IN THE BATTERS BOX -- Notre Dame returns to BIG EAST action this weekend with a three-game series at Pittsburgh. First pitch at Trees Field for the series opener on Friday is scheduled for 3:00 p.m., while Saturday's game will begin at 1:00 p.m. and Sunday's finale is slated for Noon. All three games can be heard on WHME 103.1 FM as well as UND.com.
PITTSBURGH INSIDER -- The Panthers opened the season with three losses over their first four games, including defeats to Bradley, Navy and Ohio. Pittsburgh has since won 12 of its last 15 games, including take two of three last weekend at BIG EAST foe Cincinnati. The Panthers took the opener over the Bearcats in convincing fashion, 18-4, before shutting out Cincinnati the next afternoon. The Bearcats did salvage the final game of the series, 9-5.
BIG EAST ROAD OPENERS -- Notre Dame is playing its 14th year as a member of the BIG EAST Conference. The Irish are 7-6 all-time in its BIG EAST road openers.
BIG EAST ROAD OPENERS
1996 W 9-0 at Boston College
1997 L 4-5 at Seton Hall
1998 W 5-2 at Boston College
1999 W 4-1 at West Virginia
2000 W 4-0 at Villanova
2001 W 3-0 at Pittsburgh
2002 L 3-4 at Connecticut
2003 L 2-3 at Villanova
2004 W 5-3 at West Virginia
2005 L 3-5 at Rutgers
2006 L 3-8 at Georgetown
2007 L 2-4 at Pittsburgh
2008 W 25-1 at Georgetown
Totals 7-6 (1-1 vs. Pittsburgh)
BIG EAST ROAD OPENING WEEKENDS -- Notre Dame is 21-17 overall in BIG EAST road opening weekends, including a 2-2 mark against Pittsburgh. The Irish swept a two-game series in 2001, while the Panthers returned the favor in a rain-shortened series in 2007.
BIG EAST OPENING WEEKENDS
1996 3-1 at Boston College (2-0), at Providence (1-1)
1997 0-3 at Seton Hall
1998 3-0 at Boston College
1999 2-0 at West Virginia
2000 2-1 at Villanova
2001 2-2 at Pittsburgh (2-0), at Virginia Tech (0-2)
2002 0-3 at Connecticut
2003 1-2 at Villanova
2004 3-0 at West Virginia
2005 0-2 at Rutgers
2006 2-1 at Georgetown
2007 0-2 at Pittsburgh
2008 3-0 at Georgetown
Totals 21-17 (2-2 vs. Pittsburgh)
THE STARTING PITCHERS -- Notre Dame will start sophomore right-hander Cole Johnson (2-0, 3.00 ERA) in the series opener. The Hudson, Ohio native has made 17 career appearances (five this season with four starts), including six starts for a total of 62.2 innings pitched. He has allowed 61 hits and 22 walks while striking out 49. Johnson has allowed six home runs and opponents are batting .262 against him over his career. He picked up the victory in relief against Illinois on Feb. 21. Johnson tossed 3.0 innings and allowed one earned run on a pair of hits. He struck out two and walked one. In his first start of the season, he tossed 4.0 innings and allowed two earned runs on two hits with three strikeouts and two walks (worked on a pitch count as he continues to build stamina after missing over a month after falling off his bike riding across campus) in a no-decision against Gonzaga, but has been top-notch his last two times out against Oral Roberts and Illinois State. Johnson was not involved in the decision in either contest, but he has allowed just two earned runs on six hits in 13.0 innings. He has fanned 10, walked nine and opponents batted .154 against him. Johnson picked up the win in last weekend's series opener against Seton Hall. He allowed four earned runs on five hits in 7.0 innings of work.
Sophomore right-handed hurler Brian Dupra (2-3, 6.67 ERA) will take the mound on Saturday. Dupra has made 16 career appearances and 14 career starts (including five this season) for a total of 74.2 innings pitched. The Rochester, N.Y. native has allowed 100 hits and 19 walks with 47 strikeouts. He has allowed three home runs and opponents are batting .322 against him over his career. Dupra started the season opener against Ohio State and pitched very well, but was charged with the loss. He allowed six hits and two earned runs in 6.1 innings of work. Dupra struck out a pair and walked one. He then struck out a career-high six in 5.1 innings last weekend in a victory over Dayton, but struggled mightily against #7 Rice before regrouping against Texas-Pan American last weekend. Maust was roughed up for seven earned runs on seven hits in 3.0 innings against the Owls. He then allowed four runs over the first two innings against UTPA, but settled down and held the Broncos scoreless over his final five innings. Dupra went 7.0 innings and was charged with four earned runs on eight hits. He fanned four and walked four. Dupra tossed 6.2 innings in his last start agains Seton Hall and yielded three earned runs on nine hits, but was victimized by a couple errors that allowed four other unearned runs to score. He took the defeat.
The Irish will turn to junior righty Eric Maust (2-1, 4.16 ERA) for the series finale. The Alpharetta, Georgia native has made 34 career appearances and 18 career starts (both are most on the Irish staff) for a total of 142.2 innings pitched. Maust has allowed 164 hits and 41 walks with 86 strikeouts. He has allowed seven home runs and opponents are batting .287 against him over his career. Maust, who has started five games in 2009, was victimized by a couple errors that resulted in three unearned runs in the first inning of his first start against Illinois, but settled down to retire 11 of the next 12 Illini batters, including nine consecutive at one point before running into trouble with command in the top of the fifth inning. With two outs, Maust proceeded to walk three straight Illinois batters before a three-run triple gave Illinois a 6-3 advantage. He allowed four hits and three earned runs in 5.0 innings of work. Maust struck out one and walked three. He went 5.1 innings and surrendered two earned runs with a strikeout and no walks in a no-decision against Creighton. Maust regained the form that saw him earn all-BIG EAST honors last year over his two starts against Washington State and Texas-Pan American. He went 2-0 with a 2.57 ERA. Maust has surrendered four earned runs on 10 hits in 14.0 innings (including a seven-inning complete against UTPA).
SCOUTING PITTSBURGH -- The Panthers, led by 12th year head coach Joe Jordano, enter the weekend owning a 13-6 overall record and 2-1 mark in BIG EAST play. The Panthers opened the season with three losses over their first four games, including defeats to Bradley, Navy and Ohio. Pittsburgh has since won 12 of its last 15 games, including take two of three last weekend at BIG EAST foe Cincinnati. The Panthers took the opener over the Bearcats in convincing fashion, 18-4, before shutting out Cincinnati the next afternoon. The Bearcats did salvage the final game of the series, 9-5.
The Panthers are averaging 8.5 runs per game and hitting .321 with a .395 on-base percentage. Pittsburgh has also totaled 34 stolen bases in 47 attempts.
The Pirates have seven everyday players that are hitting over .300. Chris Sedon leads the attack with a team-best .444 batting average. He has added a team-best 27 runs scored, 36 hits, seven home runs and 24 RBI. Sedon has also swiped 12 bases in 13 attempts. Matt Litzinger is hitting .390 with 11 runs scored, four doubles, two home runs and eight RBI. Joe Leonard is batting .382 with five doubles, three homers and 19 RBI. Zach Duggan is hitting .356 with four doubles and eight RBI. Danny Lopez, John Schultz and Cory Brownsten are batting .333, .329 and .316 respectively. The trio has combined for 15 extra-base hits, six home runs and 52 RBI. Pittsburgh has hit 22 home runs this season as a team and has also struck out 127 times.
The pitching staff has a 5.39 ERA and .293 opponents' batting average along with 145 strikeouts and 74 walks in 168.2 innings pitched. Joe Leonard is 0-0 with a 0.00 ERA in three appearances over 5.1 innings, while Ricky Breymier (1-0, 2.19), Josh Smith (1-0, 4.50), Ryan Dunford (2-0, 9.00) and Kevin Dooley (1-1, 11.32) are other options out of the Panthers' bullpen. Pittsburgh has committed 24 errors in 19 games and is fielding .968.
TALE OF THE TAPE (2009 STATS)
Notre Dame Pittsburgh
Batting Average .307 .321
Runs Per Game 6.7 8.5
Home Runs 8 22
Slugging Percentage .401 .491
Batters' BB+HBP-K Margin +1 -40
On-Base Percentage .397 .395
Stolen Bases 28-43 34-47
Team ERA 4.48 5.39
Opponent Batting Average .262 .293
Pitchers' K-BB Ratio 1.4 2.0
Pitchers' Ks Per 9 Innings 6.1 7.7
Pitchers' BB Per 9 Innings 4.4 3.9
Fielding Pct. (Errors) .971 (25) .968 (24)
Double Plays Turned 15 21
Record at Home 4-3 3-1
Record on Road (including neutral) 10-5 11-5
Record in One-Run Games 3-2 4-2
Record in Extra Innings 1-0 0-0
ON DECK -- After this weekend's series, Notre Dame hosts Michigan State (6:05 p.m.) and Toledo (6:05 p.m.) on Tuesday and Wednesday at Frank Eck Stadium. The Irish will then host Villanova in a three-game BIG EAST series next weekend at Frank Eck Stadium.
RANKINGS -- Notre Dame and Pittsburgh are unranked in each of the four polls.
FREEBIES UPDATE -- Over his years as a head coach, Notre Dame skipper Dave Schrage has utilized a formula to measure how many free bases a team allows during a given year. The formula adds walks allowed, errors, stolen bases allowed, hit batters, wild pitches, passed balls, and balks and divides that total by the number of games played. In 2007, the Irish allowed nearly 8.7 "freebies" per game. By comparison, Notre Dame's 2006 team allowed just 6.2 per game en route to totaling 45 wins. The Irish made tremendous strides a year ago, allowing just 7.4 per game.
Notre Dame took two of three games in the season opening weekend despite a below-par performance in terms of "freebies." The Irish walked 12 batters and hit four more en route to an average of 8.7 per game.
Ironically, the Irish dropped two of three games last weekend despite a positive performance in terms of "freebies." The Irish walked just four batters en route to an average of 5.7 per game.
Notre Dame captured 10 of 12 games (March 6-20), but the "freebies" formula would not be consistent with the Irish success. Notre Dame averaged 8.1 per game over the stretch.
RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME: Notre Dame is hitting .366 (124-for-339) with runners on base, but just .256 (92-for-360) with the bases empty.
CONTROLLING THE RUNNING GAME: Notre Dame sophomore catcher Cameron McConnell might be the most improved player on the Irish roster this season. Not only does McConnell have 13 RBI, third best on the club, but also he has already thrown out 10 base stealers. In fact, opponents have only recorded 13 stolen bases in 23 attempts (.565) against McConnell. Notre Dame's catchers last season, Sean Gaston and McConnell, only pegged six the entire year.
TEAM NOTES: Notre Dame is 11-0 this season when scoring six or more runs and 3-8 when scoring five or fewer runs ... the Irish are now 11-1 when scoring the game's first run, but 3-7 when the opponent scores first ... Notre Dame is 12-0 when taking a lead to the ninth inning despite being outscored 17-5 in the ninth inning ... the Irish are 9-2 when holding their opponent to five runs or less, but just 5-6 when the foe scores more than five runs.
INDIVIDUAL NOTES: Senior Jeremy Barnes leads Notre Dame with 26 RBI, which also ranks sixth in the BIG EAST ... no Irish player reached the 26 RBI mark until the 31st game in 2008 (A.J. Pollock) ... the 26 RBI are the most for a Notre Dame player over the first 22 games of the season since Matt Edwards had 31 to open the 2005 season ... Barnes is on pace for 66 RBI in the regular season, which would rank just outside of the top-10 single seasons ... Junior A.J. Pollock leads the Irish in batting average (.391) ... if he were to win the Notre Dame batting title against in 2009, Pollock would be the second Irish player to ever win three straight team batting titles ... Pollock's career .367 batting average ranks tied for seventh best in school history (Pat Pesavento; 1986-89) ... Sophomore Cameron McConnell might be the most improved player on the Notre Dame roster in 2009 ... he ranks third on the team with 13 RBI ... even more impressive, of McConnell's 13 RBI, eight have either tied the game or given the Irish the lead ... Sophomore Golden Tate, who has a career-high nine-game winning streak snapped Wednesday night against Oakland, opened the year with hits in five consecutive games (so he has a hit in 16 of his 20 starts) ... Tate has also reached base in 18 of his 20 starts ... Junior David Mills also had a nine-game hit streak snapped against Oakland ... he has recorded a hit in 47 of his 60 career games started.
IF ONLY AN INNING ENDED WITH TWO OUTS -- Notre Dame had allowed 37 runs and a .220 batting average (39-for-177) with two outs entering the weekend (over its first 17 games), but Seton Hall registered 19 runs, 16 RBI and a .440 batting average (22-for-50) with two outs over the three-game series.
In fact, 15 of those runs and 13 of those two out RBI came over the last two games of the series. The Pirates also hit .486 (18-for-37) with two down in Saturday and Sunday's victories.
It was déjà-vu all over again in Tuesday's game against Central Michigan. After Notre Dame plated three runs in the bottom of the first inning to grab a 3-0 lead, the Chippewas followed with six runs in the top of the second inning. The six runs were not only all unearned, but also all scored with two outs.
Over Notre Dame's last four games, its opponents have plated an astounding 28 runs with two outs. In fact, the Irish had allowed 35 two-out RBI over their first 18 games, but have surrendered 23 in their last four contests.
NOTRE DAME LOVES ITS R & R -- Freshman reliever and South Bend native Ryan Richter has not wasted much time in making an impact for his hometown Irish. Richter, who missed most of his senior season with an injury, has made four appearances for Notre Dame and sports a 2-0 record with a 1.00 earned run average in 9.0 innings of work. He has yielded eight hits and four walks, along with six strikeouts, while opponents are batting just .229 against him. Richter attended St. Joseph's High School, mere minutes from the Notre Dame campus. He could become the 21st South Bend native to monogram with the Irish baseball team and seventh from St. Joe, including the likes of Matt Nussbaum (1999-00), Tony Zappia (1970-71), Marty DeGraff (1993-94), Joe Kernan (1967-68), Nick Mainieri (2004-05) and Michael McNeill (1985).
MILLS, POLLOCK LOVE HOME COOKING -- The junior tandem of David Mills and A.J. Pollock have exploded since returning from Notre Dame's spring trip. The duo batted a combined .446 (25-for-56) in the opening seven-game homestand for the Irish. Pollock hit .464 (13-for-28) with 11 runs scored, a double, two home runs, nine RBI and five stolen bases. Mills batted .429 (12-for-28) with 10 runs scored, five RBI and two stolen bases. Pollock has notoriously destroyed pitching at Frank Eck Stadium over his career. He is a career .451 hitter (79-for-175) at the friendly confines. Pollock batted .486 (36-for-74) with 25 runs scored, six doubles, two triples, three home runs, 20 RBI and 10 stolen bases in home games a year ago.
AS BARNES GOES, SO GO THE IRISH -- Notre Dame senior Jeremy Barnes has had a remarkable start to the 2009 season. Barnes is hitting .354 with six doubles, three triples, three home runs and 26 RBI, but his performance in victories is even more impressive. Barnes leads the Irish with a .481 batting average (25-for-52), .769 slugging percentage and .569 on-base percentage in their 14 victories. On the other hand, he is hitting just .111 (3-for-27) with a .250 slugging percentage and .185 on-base percentage in Notre Dame's eight losses. In fact, the Irish are 12-3 when Barnes has a hit and a perfect 8-0 when he has a multi-hit affair.
MILLS MAKES MAJOR IMPROVEMENTS FROM THE BUMP -- Notre Dame junior David Mills got plenty of recognition in 2008 for his efforts at the plate. The outfielder was named first team all-BIG EAST after hitting .349 with six triples, two home runs and 26 RBI. However, Mills did not experience the same type success on the mound. He went 1-0 in 11 relief appearances, but posted a 6.23 ERA and opponents batted .450 against him. In 2009, Mills has not only continued his tear at the plate, but has become a reliable option out of the Notre Dame bullpen. He is 1-0 with a 1.04 ERA in six relief appearances. Mills has struck out six, walked three and surrendered six hits in 8.2 innings of work. In fact, opponents are batting just .200 against him.
SLINGING Sam Elam -- Senior Sam Elam has experienced the highest highs and the lowest lows over his career with the Irish. Elam, considered the top-pitching prospect in the entire BIG EAST conference following the summer of 2007, made just one appearance in 2008 dealing with major control problems. He walked four, uncorked three wild pitches and allowed two earned runs on no hits in 1.0 inning. This from the same pitcher that took a no-hitter into the eighth inning (two outs) against Purdue on April 18, 2007. Elam went the distance that night and blanked the Boilermakers on just one hit with nine strikeouts. He has shown signs of regaining the form of 2006 and 2007. Elam fanned a pair in his scoreless inning of work against Dayton on Feb. 28 and tossed 3.0 more effective innings of relief against Central Michigan on March 24. The southpaw allowed just a pair of infield hits and one earned run, but struck out five and walked two. The outing was Elam's longest of the season and longest since going 4.1 innings on April 24, 2007 against Rutgers.
SHINING UNDER THE GOLDEN DOME -- Sophomore Golden Tate blossomed into one of the most improved wide receivers in the country this past fall. He led the Irish in receptions (58), receiving yards (1,080), receiving touchdowns (10) and total touchdowns (11). Tate ranked tied for 83rd in the NCAA FBS in receptions per game (4.46), 28th in receiving yards per game (83.08), 22nd in total receiving yards (1,080) and tied for 16th in receiving touchdowns (10). He became the fifth Irish wideout (sixth time) to ever eclipse 1,000 yards in a single season. Tate recorded 1,754 all-purpose yards (third-most in Notre Dame history), the most by an Irish player since Tim Brown in 1987.
Tate has made a similar impact on the diamond this spring. After playing in 18 games, including nine starts, and hitting .262 with three doubles, four RBI and three stolen bases in 2008, Tate has emerged as one of the top leadoff hitters in the BIG EAST Conference. He is batting .338 with four doubles, a triple and seven RBI. Tate carried a career-best nine game hitting streak into Wednesday's matchup with Oakland, but went 0-for-3. The nine-game hitting streak was tied with senior Jeremy Barnes and junior David Mills (also ended against Oakland) for the longest by a Notre Dame player this season.
COLE FAR FROM COLD -- Sophomore starting pitcher Cole Johnson had a phenomenal fall season that pushed him to the front of the Irish rotation. However, his status at the beginning of the year was in question after a bike accident on campus. Johnson was riding his bike to class when he lost control on a patch of ice. He landed on his throwing shoulder, leaving him out for nearly an entire month (January), but Johnson rehabilitated and has established himself as the one of the starters in the BIG EAST. He enters this weekend with a 2-0 record and a 3.00 earned run average. Johnson has struck out 21, walked 14 and allowed only 15 hits in 27.0 innings of work (opponents are hitting just .167 against him). Johnson has tossed at least 6.0 innings in each of this last three starts, including 6.0 scoreless innings of one-hit baseball against Oral Roberts on March 6.
FRESHMEN ARMS ACTING FAR FROM IT -- Notre Dame entered this season with tremendous depth in its pitching staff and much of it was due in part to a large contingent of freshmen. LHP Ryan Richter, LHP Dustin Ispas, RHP Will Hudgins, LHP Steve Sabatino and LHP Joe Spano have each made their respective contributions early in 2009. The quintet owns a combined 4-1 record with a 3.34 ERA in 62.0 innings of work and opponents are batting just .235 against the group.
FIGHTING FOR A CURE -- Senior Ryan Connolly has faced adversity over his career at Notre Dame. The outfielder/catcher has seen limited playing time over the past two years due to a reoccurring shoulder injury -- an injury that caused him to miss his entire freshman season in 2006. But, this adversity all pails in comparison to what Connolly faced in 2002 as a 15-year old sophomore in high school.
Connolly's father, Michael, passed away after a two-year battle with lung cancer despite never smoking a cigarette over his entire life. Connolly, and his mother Penny, along with the assistance of Dr. Leslie Kohman (Michael's surgeon), began the Michael E. Connolly Endowment for Lung Cancer Research.
The goal was to raise $500,000. The Connollys and the Board of Directors are responsible for all the groundwork fundraising efforts. After just three years of diligently collecting pledges and hosting golf tournaments and other fundraising events, they reached their goal. The Connolly Endowment issued its first grant of $10,000, which was then matched by the Hendrick's Fund at Upstate Medical University, to a group of researchers trying to determine if lung cancer patients who had surgery would also benefit from a cancer-inhibiting drug.
NOTRE DAME NOTES FROM SETON HALL SERIES -- The Notre Dame baseball team dropped two of three games this past weekend against Seton Hall. The Irish opened the weekend with a 9-4 rout of the Pirates high-potential draft pick Sean Black, but Seton Hall took the next two games, 9-4 and 11-4 to secure the series triumph.
Notre Dame had allowed 37 runs and a .220 batting average (39-for-177) with two outs entering the weekend (over its first 17 games), but Seton Hall registered 19 runs, 16 RBI and a .440 batting average (22-for-50) with two outs over the three-game series.
In fact, 15 of those runs and 13 of those two out RBI came over the last two games of the series. The Pirates also hit .486 (18-for-37) with two down in Saturday and Sunday's victories.
Junior A.J. Pollock, junior David Mills and senior Jeremy Barnes carried Notre Dame offensively over the weekend. Pollock batted .583 with five runs scored, a double, home run and three RBI. Mills hit .500 with five runs scored and two RBI, while Barnes batted .417 with a run scored, double, home run and six RBI.
NOTRE DAME NOTES FROM RICE CLASSIC -- The Notre Dame baseball team took two of three games this past weekend at the Rice Classic. The Irish opened the weekend with a nail biting 2-1 victory over Oral Roberts. After No. 7 Rice blanked Notre Dame, 9-0, the Irish upended Washington State, 7-3, to secure a tie for the tournament championship. The host Owls, Golden Eagles and Irish all finished the weekend with identical 2-1 records.
Notre Dame finished its weekend at the Rice Invitational with a 2-1 record. The Irish knocked off Oral Roberts, who later being the seventh-ranked Owls, and Washington State. Notre Dame led the tournament in batting average (.202) and fielding percentage (.982).
The Irish also got stellar individual performances from a number of players. Sophomore Greg Sherry (Mendham, N.J.) led the tournament in hitting with a .444 batting average. Junior A.J. Pollock (Hebron, Conn.) finished third in hitting (.333), third in hits (4) and third in total bases (9), but also led the field in doubles (2) and RBI (5).
Notre Dame's bullpen was back to form this weekend. A weekend after the Irish blew a pair of games in the eighth and ninth inning; the Irish pen went 1-0 over the weekend with a 2.70 ERA and one save. The quartet of junior Steven Mazur (Round Rock, Texas), freshman Ryan Richter (South Bend, Ind.), freshman Joe Spano (Verona, N.J.), junior David Mills (Battle Creek, Mich.) and junior Todd Miller (Franklin, Tenn.) allowed just five hits in 10.0 innings of work. They struck out seven and walked three, while opponents batted just .161 against them.
Eric Maust allowed just two earned runs on four hits in 7.0 innings to lead the Irish past Washington State, 7-3, in final day action from the 2009 Academy Sports + Outdoors Rice Classic. HE was sharp from the opening pitch. The right-handed hurler retired the first eight Washington State batters of the ball game before a two-out walk in the bottom of the third inning. Maust then surrendered a two strike, two out double to place a pair of runners in scoring position, but got Shea Vucinich to ground out to end the threat. Maust then retired 10 straight Cougars between the third and sixth inning. Washington State did managed to scratch across two runs in the sixth on Alex Burg's two-out, two-run triple to cut the Irish lead to 4-2. Maust walked three and struck out just one, but retired the leadoff batter in five of his seven innings.
A.J. Pollock batted .333 in three games from the 2009 Rice Classic. The centerfielder went 4-for-12 with one run scored, two doubles, five RBI and one stolen base. Pollock also played flawless defense, recording five putouts and made a pair of spectacular diving catches over the weekend. Pollock drove in five of the six runs Notre Dame drove in as a team over the three games. He capped off the weekend with a 2-for-4 effort with a double and four RBI in the 7-3 victory over Washington State.
NOTRE DAME NOTES FROM PHOENIX COLLEGE CLASSIC -- The Notre Dame baseball team dropped two of its three games at the Phoenix College Classic hosted by the University of Dayton. The Irish lost their weekend opener against Gonzaga, 7-3, and weekend finale versus Creighton, 6-3, but routed the host Flyers, 14-5.
Notre Dame senior Jeremy Barnes registered his second triple of the season and 11th of his career against Dayton. Barnes now stands in a tie for 13th with Gene Duffy (1957-59) on the all-time Irish list.
Notre Dame junior A.J. Pollock stole three bases in three attempts this weekend and is a perfect 4-for-4 this season. Pollock is now 43-for-48 in stolen bases for his career - good for a .896 stolen base percentage. He ranks first all-time in career stolen base percentage (minimum of 35 steals), just ahead of Pat Pesavento (1987-90).
The story of the opening weekend was the Notre Dame bullpen. The bullpen worked 12.2 innings over the three games and allowed just two earned runs - good for a 1.42 ERA. The sextet allowed just six hits as Ohio State, Illinois and Purdue batted just .143 (6-for-42) against the non-starters. The Irish bullpen was at its best in the two come-from-behind victories over Illinois (14-7) and Purdue (9-4, 10 innings). The Irish not only outscored the Illini 9-0 over the final three innings of the game, but Notre Dame's bullpen retired the final 10 Illinois batters of the evening, including three by strikeout. The Irish were even better against the Boilermakers. They did not allow a hit over the final 4.2 innings of the game.
However, they were unable to replicate that kind of performance this past weekend. The group was charged with both losses and posted a 6.57 ERA in 12.1 innings of work. In fact, Gonzaga and Creighton combined for eight runs over the 7th, 8th and 9th innings of the two meetings with the Irish.
In the opener against Gonzaga, the Bulldogs scored two runs in both the eighth and ninth inning to break a 3-3 tie and slip past Notre Dame, 7-3, at Diablo Stadium. The Bulldogs plated the four runs on a pair of RBI groundouts, a sacrifice fly and wild pitch.
A.J. Proszek (1-0) picked up the victory in relief for the Bulldogs. The righty tossed 2.2 scoreless innings of relief. He struck out two and walked two. Notre Dame sophomore right-handed hurler Todd Miller was charged with the loss. He (0-1) allowed three earned runs on four hits in 4.0 innings.
Barnes went 3-for-4 with two runs scored and three RBI, while four others each knocked in a pair to lead Notre Dame past Dayton, 14-5, at Diablo Stadium on Feb. 28.
Barnes, who finished just a home run short of the cycle, had a RBI triple and a two-run double. Junior Ryne Intlekofer went 1-for-5 with a two-run double. Pollock went 3-for-4 with three runs scored and two RBI, while junior Brayden Ashdown and junior Casey Martin each drove in two. Sophomore Greg Sherry went 3-for-4 with three runs scored and a RBI.
Sophomore Brian Dupra picked up the victory. The righty (1-1) went 5.1 innings and allowed five earned runs on 10 hits. Dupra was cruising until tiring in the sixth inning. He struck out a career-high six.
The Irish got another great effort from their bullpen as Mills, freshman Will Hudgins and senior Sam Elam combined to throw 3.2 scoreless innings of relief. Elam also fanned a pair in his inning of work.
In the weekend's final tilt on March 1, Creighton used a dropped fly ball in the top of the eighth inning with two outs to grab a 4-3 lead and tacked on two more runs in the top of the ninth inning to secure a 6-3 victory over Notre Dame.
With the game tied, 3-3, in the top of the eighth inning and two out, Notre Dame appeared to get out of the inning when junior reliever Steven Mazur got Nick Becker to hit a lazy fly ball to right field. With Ashdown camped under it, the right fielder lost the ball in the sun and it dropped just a step in front of him to allow the go-ahead run.
The Bluejays added two insurances runs in the ninth inning on Darin Ruf's clutch two-out RBI single to make it 6-3. Notre Dame was retired in order in the bottom of the ninth as Creighton closer Kirk Clark picked up his first save of the season.
Mazur was charged with the loss. The righty went 2.2 innings and allowed four earned runs on six hits, but pitched far better. The Bluejays, as they did all afternoon, found every hole and dropped in every bloop hit. Mazur yielded six hits and also struck out three.
Sherry was the lone Irish player with more than one hit. The third baseman went 2-for-3 with an RBI. Pollock went 1-for-4 with a two-run home run -- his first of the season.
RECAPPING THE BIG EAST / BIG TEN CHALLENGE -- Notre Dame opened the season taking two of three games in the inaugural 2009 BIG EAST / Big Ten Baseball Challenge. The Irish were one of three BIG EAST schools to post a 2-1 record. Notre Dame also was the only school among the 18-team field that ranked among the top five in both batting (third) and ERA (third) over the tournament.
The story of the weekend was the Notre Dame depth, especially its bench, and the bullpen. Sophomore Mick Doyle, junior Matt Grosso and sophomore Cameron McConnell, all of whom did not play in the season-opening loss to Ohio State, started against Illinois and combined to bat .467 (7-for-15) with four runs scored and seven RBI. Doyle went 3-for-4 with two runs scored and two RBI, while McConnell went 2-for-3 with a run scored and career-best three RBI. Grosso was 2-for-5 with his first career home run, a game-tying two-run blast in the eight-run seventh inning.
The Irish defeated Purdue primarily due to its bench. Junior Brayden Ashdown, McConnell and junior Casey Martin all entered the game as pinch hitters in the eighth inning. Ashdown not only scored two runs, but provided a critical two-run, pinch hit single to bring Notre Dame within a run, 4-3, and added a go-ahead RBI single in the 10th. McConnell and Martin each scored a pair of runs and went 1-for-2. For the weekend, the Irish bench went 4-for-8 with three RBI and six runs scored.
The bullpen worked 12.2 innings over the three games this past weekend and allowed just two earned runs - good for a 1.42 ERA. The sextet allowed just six hits as Ohio State, Illinois and Purdue batted just .143 (6-for-42) against the non-starters. Junior Steven Mazur picked up the victory over the Boilermakers and threw 3.0 hitless innings of relief over two separate relief outings. Junior David Mills (1.1 IP) and the freshman tandem of Will Hudgins (1.1 IP) and Joe Spano (0.2 IP) combined to not allow a run on two hits in 3.1 innings of work. Sophomores Todd Miller (3.1 IP) and Cole Johnson (3.0 IP) were the only two pitchers of the group to allow runs, but each surrendered just one earned run on a pair of hits.
Notre Dame's bullpen was at its best in the two come-from-behind victories over Illinois (14-7) and Purdue (9-4, 10 innings). The Irish not only outscored the Illini 9-0 over the final three innings of the game, but Notre Dame's bullpen retired the final 10 Illinois batters of the evening, including three by strikeout. The Irish were even better against the Boilermakers. They did not allow a hit over the final 4.2 innings of the game.
NOTRE DAME, NORTHWESTERN SQUARE OFF AT U.S. CELLULAR FIELD -- Northwestern University and the University of Notre Dame baseball teams will play a game at U.S. Cellular Field, home of the Chicago White Sox, on Wednesday, April 15 at 7:00 p.m. The White Sox and the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority (ISFA) are hosting the game at the ballpark.
Last year, the White Sox and ISFA hosted a game between Northern Illinois and Notre Dame, with all proceeds benefitting the NIU February 14 Scholarship Fund. This year's game will benefit Chicago White Sox Charities. Chicago White Sox Charities provides annual financial, in-kind and emotional support to hundreds of Chicago-based organizations, including those leading the fight against cancer or dedicated to improving the lives of Chicago's youth through education and athletics.
Tickets for the game are $10 and will be available through whitesox.com and at the U.S. Cellular Field box office beginning the week of March 16. Parking for the game is complimentary and will be in Lot B of U.S. Cellular Field. Gates will open one hour prior to first pitch.
PRO PARKS -- Notre Dame and Northwestern will play at U.S. Cellular Field on April 15. The Irish played at U.S. Cellular Field last season and knocked off Northern Illinois, 5-4. Notre Dame has recently have played at several pro parks, including three college games and the 2001 exhibition vs. the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at their spring training site, Florida Power Park, plus 2002, '04 and '05 games in Texas at both Dell Diamond (home of triple-A Astros affiliate Round Rock Express) and Wolff Stadium (double-A San Antonio Missions), plus '06-'09 games at Wolff and the 2008 Whataburger Classic at Whataburger Field (home of the double-A Corpus Christi Hooks, also an Astros affiliate). The Irish also played Dayton in '05 at HoHoKam Park (Chicago Cubs spring-training; Mesa, Ariz.) while the 2006 & 2008 BIG EAST Championships were held in Clearwater, Fla., at Bright House Networks Field (spring training for the Philadelphia Phillies) and the 2007 BIG EAST Championship was in Brooklyn, N.Y., at Keyspan Park (home to the Brooklyn Cyclones, Mets single-A). Notre Dame played at another elite minor-league facility in 2007 (Coastal Federal Field; Baseball at the Beach tournament in Myrtle Beach, S.C.). The Irish opened this season with their first two games at the Major League Spring Training facilities of the Toronto Blue Jays (Knology Park, Dunedin, Fla.) and Pittsburgh Pirates (McKenchie Field, Bradenton, Fla.). Notre Dame will play two games at Diablo Stadium -- spring training home of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Previous Irish teams have played at two Major League parks, in '95 and '96 tournaments at the Seattle Kingdome while facing the Univ. of Pittsburgh at Three Rivers Stadium in '98. The Irish also have played BIG EAST Tournament games at minor-league Dodd Stadium (Norwich, Conn.), Waterfront Stadium (Trenton, N.J.) and Commerce Bank Ballpark (Bridgewater, N.J.) while ND and Michigan annually play at Old Kent Park (now 5th/3rd Bank Ballpark), near Grand Rapids. The Irish also played at the 1998 ACC Blast in Orlando (Atlanta Braves' spring training; Disney Sports Complex) and in the 2000, '03 and '06 Hormel/DQ Classics at the Minnesota Metrodome.
A.J. Pollock PRESEASON HONOR ROLL -- Notre Dame junior OF A.J. Pollock was named first team preseason All-American by Baseball America. He was one of just two players from the BIG EAST Conference to be named to the first, second or third team. Pollock has already been named second team All-American by Collegiate Baseball and third team by CollegeBaseballInsider.com. He has also been named to the Wallace Award Watch List and listed as the 39th overall prospect, 16th collegiate prospect and top overall prospect from the BIG EAST Conference for the 2009 MLB Draft by Baseball America. Pollock was also ranked as the seventh-best prospect from the Cape Cod League by Baseball America following his Most Valuable Player season this past summer. He was most recently recognized by Baseball America as the 10th-ranked player from the junior class.
Irish Picked By Baseball America To Return To NCAA Tournament -- Notre Dame was well represented in Baseball America's 2009 season preview. The Irish, picked to finish second in the BIG EAST, was projected to reach the NCAA Tournament's field of 64. Notre Dame was penciled into the Irvine Regional as the fourth seed. UC Irvine was the host and top-seed, while Stanford (#2 seed) and defending national champion Fresno State (#3 seed) rounded out the regional. The Irish had three players listed among the top 50 in their respective class. LHP Sam Elam was rated the 39th-best senior in the nation, while OF A.J. Pollock was the 10th-ranked junior and RHP Evan Danieli was the 48th-rated sophomore. Pollock not only was named all-BIG EAST, but was also listed by the publication as a first team All-American. He and Louisville third baseman Chris Dominguez were the only two BIG EAST players honored. Sophomore RHP Brian Dupra was also named the first team all-BIG EAST relief pitcher. Danieli and Dupra were ranked as the second and third best prospects in the league heading into the 2010 MLB Draft.
MAUST, POLLOCK AND BARNES NAMED PRESEASON ALL-BIG EAST FIRST TEAM -- Notre Dame placed the trio of junior RHP Eric Maust, junior OF A.J. Pollock and senior SS Jeremy Barnes on the preseason All-BIG EAST squad. No other conference school had more players on the 14-man squad than Notre Dame.
IRISH PICKED THIRD BY BIG EAST COACHES -- The University of Notre Dame baseball team was picked to finish third in the 2009 BIG EAST preseason baseball poll as determined by a vote of the league's 12 head coaches, who were not permitted to vote for their own teams. The Irish received a total of 99 points.