April 4, 2014
As the University of Notre Dame baseball team gets set for game one of a three-game series at No. 1 Florida State Friday (6 p.m., ESPN3), it seems only fitting that we take a look back at the last time the Irish invaded Dick Howser Stadium – the 2002 NCAA Super Regionals.
The Irish (47-15) entered the matchup with the Seminoles (59-12) as a decided underdog to FSU, who was the clear-cut No. 1 team in the country and had won a remarkable 25 games in a row. FSU also boasted an impressive home atmosphere, as Dick Howser Stadium was nationally known as one of the loudest college baseball environments in the country.
However, the Irish were a confident group as they were just one year removed from earning the program’s first No. 1 ranking and setting a school record for wins with 49. They also had brought in the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class behind the tireless efforts of head coach Paul Mainieri.
“We were so confident going to play at FSU in the Super Regional, even though they were clearly the best team in country with a 59-8 record and being #1 in every poll,” says Mainieri. “Our confidence was based on the fact that we had won our first ever Big East Tournament Championship, which was the proverbial monkey on our back over the past several years, and sweeping through the NCAA Regional at Frank Eck Stadium the previous two weekends. We had a veteran team of position players led by Steve Stanley, Steve Sollmann, Paul O’Toole, Brian Stavisky and Andy Bushey. We had a closer that was tough as nails in J.P. Gagne. All of those veterans had been hardened with great experiences over the past couple of years and we felt we had the better team, quite frankly. We just felt it was our time and our destiny to do something spectacular. The only concern I had was how our freshmen starting pitchers, Grant Johnson and Chris Niesel, would handle the environment in Tallahassee … which they obviously ended up handling with great poise. I was so proud of those boys for the way they competed and just let it rip. No one played nervous or afraid; we really took the fight to FSU and tried to put the pressure on them. I think we surprised them with how aggressive we were. Obviously, it was a special accomplishment by a special group of people.”
After taking game one, 10-4, the Irish were blitzed in game two, 12-5, to set up a deciding game three. Behind a gem from freshman starter Chris Niesel, Notre Dame defeated the powerful Seminoles, 3-1, to advance to its first College World Series since 1957.
Twelve years later former standout Steve Sollman, a sophomore second base on the 2002 team, remembers the series fondly.
“I still remember the dog pile on the field after J.P. Gagne struck out the side in the ninth to clinch the series,” says the current Notre Dame academic counselor in the Academic Services for Student-Athletes office. “We had such a confident group of seniors and upperclassmen and a bunch of freshmen that quite honestly didn’t know any better. That weekend is probably my favorite baseball memory.”
As the Irish fans get ready for this weekend’s series against the Seminoles, be sure to read the recaps, look at the box scores and check out the photo gallery of an unforgettable moment in the remarkable history of Notre Dame baseball.
--Russell Dorn, Assistant Media Relations Director
Game 1: No. 11 Notre Dame 10, No. 1 Florida State 4
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - (AP) Top-ranked Florida State (59-13) saw its 25-game win streak snapped by No. 11 Notre Dame (48-15) in Friday night's opening game of the Tallahassee Super Regional. The Fighting Irish downed FSU 10-4 in front of a season-high 5,388 fans at Dick Howser Stadium. Kris Billmaier went 4-for-5 and tied a career-high with five RBIs to lead the way for the Irish. Billmaier knocked in two runs with a two-out single in Notre Dame's four-run eighth.
Brian Stavisky put the Fighting Irish on the scoreboard first with a two-run homer in the top of the first inning, his eighth homer of the season.
Notre Dame added another run in the third to make it 3-0. Steve Stanley led off with a double, moved to third on a sacrifice bunt and scored on a two-out single to left by Billmaier.
FSU got one back in the bottom half of the third when Stephen Drew doubled, took third on a passed ball, and came home on Ryan Barthelemy's ground ball to second.
Tony Richie blasted a solo home run to center, his 13th of the year, to lead off the fourth. Nick Rogers followed with a walk, advanced to second on Richie Smith's infield single, and came around to score on Drew's ground out to tie the game at three.
The Seminoles tied the game in the bottom of the sixth the same way. With the bases loaded and two outs, Tony McQuade fouled off a pair of 3-2 pitches before drawing a bases loaded walk.
Notre Dame wasted no time in regaining the lead, chasing FSU starter Matt Lynch after one out in the seventh inning. Billmaier did the damage, driving in two with a base hit to right center. Daniel Davidson relieved Lynch and struck out two end the frame.
In the eighth, the Irish broke the game open with four, two-out runs to make it 10-4. Steve Sollmann and Stavisky had RBI-singles and Billmaier knocked in two more to bring his RBI total to five.
Freshman right-hander Grant Johnson improved to 9-4 with the win. Johnson allowed four runs on seven hits in six innings of work. He struck out two and walked six, throwing 131 pitches on the night.
Lynch (13-2) took the loss, surrendering six runs on 10 hits in 6.1 innings. Lynch struck out four and walked two.
The series continues Saturday at 7:00 p.m. with FSU RHP Blair Varnes (9-3, 3.88 ERA) scheduled to face Notre Dame RHP Pete Ogilvie (7-3, 3.68 ERA). The Irish would advance to the College World Series with a win on Saturday.
Game 2: No. 1 Florida State 12, No. 11 Notre Dame 5
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - No. 1 Florida State (60-13) scored eight runs in the top of the first inning and went on to defeat No. 11 Notre Dame (48-16) by a score of 12-5 in NCAA Super Regional action at Dick Howser Stadium Sunday afternoon. Stephen Drew led the way for FSU with a career-high five hits and four runs scored while Jerrod Brown added three RBI. The 2002 Seminoles tied an ACC record with their 60th win and became just the second team in school history to win 60 games, joining the 1986 team that went 61-13.
After getting behind early in each of their four previous NCAA Tournament games, the Seminoles reversed that trend in dramatic fashion with eight runs in the top of the first inning. Drew led off with a double and Tony McQuade and Ryan Barthelemy walked to load the bases. Brown knocked in two with a double to right, making him 14-for-17 on the season with the bases loaded. Nick Rogers walked to load the bases again and Blair McCaleb did the same to bring in another run. Mike Futrell followed with an RBI-single to left. A pair of Notre Dame errors on Bryan Zech's grounder to second cleared the bases and made it 7-0. In his second at bat of the inning, Drew scored Zech from second with a base hit.
The Irish answered with four runs in the bottom half of the first to cut the lead in half. Steve Stanley, Steve Sollman, Brian Stavisky and Andrew Bushey started the rally with four straight singles. Stavisky and Bushey each picked up an RBI. After a sacrifice fly from Matt Bok scored Stavisky, Kris Billmaier made it 8-4 with an RBI-double.
Drew sparked FSU again in the fourth with a double off the screen to start the inning. McQuade knocked him in with a single up the middle. A Tony Richie single put McQuade on third before Brown came through with his third RBI of the day on a fielder's choice to make it 10-4.
Barthelemy made it 11-4 when his singled home Drew in the fifth. Stavisky doubled home a run for the Irish in the bottom of the eighth and FSU added another on Barthelemly's second RBI of the day for the final of 12-5.
Senior right-hander Blair Varnes (10-3) earned the victory after giving up four runs in the first, holding the Irish scoreless over the next 5.2 innings. Notre Dame starter Pete Ogilvie (7-4) took the loss after surrendering eight runs (seven earned) and recording just one out in the first inning.
The winner of Monday's 12:00 noon contest will advance to the College World Series. Monday's game will be televised live by Sunshine Network. FSU Sophomore right-hander Marc LaMacchia (11-1, 3.41 ERA) is scheduled to take the hill against Notre Dame RHP Chris Niesel (3-0, 3.75 ERA).
Game 3: No. 11 Notre Dame 3, No. 1 Florida State 1
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - No. 11 Notre Dame (49-16) became the eighth team to earn a spot in the College World Series field with a 3-1 Super Regional victory over No. 1 Florida State (60-14) as 5,195 fans looked on at Dick Howser Stadium. Freshman right-hander Chris Niesel (4-0) held the Seminoles in check all day, allowing just six hits and one earned run in eight innings of work.
Notre Dame took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the third inning when Steve Sollman singled home Joe Thaman from second base with two outs. Thaman was on after drawing a walk and had moved to second on a groundout.
The Irish got another two-out run in the fourth to make it 2-0. Kris Billmaier singled to center, moved to third on Paul O'Toole's single and scored on a base hit by Javier Sanchez. Notre Dame got an unearned run in the bottom of the seventh to push the lead to 3-0. O'Toole singled and Thaman grounded to second with one out on what looked to be an inning-ending double play, but
FSU second baseman Bryan Zech committed an error to put runners on first and second. Steve Stanley's bunt single loaded the bases and O'Toole scored on Steve Sollman's sacrifice fly to center.
The Seminoles mounted a late rally in the top of the eighth. Bryan Zech doubled and came around to score on Tony Richie's two-out single off the wall in right. Notre Dame left fielder Brian Stavisky ended the inning with a sliding catch of Jerrod Brown's fly ball in fall territory. Florida State starter Marc LaMacchia (10-2) pitched well in the loss, giving up two earned runs on six hits in 6.1 innings. LaMacchia walked two and struck out two.
Notre Dame now advances to the College World Series in Omaha, NE to play the Stanford Cardinal. It is the second World Series trip ever for the Irish and their first since 1957.