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Dave Schrage - whose 19 years as a college head coach include 16 seasons at the Division I level, most recently with a University of Evansville squad that ranked among the nation's hottest teams during the 2006 postseason - was introduced by athletics director Kevin White as the 19th head coach in the history of the University of Notre Dame's baseball program. Schrage just completed his fourth year at Evansville while guiding the Aces to the most successful season in the program's history, highlighted by winning the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season and tournament titles, reaching the NCAA regional championship round and earning a final national ranking of 19th in the Collegiate Baseball magazine poll.
The previous four stops in Schrage's head coaching career - most recently at Northern Illinois (2000-02) and Northern Iowa (1991-99), prior to his move to Evansville - have seen him mold unproven teams into record-setting units, with several seasons in his 19-year career spent rebuilding underfunded programs while earning him top honors on the conference and national levels. A lifelong fan of Notre Dame's athletic teams and a former standout centerfielder at Creighton, the Chicago native now is set to accept a new challenge in his coaching career as he takes over the reins of one of the nation's top baseball programs. Notre Dame owns Division I baseball's fourth-best winning percentage during the current decade (.728; 324-120-3 from 2000-06) and the Irish are one of just 10 teams to advance to the NCAA Tournament every season since 1999.
Schrage [pronunciation rhymes with bag] is highly-regarded as a consummate student of the game, with a vast baseball knowledge contributing to his skills as a developer of talent and teacher of the game of baseball. His teams traditionally have been founded on pitching and defense while playing with a scrappy and aggressive approach that has helped to build confidence and a winning tradition among his former players.
Former Notre Dame head coach Paul Mainieri gave Schrage his first job in coaching when he hired him to his 1984 staff at St. Thomas University (located in Miami and also known during that time frame as Biscayne College).
After inheriting an Evansville team that had won only 22 games in the 2002 season, Schrage guided the Aces in making steady strides as the program built its victory total in each of his four seasons: 24-31 in 2003, 28-32 in '04, 35-23 in '05 and most recently a 43-22 mark in 2006 that represents the second-most wins in the program's history. The 45-year-old Schrage ranks second on the Evansville career victories list, compiling a 130-108 record in his four seasons with the Aces.
Only 21 teams in all of Division I baseball totaled more wins in 2006 than the upstart Evansville squad, which claimed the Missouri Valley regular-season and tournament titles before posting stunning double-digit NCAA regional victories over host Virginia and an NCAA-veteran South Carolina squad. It marked the first time that an Evansville baseball team ever had reached an NCAA regional championship game and was just the third NCAA trip in the program's history.
Evansville's performance at the 2006 Missouri Valley Conference Tournament included a key 14-3 victory over homestanding Wichita State. The strong season turned in by the Aces caused longtime Wichita State coach Gene Stephenson to concede in his postgame comments that Evansville had become the "class" of the Missouri Valley Conference.
Four seasons at Evansville have prepared Schrage for the high level of academic expectations that exist at Notre Dame. Evansville - a private liberal-arts university with an enrollment of only 2,500 students - is rated among the top schools in the Midwest and is noted for its selective admissions criteria. Schrage showed the ability at Evansville to recruit academic-minded players who went on to excel at the collegiate level. Most notably, catcher Gabe Bauer and pitcher Zach Grage both received the Missouri Valley Conference's prestigious Presidents' Award, presented to graduating seniors with grade-point averages of 3.8 and higher on a 4.0 scale.
Bauer - who coincidentally has been accepted to Notre Dame's accelerated one-year master's in accountancy program - graduated with a 3.91 cumulative GPA as an accounting major while Grage compiled a 3.82 GPA en route to receiving his degree in secondary education. Bauer earlier joined teammates Adam Rogers (3.46; sport studies/management), Robbie Minor (3.29; accounting) and Kasey Wahl (3.04; athletic training) in receiving Scholar-Athlete honors from the MVC, with the four players representing the most from any MVC baseball team. Two others, Mitch Prout (3.40; accounting) and Kyle Smith (3.15; sport studies/management), earned honorable mention MVC Scholar-Athlete status.
Schrage is one of just five coaches in the history of Missouri Valley Conference baseball who have been named MVC coach of the year three or more times, with only two - Wichita State's Stephenson (11) and former Southern Illinois head coach "Itchy" Jones (4) - receiving that honor more times than Schrage. Longtime Missouri State head coach Keith Guttin and the recently-retired Bob Warn of Indiana State also have been three-time MVC coaches of the year.
The Missouri Valley Conference has rated as one of the nation's top college baseball leagues in recent years, led by the likes of perennial national power Wichita State, Missouri State - which advanced to the 2003 College World (as Southwest Missouri State) - and Schrage's alma mater Creighton. During the past four years alone (2003-06), four different MVC teams have advanced to the NCAAs. All nine current MVC teams have made NCAA appearances.
There are nearly 300 teams (293) currently competing in Division I baseball but only a small portion - roughly 10 percent (33 teams) - from that group have totaled more victories during the past two seasons ('05-'06) than Evansville's 78. Notre Dame's 83 wins from 2005-06 are tied for 20th-most in the nation during that two-year period.
Schrage's teams have relied on a recipe for success that mirrors recent Notre Dame teams. His Evansville squads were built around the traditional core of pitching and defense, yielding a 3.39 staff ERA and .975 team fielding percentage that both ranked 12th in the final NCAA rankings. Just one other team in the nation was ranked among the top-12 in both pitching and defense, as Cal State Fullerton compiled a nation-leading 2.73 ERA while ranking sixth with .977 fielding. Notre Dame was one of eight teams ranked among the national top-25 in '06 for both pitching (21st) and fielding (23rd).
Several Evansville players also ranked among the 2006 national leaders. Pitcher Ben Norton (9-3) finished one victory outside the top-50 on the national wins list (tied for 68th) while fellow junior righthander Matt Brinkmann ended up just outside the nation's top-100 ERA leaders (at 110th; 2.97). Wahl, a junior first baseman, batted at a .371 clip to nearly finish among the top-100 hitters in the nation (114th) while sophomore outfielder Jim Viscomi fueled the Aces running game, ranking 10th nationally with 34 stolen bases.
Evansville's emergence as the class of the conference can be seen in both its championship finishes and statistical leaders. In 2006 MVC play, Evansville led the league in batting average (.295) and fielding percentage (.978; 20 errors in 24 games) while ranking second with a 3.33 league ERA. The Purple Aces also led the MVC during 2006 league play with a .420 slugging percentage and 144 runs scored while the pitching staff exhibited its control by yielding the fewest walks (51) and wild pitches (7) and second-fewest home runs (9) during MVC games. Other noteworthy stats for Evansville during 2006 MVC games included ranking second in on-base percentage (.370) and stolen bases (29), plus third in home runs (14), doubles (42) and low opponent batting average (.256). In statistical rankings for all games, Evansville led the conference in overall ERA (3.39) and fielding percentage (3.39) while ranking second in on-base percentage (.370), runs (395), stolen bases (98), walks drawn (236), sacrifice bunts (70) and low opponent batting average (.256).
Schrage earned his third career Missouri Valley Conference coach-of-the-year honor in 2006, after guiding Evansville to the first MVC title in the program's history. The Aces then had a memorable third day at the NCAA Charlottesville Regional, knocking off the host team Virginia in a 15-4 elimination game and then coming back to stay alive with a similar 15-5 win over South Carolina. That game saw the Aces stunningly send 18 men to the plate while scoring 12 times in the third inning - but the Gamecocks ultimately won the regional's decisive game, 5-1.
He earlier helped develop Evansville's first MVC batting champion (Luke Miller, in 2003) and first MVC newcomers of the year (Cody Strait in '04; Ben Norton in '06). His Evansville players combined for two Freshman All-America honors, a first team Summer All-America honor and 17 spots on the all-MVC team during his four seasons (including six in '06).
Schrage's 20th season as a college head coach in 2007 will correspond with the 115th season in the history of Notre Dame baseball, as he becomes just the sixth individual to lead the Irish baseball program since the mid-1930s. That span of nearly 75 seasons has included the coaching tenures of Hall of Famer Clarence "Jake" Kline (1934-75), Tom Kelly ('76-'80), Larry Gallo ('81-'87), Pat Murphy ('88-'94) and Mainieri (1995-2006).
Schrage came to Evansville after a three-year stint at Northern Illinois, where he took a team that was 4-51 the year prior to his 2000 arrival and helped transform it into a Mid-American Conference Tournament team. Virtually the same Northern Illinois team that won four games in 1999 rebounded to win 24 times in 2000, prompting Collegiate Baseball magazine to recognize Schrage as runner-up for its 2000 national coach-of-the-year award. Baseball America also took notice, selecting Schrage as one of the nation's "top-10 up-and-coming coaches."
Prior to his three years at Northern Illinois, Schrage spent nine seasons as head coach at Northern Iowa. He took a UNI program that had only one scholarship in his first season (1991) and transformed it into a perennial contender in the MVC. Schrage was named Missouri Valley Conference coach of the year in 1995 and again in 1997, when he guided the Panthers to one of the best marks in school history at 32-23.
Since 1991, Schrage has developed 53 all-conference selections and 23 players who have moved on to professional baseball - most notably first baseman Erik Lis, a ninth-round selection of the Minnesota Twins in 2005. He has coached eight Freshman All-Americans and also tutored the 1997 MVC player of the year, Brian Jergenson.
Schrage's standout playing career at Creighton included all-MVC honors in 1982 after leading the conference with a .400 batting average. He then raised that mark to .433 as a senior while also receiving 1983 CoSIDA Academic All-America honors. Schrage is the only individual to gain all-MVC baseball accolades as a player and later earn the league's coach-of-the-year honor.
After completing his playing career, Schrage spent one season as a graduate assistant on Mainieri's 1983-84 staff at Biscayne/St. Thomas before returning to Creighton to work two seasons ('84 and '85) with current Chicago Cubs general manager Jim Hendry, who ultimately coached the Bluejays to the 1991 College World Series. Schrage was instrumental in signing the 1985 Creighton recruiting class that featured three future professional players and was rated fifth-best in the nation. He coached overseas in 1987-88 with the Mt. Gravatt Eagles Club in Brisbane, Australia, and returned to direct the baseball team at Waldorf Junior College (now a four-year college, located in Forest City, Iowa) for three seasons (1988-90) before taking over at Northern Iowa.
A two-sport standout in baseball and basketball at Chicago's Fenwick High School, Schrage later received his bachelor of science degree in business administration from Creighton ('83) and a master's degree in sports administration from Biscayne/St. Thomas. He and his wife, Jody, have two daughters, Kaitlyn (15) and Brianne (13).
The Dave Schrage Head Coaching File
1988-90 - Waldorf J.C.
1991-99 - Northern Iowa ... Two-time Missouri Valley Conference coach of the year
2000-02 - Northern Illinois
2003-06 - Evansville (2006: NCAA regional finalist; Missouri Valley Conference coach of the year)