April 16, 2009
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.
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).
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.
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 --
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.
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.
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.
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).
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 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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
BIG EAST Leader West Virginia Comes Calling This Weekend