IN THE BATTERS BOX -- Notre Dame returns to BIG EAST action this weekend with a critical three-game series against league-leader West Virginia at Frank Eck Stadium. First pitch for Friday's opener is scheduled for 6:05 p.m., while Saturday's game will begin at 3:05 p.m. and Sunday's finale is slated for 1:05 p.m. All three games can be heard on WHME 103.1 FM as well as UND.com (which will also provide live webcasts).
WEST VIRGINIA INSIDER -- The Mountaineers have won 10 of their last 11 and 17 of 19 entering the series with the Irish. West Virginia's lone setbacks include a 3-1 defeat in the series opener to Villanova on March 27 and a 10-5 loss to St. John's on April 10. The Mountaineers have already taken series from UConn (sweep), the Wildcats, Georgetown (sweep) and the Red Storm. Notre Dame and West Virginia have each played and split with BIG Ten foes Illinois and Northwestern this season. The Mountaineers lost to the Illini, 17-10, but rebounded to knock off the Wildcats, 10-5. The Irish defeated Illinois, 14-7, but lost on Wednesday night to Northwestern, 5-1, at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago.
Scouting THE MOUNTAINEERS -- West Virginia, led by 15th year head coach Greg Van Zant, enter the series with a 27-7 overall record and 10-2 mark in BIG EAST play.
The Mountaineers are averaging 10.0 runs per game and hitting .369 with a .458 on-base percentage. West Virginia has also totaled 19 stolen bases in 29 attempts.
The Mountaineers not only have four everyday players that are hitting over .400, but they have three more batting over .300. Vince Belnome leads the attack with a team-best .426 batting average. He has added 49 runs scored, a team-high 55 hits and 28 walks. Belnome also has 18 doubles, one triple, five home runs, 53 RBI and a .530 on-base percentage. He is also slugging .698. Dan DiBartolomeo is hitting .425 with 32 runs scored, 51 hits, 10 doubles, four home runs and 36 RBI. Jedd Gyorko, the 2008 BIG EAST Rookie of the Year, is batting .411 with 19 doubles, a triple, three home runs and 29 RBI. He has also added 43 runs scored. Justin Parks is hitting .407 with 50 runs scored, 59 hits, eighth doubles, one triple, eight home runs and 26 RBI. He is also a perfect 5-for-5 in stolen bases. Austin Markel, the reigning BIG EAST Player of the Week, is batting .348 with a team-best 10 home runs and 35 RBI. Tobias Streich is hitting .341 with six home runs and 46 RBI. West Virginia has hit 44 home runs this season as a team and struck out only 151 times.
The pitching staff has a 5.11 ERA and .286 opponents' batting average along with 261 strikeouts and 126 walks in 288.0 innings. Chris Enourato is 5-0 with a 2.01 ERA in 13 appearances over 31.1 innings, while Chase Pickering (2-0, 4.61), Justin Ellis (4-1, 4.94), Marcus Broadwater (1-2, 11.05) and Andy Podolinski (0-0, 16.62) are other options out of the Mountaineers' bullpen. Enourato has also registered six saves. He has allowed just 21 hits and seven walks in 31.1 innings of work with 45 strikeouts. West Virginia has committed 43 errors in 34 games and is fielding .966.
SERIES NOTES -- Notre Dame has won 12 of its last 15 meetings with West Virginia (since 2003) and owns a 36-16 all-time series edge (27-13 since both teams joined the BIG EAST in 1996).
The Irish are 16-6 at home against the Mountaineers, including a sweep of the 2005 series (3-1, 5-1, 7-3) with a BIG EAST Tournament bid on the line (the BET featured just four team in 2005).
In 2007, Notre Dame took two of three from West Virginia over Blue-Gold Weekend (5-2, 17-6, 7-16).
The teams did not meet in the 2006 regular season, but Notre Dame beat West Virginia on the second day of the 2006 BIG EAST Tournament (12-4).
The Mountaineers own the most wins at Eck Stadium (6-10) of any visiting team (since 1994).
Notre Dame and West Virginia have faced each other in six BIG EAST Tournaments (1996-99, 2003, 2006, 2008; Notre Dame 6-3 edge).
The Irish have won seven of the previous nine season series against the Mountaineers (WVU is the only BIG EAST team ever to win two series at Eck Stadium in 1996 and 2003).
West Virginia's 2003 visit to Eck Stadium (1-0, 5-7, 1-5) featured a classic pitchers duel in the opener as Notre Dame's Chris Niesel nearly posted a no-hitter while Shawn Miller took the tough-luck, 1-0 loss (Lee Fritz had a two-out bunt in the 7th and final inning for WVU's only hit).
The series has featured 12 games won by one run or in extra innings (Notre Dame is 11-1 in those games).
Notre Dame's 2002 team fell to 0-4 in BIG EAST play (9-10 overall) after a 4-2 loss at West Virginia, but rallied to win the nightcap (10-6), launching the Irish on to a BIG EAST regular-season (18-8) and tournament titles, a 50-18 overall record and a trip to the College World Series.
ON DECK -- After this weekend's series, Notre Dame will face BIG Ten Rival Michigan in a home-and-home two-game series. The Irish and Wolverines will meet in Ann Arbor on Tuesday night at 7:00 p.m. before returning to South Bend to play on Wednesday on 6:05 p.m.
RANKINGS -- Notre Dame is unranked in each of the four polls, but West Virginia is receiving votes in the ESPN/USA Today and NCBWA 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.
Notre Dame has dropped both of its BIG EAST series against Seton Hall and Pittsburgh. The Irish struggled mightily with "freebies." Notre Dame is averaging 9.7 "freebies" per game, while the Pirates and Panthers averaged just 6.7.
Notre Dame was just about as good as possible in the "freebie" department in the series sweep of Villanova. The Irish issued only 11 "freebies" over the entire weekend -- good for a 3.7 average per game (down almost 5.0 per game from what Notre Dame averaged entering the series).
Here is a breakdown of Notre Dame's "freebies" in victories, and defeats in games both home and away.
MILESTONES AROUND THE CORNER --
Jeremy Barnes, Sr., SS
... five starts from becoming 10th player in ND history to start 200 career games
... 42 career at-bats from 10th all-time
... 46 career at-bats from ninth all-time
... 49 career at-bats from eighth all-time
... 60 career at-bats from seventh all-time
... 35 career hits from 10th all-time
... 43 career hits from ninth all-time
... 47 career hits from eighth all-time
... two career RBI from 10th all-time
... four career RBI from ninth all-time
... eight career RBI from eighth all-time
... 10 career RBI from seventh all-time
... 23 career RBI from sixth all-time
... 29 career RBI from fifth all-time
... 36 career RBI from third all-time
... three career triples from second all-time
... seven career doubles from tying for 10th all-time
... eight career doubles from tying for eighth all-time
... 10 career doubles from seventh all-time
... three career walks from 100 career free passes
A.J. Pollock, Jr., OF
... seven career hits from 200
... two career stolen bases from seventh all-time
... 16 career stolen bases from sixth all-time
David Mills, Jr., OF
... four career sacrifice bunts from fourth all-time
... six career sacrifice bunts from second all-time
AROUND THE HORN --
RBI BY COMMITTEE: Notre Dame has seven players with 10 or more RBI, but have 12 in the order with at least seven RBI.
IN THE CLUTCH: The Irish are batting .327 with runners in scoring position (.328 in 2008), led by sophomore David Casey (.500, 6-for-12), junior A.J. Pollock (.366, 15-for-41), sophomore Mick Doyle (.353, 6-for-17), junior David Mills (.343, 12-for-35), junior Casey Martin (.444, 8-for-18), sophomore Cameron McConnell (.273, 9-for-333) and senior Jeremy Barnes (.458, 22-for-48).
RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME: Notre Dame is hitting .352 (186-for-529) with runners on base, but just .268 (146-for-544) 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 two home runs and 21 RBI, third best on the club, but also he has already thrown out 14 base stealers (second-best in the BIG EAST). In fact, opponents have only recorded 27 stolen bases in 41 attempts (.659) against McConnell. Notre Dame's catchers last season, Sean Gaston and McConnell, only pegged 10 the entire year.
TEAM NOTES: Notre Dame is 14-2 this season when scoring six or more runs and 6-11 when scoring five or fewer runs ... the Irish are now 14-2 when scoring the game's first run, but 6-11 when the opponent scores first ... Notre Dame is 18-0 when taking a lead to the ninth inning despite being outscored 20-10 in the ninth inning ... the Irish are 14-4 when holding their opponent to five runs or less, but just 6-9 when the foe scores more than five runs ... Notre Dame is 16-2 when out hitting its opponent and 3-8 when out-hit ... Interestingly, the Irish are 15-10 when committing an error and 5-3 when not committing an error.
INDIVIDUAL NOTES: Senior Jeremy Barnes leads Notre Dame with 40 RBI, which also ranks fifth in the BIG EAST ... Barnes is on pace for 69 RBI in the regular season, which would rank just outside the top-10 in single-season Irish history ... Junior A.J. Pollock ranks third on the Irish in batting average (.346) ... 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 .358 batting average ranks just outside the top-10 in school history ... Sophomore Cameron McConnell might be the most improved player on the Notre Dame roster in 2009 ... he ranks third on the team with 21 RBI ... even more impressive, of McConnell's 21 RBI, 10 have either tied the game or given the Irish the lead ... Sophomore Golden Tate, who had a career-high nine-game hitting streak snapped against Oakland on March 25, opened the year with hits in five consecutive games (so he has a hit in 24 of his 29 starts) ... Tate has also reached base in 26 of his 29 starts ... Junior David Mills also had a nine-game hit streak snapped against Oakland ... he has recorded a hit in 55 of his 70 career games started.
TWIN KILLINGS -- Over Notre Dame's first two seasons under Dave Schrage, the Irish had grounded into two or more double plays in a single game just 14 times in 113 games. Notre Dame has fell victim to the double play bug quite often in 2009. The Irish have not only hit into 31 double plays this season (25 double play grounders), Notre Dame has had seven games this season with at least two double play ground outs. In fact, the Irish are tied for second in the BIG EAST for most double plays.
Notre Dame was especially victimized by double plays in the series at Cincinnati. The Irish grounded into five double plays over the weekend and each not only came with at least one runner in scoring position, but each also ended the inning. In fact, two of the five occurred with two runners in scoring position.
SITUATIONAL HITTING -- Notre Dame has prided itself over the past two years with its ability to drive runners in from third base with less than two outs. The Irish drove in a runner from third with less than two outs just over 66% of the time in 2008 -- 106 RBI in 160 opportunities. Notre Dame, however, has converted just 63% of the time in 2009 -- 69 RBI in 109 chances.
Most recently, the Irish have had major issues advancing runners. Notre Dame has only advanced 31 of its last 60 base runners (over the last four games). In fact, the last four times the Irish have had the first two batters reach base to open an inning, Notre Dame has not only failed to score any runs, but only once did any of the runners actually advance a base.
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 0.82 ERA in eight relief appearances. Mills has struck out eight, walked three and surrendered seven hits in 11.0 innings of work. In fact, opponents are batting just .189 against him.
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT -- Senior Jeremy Barnes smacked his team-leading seventh home run of the season on Wednesday night against Northwestern at U.S. Cellular Field. Barnes also homered in last season's game at U.S. Cellular Field. In fact, both were estimated to travel some 370 feet and both landed in the visiting team bullpen (probably within 10 feet of one another).
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 18 games. The Irish are fielding just .956 with 30 errors. In fact, Notre Dame has just two errorless games in the stretch. The Irish have posted nine 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.
Johnson, though, was spectacular once again for the Irish despite not factoring in the decision against the Bearcats. The right-handed hurler went 9.2 innings and allowed just two earned runs on eight hits. Johnson struck out five and walked three. He became the first Notre Dame pitcher to work into the 10th inning since Aaron Heilman tossed 10.0 innings against West Virginia on April 15, 2000. Johnson has now tossed 9.0 or more innings in three consecutive starts. In fact, the righty has worked at least 7.0 innings in five straight starts. Johnson sports a 3-0 mark with a 2.38 ERA in those five starts with a pair of complete games and another outing that last 9.2 innings.
Johnson allowed just two earned runs in his first career complete game victory to lead the Irish past Pittsburgh, 5-4. He was the first opposing pitcher to throw a nine-inning complete game at Trees Field since May 13, 2006. Johnson kept the high powered Pittsburgh attack grounded for much of the afternoon. The Panthers entered the contest hitting .321 as a team and averaging 8.5 runs per game. In fact, Pittsburgh was even more impressive over its first four home games, plating nearly 10 runs a game, but Johnson was in control from the opening pitch. The right-handed hurler scattered seven hits, issued just two walks and struck out four. Johnson became the first Notre Dame pitcher to throw a nine-inning complete game since David Phelps went the distance against Villanova on May 23, 2007. With Notre Dame holding a 5-2 lead heading into the bottom of the seventh inning, the Panthers took advantage of a pair of Irish errors, plated two unearned runs and had the tying run in scoring position, but Johnson escaped the jam with the Irish still clinging to a one run lead, 5-4, and proceeded to retire the final seven Panthers of the game.
Johnson threw his second consecutive complete game, and the Irish scored all three of their runs in the first inning to defeat the Villanova Wildcats, 3-1, on April 3. Johnson became the first Irish pitcher since Dan Kapala in 2005 to throw back-to-back complete games. Johnson cruised through the first three innings, retiring the first nine batters on only 35 pitches with three strikeouts. Johnson gave up one run on seven hits, striking out five and walking just one.
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-13 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. Casey is hitting .500 (14-for-28) 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).
Ironically, three of the top eight series for fewest earned runs allowed have come against Villanova (2006, 2008 and 2009).
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.
Notre Dame exploded for six home runs in the series with the Panthers, including a season-best four in Sunday's finale. The four home runs were the most in a single game by Notre Dame since April 21, 2007 against West Virginia.
The Irish continued the stretch of long ball success with three solo shots in the 4-0 victory over Villanova on April 4.
Notre Dame has hit 12 home runs over its last 11 games and 16 over the last 15 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.
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 .333 with five doubles, a triple and seven RBI. Tate also is 6-for-7 in stolen bases. He carried a career-best nine game hitting streak into the March 25 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 second-longest by a Notre Dame player this season. Junior A.J. Pollock posted a 10-game hitting streak.
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 seven appearances for Notre Dame (including one start) and sports a 3-1 record with a 2.04 earned run average in 17.2 innings of work. He has yielded 17 hits and eight walks, along with 16 strikeouts, while opponents are batting just .250 against him. Richter struck out a career-high six in his first career start against Northwestern on April 15 at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago. He attended St. Joseph's High School, mere minutes from the Notre Dame campus. Richter 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 .358 with nine doubles, five triples, seven home runs and 40 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 .208 (10-for-48) with a .500 slugging percentage and .296 on-base percentage in Notre Dame's 13 losses. In fact, the Irish are 19-7 when Barnes has a hit and 11-3 when he has a multi-hit affair.
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 5-3 record with a 4.08 ERA in 76.0 innings of work and opponents are batting .249 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.
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 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 those four games, Notre Dame's opponents plated an astounding 28 runs with two outs. In fact, the Irish had allowed 35 two-out RBI over their first 18 games, but surrendered 23 in those four contests.
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.
A MAN OF MANY TALENTS -- Playing a varsity sport at Notre Dame can be very time consuming. Balancing a baseball career and going to school full time is even more of a challenge. Junior Casey Martin is always looking for new activities, namely playing instruments that will help him relax and take a reprieve from his busy schedule. These instruments, specifically the harmonica, which first appealed to him in high school, gives Martin a way to express himself and offers an excitement that neither baseball nor school can provide.
Becoming interested in the harmonica was "just one of those things where I saw somebody else playing it and I thought it was pretty cool so my parents got me one and I taught myself how to play." Since that time, the harmonica has developed into Martin's favorite instrument, not just because he has become quite good at playing it, but also, because it's unique.
"You go to college and pretty much everybody can play the guitar, but the harmonica is cool because not that many people play it," Martin said.
Martin is able to showcase his harmonica and guitar playing skills in informal "jam sessions," with his friends on the baseball team.
"Right now, there's probably four or five of us that get together every once in a while and just jam. Next year, we're hoping to get some solid material together and we're hoping to play some shows at the house."
While the group is satisfied with their proficiency at the guitar and the drums, Martin acknowledges that they desperately lack a capable singer, as the members "are all too chicken to sing." Martin joked that placing an advertisement in the paper to recruit a talented singer would be a good option because otherwise, "we're just going to have to set a microphone really far away so you just can't hear us."
While Martin may be successful at playing the harmonica and the guitar, his newest instrument he's determined to add to his repertoire is the ukulele.
"Yeah, I know," he jokes, "there's probably not that many 240 lbs, 6-4 guys playing the ukulele, but you can travel with it and take it pretty easily on a plane or a bus."
This willingness to explore new instruments is indicative of Martin's personality. Not an avid fan of the television, Martin keeps himself occupied searching for new activities including a new fascination with the Rubik's cube, something the whole baseball team is getting into.
"One kid brought in a cube and then everyone bought one and now we time ourselves to see who finishes first."
When asked about other pastimes he is discovering, he laughs, "Do you want me to be totally honest? This is going to make me sound like the hugest dork, but I've been doing a lot of whittling." Although Martin makes fun of himself when he introduces his hobbies, it is easy to see from the smile on his face that he enjoys the adventure of acquiring new skills and certainly takes pleasure in doing something different than his comfortable routine of baseball and academics.
When describing his hobbies, Martin oftentimes mentions how many of his teammates are involved in comparable activities. It's as though the camaraderie on the field translates to camaraderie off the field as Martin depicts the team as one that "loves Rubik's cubes, whittling and harmonicas."
It seems as though we'll just have to wait to see what the new hobbies this skilled musician and his teammates delve into throughout the season.
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 -- Notre Dame 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.