qualify for the NCAAs every season from 1999-2005 and now remain on that elite list through 2006, with Notre Dame set to make its eighth straight NCAA appearance (others that played in the '99-'05 NCAAs included Miami, LSU, Texas, Rice, CS Fullerton, Florida State, Stanford, Clemson, Tulane, East Carolina and Oral Roberts).
Notre Dame's current streak of five straight conference tournament titles is second-longest in the nation behind the nine straight Mid-Continent Tournament titles compiled by Oral Roberts. Rice (10) is the only other team in the nation - spanning 30 conference - that has an active streak of more consecutive conference automatic bids to the NCAAs (the Owls just won the Conference USA tournament but previously played in the Western Athletic Conference, which just have the bid to the regular-season champ).
No other team in the 22-year history of the event has won more than two straight BIG EAST Championships and Notre Dame's title back in 2003 marked the first time since the early years of the event ('85-`86, by St. John's) that a team had won back-to-back crowns.
Notre Dame's Sunday return to campus will complete a stretch that saw the Irish on the road for 16 of 17 days, completing a season-long travel stretch that covered nearly 17,400 miles.
The game with Louisville marked the first time since Notre Dame's first appearance in the BIG EAST Tournament (1996) that the Irish faced a team with better pitching depth in the tournament. The Cardinals won their four-team bracket in three games while Notre Dame needed four games (3-1) before advancing to the winner-take-all title game.
Notre Dame now has won 14 of its past 16 games in the BIG EAST Tournament (and 11 of the past 12), with an all-time record of 27-16 (.619) in the event. The win yields Notre Dame's 11th season with 45-plus wins while the Irish now have reached 30 games over .500 in seven seasons (also 1989, '90, '92, 2001, '02 and '04).
Korpi's five scoreless innings included three hits and two walks allowed, with a pair of strikeouts in the 92-pitch outing as he held back a Louisville team that entered the game with a .477 batting average in the tournament. His combined stats over the two starts included a 2-0 record, an 0.82 ERA (1 run), 13 strikeouts, 5 walks and 7 hits allowed (.184 opp. batting avg.). Korpi (7-2) became the sixth player in the event's 22-year history to post two wins in the same BIG EAST Tournament, is the youngest player to earn the Kaiser Award since 2000 and is the first pitcher to be named the tournament's MVP since Seton Hall closer Isaac Pavlik in 2001.
Four Notre Dame seniors - Craig Cooper (2-for-4, 2 RBI), Steve Andres (2-for-2, 2 R), Alex Nettey (2-for-4, 2 R) and Greg Lopez (2-for-3, RBI) - registered multiple hits in the title game while sophomore DH Ross Brezovsky supplied the game's biggest hit with a three-run blast in the bottom of the 7th that produced the final margin.
Junior righthander Jess Stewart (3 IP, H, BB, K, 11 BF) and his lefthanded classmate Mike Dury (1 IP, 2 H, HB, 2 Ks) combined with Korpi on the six-hit shutout. It marked just the fifth shutout in a BIG EAST tournament final game and was the first since Rutgers edged Seton Hall in 2000 (1-0).
The five strikeouts posted by Korpi, Stewart and Dury gives Notre Dame 485 for the season, breaking the Irish single-season record (483) set by the 2002 College World Series team. The Irish also remain on pace to set the team record for staff strikeout-to-walk ratio, averaging 3.07 Ks for every walk allowed this season.
Freshman second baseman Jeremy Barnes and junior catcher Sean Gaston both batted 1-for-4 but they each finished with one of the top BIG EAST Tournament batting averages in Notre Dame history (spanning 11 BETs). Gaston's .500 batting avg. in the 2006 BET (7-for-14) ties J.J. Brock (8-for-16, in '97) for the third-best batting avg. at one BIG EAST Tournament in ND history (min. 10 ABs) - trailing only the 8-for-11 (.727, best in the tournament's history) posted by Sanchez in 2003 and Paul O'Toole's .600 (6-for-10) in 2001.
Barnes finished batting at a .421 clip in the tournament (8-for-19), 2nd-best ever by a Notre Dame freshman behind Brian Stavisky's .462 (6-for-13) in 2000. The .421 turned in by Barnes has been bested just 11 times by an Irish player, during Notre Dame's 11-year history at the BET.
Notre Dame hit 4-for-7 with runners in scoring position during the title game while the Irish pitchers limited Louisville to 2-for-16 batting with runners on base, 1-for-8 with them in scoring position and 2-for-11 with 2-outs. Korpi allowed just one hit with runners on base (1-for-7) and yielded just one 2-out hit.
Louisville (31-28) saw its 12-game winning streak come to an end, despite stringing together three strong offensive games prior to facing the Irish. The Cardinals' only quality chance versus Korpi came in the 2nd, after Derrick Alfonso's leadoff single and a two-out double by Daniel Burton, but Alec Lowrey went down swinging at a full-count pitch.
The Irish then opened the scoring versus senior RHP Brian Halford (5-4; 6.1 IP, 5 R, 10 H, 2 BB, K) with three runs in the bottom of the 2nd. Andres walked on five pitches and moved up on Brezovsky's groundout before scoring when Gaston sent a full-count pitch up the middle. Nettey followed with a single through the right side (on a 1-0 pitch) and the shortstop Lopez then plated the second run with an opposite-field single to right (on an 0-1 pitch).
Halford plunked Rizzo with the next pitch, loading the bases as Rizzo collected his 83rd career HBP (still 2nd in NCAA history, now nine shy of the record). Cooper then brought home the third run with a sacrifice fly into left field.
Korpi logged 1-2-3 innings in the 3rd and 5th before departing with a 4-0 lead. The Irish had scored their fourth run in the 4th, sparked by Nettey's full-count, leadoff single through the right side. Lopez then bunted the runner over for his 32nd career sacrifice bunt (still 2nd in ND history) and Cooper delivered with 2-outs, as the first baseman sent a first-pitch single up the middle for the four-run cushion.
The Cardinals had a chance to cut into the lead in the 6th, after a leadoff single from Chris Cates and a pair of groundouts that moved him to third base. But Stewart caught Alfonso looking at a full-count pitch for the rally-killing strikeout.
Halford fell behind in the count versus Barnes moments later and the rookie made him pay, driving a 2-0 pitch deep into the left-center gap and motoring around for his team-leading fifth triple of the season and second of the BIG EAST Tournament. Junior lefthander David Torcise then was summoned from the bullpen - with three lefthanded hitters due up - but Andres reached on four pitches (the 98th career walk for the leftfielder) and Brezovsky connected on the next pitch, driving his fourth home run of the season and sixth of his career over the rightfield fence.
Dury closed the game with a scoreless inning that dropped his season ERA to 2.20 while lowering his career ERA to 1.83, best in recorded Notre Dame history (among pitchers with 60-plus career innings).
Additional notes on the Irish follow below:
KORPI COPS MVP - Sophomore LHP Wade Korpi became the youngest player since 2000 (Rutgers freshman RHP Bobby Brownlie) to be named the most outstanding player of the BIG EAST Championship ... former Seton Hall DH Mo Vaughn ('87) and former St. John's 3B Mike Dzurilla ('97) are the only other freshmen ever to receive the honor, in the 22-year history of the event ... other sophomore to receive the award have included UConn 2B Craig MacDonald ('90 and 1B Chris Bisson ('94) and West Virginia RHP Chris Enochs ('96), with the other 15 recipients including five seniors and 10 juniors ... Seton Hall closer Isaac Pavlik ('01) was the previous pitcher to receive the Jack Kaiser Award ... the other five pitchers to be named the tournament's top player include Villanova LHP Rafael Novoa ('89), St. John's RHP Mike Maerten ('93), Enochs ('96), Providence RHP Marc DesRoches ('99) and Brownlie ... Notre Dame's five previous recipients of the award: senior CF Steve Stanley ('02), junior C Javi Sanchez ('03), junior 3B Matt Macri ('04) and senior 1B Matt Edwards ('05) ... Sanchez was in attendance on Friday to cheer on the Irish (former ND ace RHP Grant Johnson also was at the BET earlier in the week).
KORPI IN THE ND RECORD BOOKS - Korpi's 1.88 season ERA would rank 14th in the ND record book and 4th-best in the Mainieri era behind Aaron Heilman (1.61 in '98; 1.74 in '01), current senior LHP Tom Thornton (1.81 in '03) and Grant Johnson (1.87 in '04) ... Korpi's .204 opp. batting avg. would rank 7th-best in the ND record book (stat kept since '91) ... his 94 Ks stand 7th in ND history behind three Heilman seasons (118 in '99 and '00; 111 in '01), Danny Tamayo (106, in '01), Frank Carpin (102, in '58) and Tim Kalita (97, in '99) ... Korpi needs six more punchouts to join junior RHP Jeff Manship (103) as ND's second pair of pitchers with 100-plus Ks in the same season (Heilman had 111 and Tamayo 106 in 2001).
STRONG STARTER, IN SEVERAL WAYS - Korpi has been impressive in his 12 starts this season, compiling a 1.34 ER, .188 opp. batting avg., a 4.1 K-to-walk ratio (94/23) and 25 more innings pitched (73.2) than hits allowed (49) in those starts ... his two relief outings have been a different story (32.40 ERA, .667 opp. avg., 2 Ks, 4 BB in 1.2 IP) ... Korpi also owns a 1.13 ERA during the 1st-4th innings this season (6 ER, .187 opp. avg., 58 Ks, 16 BB, 32 H in 48 IP).
SHUTOUT CITY - Notre Dame's fifth shutout of the season was just the fifth in the 22-year history of the BIG EAST Tournament ... the others include: Rutgers 1, Seton Hall 0 ('99); RU 12, ND 0 ('98); Providence 4, Pittsburgh 0 ('95); and St. John's 5, Villanova 0 ('88) ... the PC-Pitt game is the only other BIG EAST final in which a team shut out an opponent that had played fewer games (and had greater pitching depth) in the tournament (ND and RU had played the same number of games in '98 while the other two shutouts listed above saw the shutout posted by the team that had played fewer games).
BREZOVSKY DOUBLES SEASON HOME RUN TOTAL AT BET - Ross Brezovsky hit just two home runs in the 2006 regular season and had left the park only four times in his Irish career before blasting a pair of HRs in the five game played at the '06 BIG EAST Tournament ... he is the fourth ND player to hit multiple HRs at the same BET ... current senior 1B Craig Cooper and former 3B Matt Macri both homered twice vs. Boston College in the 2004 championship game (11-5), with Cooperplaying then as an outfielder) ... Brezovsky joins 1999 leftfielder Alec Porzel as the only ND players to hit home runs in multiple games of the same BET ... Porzel's three HRs at the '99 BET actually came in two games but on three different games (2 in a 7-1 win over WVU, one each day in a game that was halted and resumed) and another in an 11-3 loss to Seton Hall ... Brezovsky thus is the only ND player to homer in two different wins at the same BET.
TRIPLE THREAT - Jeremy Barnes leads the Irish with five triples ... an ND player has totaled six-plus triples in a season just 12 times, most recently by Matt Macri (7 in '04) J.J. Brock (8) and Randall Brooks (7) in the 1997 season, 1996 teammates George Restovich (9) and Scott Sollmann (6), and Sollmann in '95 (9) ... Barnes also tied the BIG EAST record for triples in one tournament (2), become the first player with two triples since Paul Galucci of Rutgers in 1997 ... former Seton Hall standout Craig Biggio also had two triples at the 1986 BET.
COOPER UPDATE - Craig Cooper's pair of hits give him 93 for the season, tying Scott Sollmann's 1995 total for 6th in ND history, behind Steve Stanley's 119 in '02 and 102 in `01, Dan Peltier's 115 in `89, Steve Sollmann's 98 in '03 and the 96 hits by Eric Danapilis in '93 ... Cooper's 261 career hits are 8th on the ND career hits list (Mike Amrhein is next, with 267) ... Cooper's season batting avg. now sits at .427, good for 6th-best in ND history behind Edwin Hartwell's .447 in `93, Peltier's 446 in `89, Stanley's 439 in `02, and two marks by Danapilis (.438 in ` 93; 429 in '90) ... Cooper's early single up the middle marked the 36th time he has reached base as the 1st-inning leadoff batter (in 52 games at the leadoff spot; on-base 69% of his 1st-inning leadoff trips), batting 27-for-45/.600 (4 HR, 8 2B) with 6 walks and a hit-by-pitch (also reached once on an error) in those 1st-inning leadoff plate appearances.
TOURNAMENT STATS - ND hit .286 while scoring 28 runs in the 5 games (3 HR, 2 3B, 10 2B, .429 slugging pct., 14 BB, 9 HBP, 19 Ks, .373 on-base pct., SB, SF, 4 SAC) ... the Irish pitchers turned in a 3.68 tournament ERA, allowing .277 opponent batting with 40 Ks, 12 BB and 48 hits allowed in 44 innings (2 WP, 4 HB, 2 SV) ... the ND defense turned in sparkling .984 fielding pct. in the tournament (with just 3 Es) ... top hitters included: Gaston (.500, 7-for-14, 3 RBI, 4 R, 2B, BB, HBP, K), Barnes (.421, 8-for-19, 6 RBI, 4 R, 2 3B, BB, HBP, 4 Ks, SB), Andres (.375, 3-for-8, 3 R, 3 BB) and Cooper (.368, 7-for-19, 4 RBI, 5 R, 4 2B, 2 BB, 2 HBP, SF) ... the 11 players who have posted a better BET batting avg. than Barnes include: Javi Sanchez (.727, 8-for-11, '03); J.J. Brock (.500, 8-for-16, '97), Gaston (.500, 7-for-14, '06), Paul O'Toole (.600, 6-for-10, '01), Cody Rizzo (.462, 6-for-13, in `03), Brian Stavisky (.462, 6-for-13, '00), Mike Amrhein (.458, 11-for-24, '96), Greg Lopez (.455, 5-for-11, '04), Steve Stanley (.455, 5-for-11, '00), Matt Edwards (.444, 8-for-18, '03) and Matt Macri (.429, 6-for-14, '04).
ANDRES, COOPER AMONG ND'S ALL-TIME BET LEADERS - Two member of the senior class finished among ND's all-time batting leaders at the BIG EAST Tournament ... leftfielder/DH Steve Andres finished with a .351 career avg. at the BET (13-for-37, 10 R, HR, 3B, 5 2B, 10 RBI, 9 BB, 2 HBP, 8 Ks) that is tied for 4th-best ever by a Notre Dame player (min. 20 ABs) ... Matt Edwards owns the top career BET by an Irish player (.400, 16-for-40) but did so in only two seasons ('04-'05), as did 1997 classmates Mike Amrhein and Randall Brooks (both .366/15-for-41) - meaning that Andes owns the best four-year BET batting avg. in the program's history ... J.J. Brock also hit .351 in his BET career (20-for-57; '96-'98) while current senior 1B Craig Cooper owns the 6th-best BET avg. in ND history (.347, 17-for-49, 11 RBI, 15 R, 2 HR, 4 2B, 7 BB, 5 HBP, SF, SAC, SB).
FUNGOS - ND's 64 sacrifice bunts are two shy of tying the team record (66, in '02) ... the Irish now are 41-2 when leading at the end of the 7th inning and 42-1 when taking a lead into the 9th ... ND also is 21-1 when hitting a home run this season, 14-4-1 when playing error-free and 37-5 when outhitting the opponent ... the game marked the 45th time this season that the Irish have totaled 0-1 errors ... it also was the team's 20th win by five-plus runs ... Lopez's error on Friday was his first of the season, making him ND's only player with double-digit errors (the .973 team fielding pct. is two points ahead of the ND record) ... ND enters the NCAAs owning a 64-35 scoring edge in the 1st inning and a dominating 68-16 margin in the 4th ... Rizzo (231; 7th), Lopez (228; 8th) and Cooper (219, 12th) ... rank among ND's all-time leaders for games played ... the only other classmates to each start as many games is the 2002 trio of Steve Stanley (1st; 256), Paul O'Toole (2nd; 239) and Andres Bushey (223).
Louisville (31-29) 0-0-0 0-0-0 0-0-0 - 0 6 0
Notre Dame (45-15-1) 0-3-0 1-0-0 3-0-X - 7 12 0
Brian Halford (L, 5-4), David Torcise (7), Jon Harbridge (8) and Derrick Alfonso.
Wade Korpi (W, 7-2), Jess Stewart (6), Mike Dury (9) and Sean Gaston.
Home Run: Ross Brezovsky, ND (2 on in 7th; 4th of season, 6th of career).
Triple: Jeremy Barnes (ND)
Double: Daniel Burton (LOU)