April 13, 2009
Notre Dame vs. Northwestern
April 15 7:00 p.m. CT
Wednesday (7:00 p.m. CT)
LIVE GAME COVERAGE
IN THE BATTERS BOX -- Notre Dame returns to action this week with a pair of neutral site, non-conference games. The Irish will travel to Battle Creek, Mich. and C.O. Brown Stadium to face Western Michigan on Tuesday night. First pitch is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. ET. Notre Dame then travels to Chicago and U.S. Cellular Field to play Northwestern. First pitch is slated for 7:00 p.m. CT. Both games can be heard on WHME 103.1 FM as well as UND.com. Wednesday's game against the Wildcats will also be streamed live on UND.com.
SCOUTING WESTERN MICHIGAN -- The Broncos, led by fifth year head coach Randy Ford, enter the game 9-21 overall and 4-8 in Mid-American Conference play.
SCOUTING NORTHWESTERN -- The Wildcats, led by 21st year head coach Paul Stevens, enter the game 7-23 overall and 1-7 in Big Ten action.
WESTERN MICHIGAN SERIES NOTES -- Notre Dame and Western Michigan have met 129 times on the diamond (second-most common opponent in Irish history). The series is remarkably tied, 64-64-1, and dates back to the 1916 season.
NORTHWESTERN SERIES NOTES -- Notre Dame and Northwestern have met 130 times on the diamond (the most common foe in Irish history), but the two have not played since May 2, 2000. The Irish hold a 71-58-1 lead in the series dating back to the 1896 season.
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.
ON DECK -- After the two midweek non-conference games, Notre Dame will then host BIG EAST leader West Virginia in a three-game conference series over Blue-Gold weekend. Friday night's series opener is slated for 6:05 p.m. Saturday's game will start at 3:05 p.m. (Football Spring Game begins at 1:30 p.m.) and Sunday's finale is slated for 1:05 p.m.
IRISH DEFENSE GONE COLD WITH THE WEATHER -- Notre Dame head coach Dave Schrage figured the Irish would not only be one of the top defensive clubs in the BIG EAST, but also one of the top fielding teams across the country. Notre Dame appeared headed that direction once they returned from its spring trip with a sparkling .974 fielding percentage. The Irish had committed just 15 errors over their first 15 games, but Notre Dame has not continued that defensive prowess over the last 17 games. The Irish are fielding just .959 with 28 errors. In fact, Notre Dame has just two errorless games in the stretch. The Irish have posted eight multi-error games since returning from Texas, including three straight games with three errors (Mar. 28-Apr. 1) and then a season-high four against Cincinnati on April 11.
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 4-0 record and a 2.30 earned run average. Johnson has struck out 35, walked 20 and allowed only 37 hits in 54.2 innings of work (opponents are hitting just .198 against him). Johnson has tossed at least 6.0 innings in each of this last six starts, including 6.0 scoreless innings of one-hit baseball against Oral Roberts on March 6 and back-to-back complete game victories over Pittsburgh on March 27 and Villanova on April 3. He could have become the first Irish pitcher to toss three straight CGs since Dan Kapala in 2005, but Notre Dame's game with Cincinnati on April 9 was tied 2-2 after inning innings.
BOOCKFORD SHOWS NO SIGNS OF RUST -- On April 9 against Cincinnati, junior Billy Boockford made his first start for Notre Dame since March 7. The right fielder did not show any signs of rust. Boockford went 2-for-5 with a pair of RBI singles. In fact, the first RBI base hit tied the game, 1-1, in the top of the fourth inning and the second gave the Irish a 3-2 lead in the top of the 11th inning. He then added RBI singles each of the final two games of the series with the Bearcats. Boockford is 4-for-10 with four RBI since returning to the starting lineup.
There is joy in SOUTH BEND, mighty Casey IS STARTING TO HIT -- Sophomore David Casey has really seemed to find himself offensively since taking over the majority of the at bats against RHP. The first basemen owns an eight-game hitting streak (longest current streak on the squad). Casey is hitting .519 (14-for-27) with nine runs scored, a home run and nine RBI. The home run came in the opening game of Notre Dame's doubleheader on April 11 at Cincinnati. The solo bomb not only cleared the scoreboard in right field, but crashed halfway up the facade of Fifth Third Bank Arena that sits some 30-40 feet behind the wall.
DUPRA, DOING MORE -- Sophomore RHP Brian Dupra had his best outing as a collegiate pitcher against Villanova on April 4. The Rochester, N.Y. native was named the BIG EAST Pitcher of the Week for his efforts. He tossed a three-hit shutout with no walks and a career-high tying six strikeouts to lead the Irish past Villanova, 4-0. Dupra also became the first Notre Dame pitcher to throw a complete game shutout in over two years. Former All-American David Phelps was the last to accomplish the feat, blanking South Florida 1-0 at Eck Stadium on March 23, 2007. Dupra needed just 108 pitches to finish off the Wildcats. The righty retired the first 14 Villanova batters on just 48 pitches before allowing a single with two outs in the fifth inning. Dupra proceeded to retire the next five before allowing a double in the seventh (which was the furthest any Villanova hitter reached on base the entire afternoon). He did surrender another double in the ninth, but that was it for the Wildcats. Dupra was so dominant that he worked with a three-ball count just twice the entire afternoon and the first did not come until the fifth inning. He faced just four over the minimum on the afternoon (he also plunked one batter). Dupra's complete game effort without a walk was the first for an Irish pitcher since Tom Thorton's complete game no free pass outing against Southern Illinois on March 18, 2006.
NOW THAT'S STARTING PITCHING -- Notre Dame's pitching staff entered the Villanova series averaging just a little over 5.1 innings per start, but the weekend rotation of sophomore Cole Johnson, sophomore Brian Dupra and junior Eric Maust all worked into the ninth inning. In fact, Maust nearly followed Johnson and Dupra with a third straight complete game victory. He fell just two outs shy of his first career 9.0 inning complete game. The Irish were forced to use just four pitchers the entire series with Villanova.
LIGHTS OUT -- Notre Dame approached numerous pitching records in the three-game series sweep of Villanova. The Irish posted a 1.33 earned run average and limited the Wildcats to a .172 batting average. Villanova managed just four runs (all earned) the entire weekend.The four runs were tied for the fourth fewest ever allowed by a Notre Dame pitching staff over a three-game BIG EAST series. Even more impressive,all of the previous series marks for fewest runs, with the exception of last season's sweep of Georgetown, included a seven-inning game (BIG EAST used to play a seven-inning game as the first game of a doubleheader).
Fewest Runs Allowed Over BIG EAST Series (3 games)
2 at Georgetown 2008 2 vs. Georgetown 1997 3 vs. Seton Hall 1996 4 vs. Villanova 2009 4 at Villanova 2008 4 vs. Seton Hall 2001 4 vs. Rutgers 2004 4 at Villanova 2006 5 at St. John's 2001 5 at West Virginia 2004 5 vs. West Virginia 2005
IRISH FINDING THEIR HOME RUN STROKE -- Notre Dame entered the series against Pittsburgh with just eight home runs over its first 22 games. In fact, the Irish hit only four long balls over their first 18 games.
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.
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 six appearances for Notre Dame and sports a 3-0 record with a 1.29 earned run average in 14.0 innings of work. He has yielded 11 hits and five walks, along with 10 strikeouts, while opponents are batting just .212 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).
AS BARNES GOES, SO GO THE IRISH -- Notre Dame senior Jeremy Barnes has had a remarkable start to the 2009 season. Barnes is hitting .353 with nine doubles, five triples, six home runs and 39 RBI, but his performance in victories is even more impressive. Barnes leads the Irish with a .453 batting average (34-for-75), .800 slugging percentage and .527 on-base percentage in their 20 victories. On the other hand, he is hitting just .182 (8-for-44) with a .432 slugging percentage and .280 on-base percentage in Notre Dame's 12 losses. In fact, the Irish are 19-6 when Barnes has a hit and 11-2 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 1.00 ERA in seven relief appearances. Mills has struck out seven, walked three and surrendered six hits in 9.0 innings of work. In fact, opponents are batting just .194 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.
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 5-2 record with a 4.11 ERA in 72.1 innings of work and opponents are batting .247 against the group.
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 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.
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.