Irish beat three top 25 teams
Chris Federico | Monday, March 1, 2004
Don’t tell the Irish hitters they’re not supposed to be in mid-season form yet.
Just the second weekend into the 2004 season, No. 10 Notre Dame (6-0) put 53 runs on the board with 57 hits over the course of four games to sweep the Florida Atlantic Classic in Boca Raton, Fla.
“I don’t remember us every swinging the bat this well early in the season,” Irish coach Paul Mainieri said. “Usually our hitting is that last thing that comes around. This year it seems like or guys have just come right out of the gate getting good swings. We’re not striking out very much, we’re drawing some walks and we’re hitting the ball hard.”
The Irish also used solid starting pitching and nearly perfect fielding to knock off three top 25 opponents – Florida Atlantic, Winthrop and Minnesota – by a combined score of 41-15, plus a 12-3 victory Saturday afternoon over NAIA opponent Florida Memorial.
“It was truly an amazing weekend. Once again we just played great in every facet of the game,” Mainieri said. “These teams that we’ve played are really good teams, and in two of the three of the games, we made them look not so good. And really I think it was a case of our kids playing well in every facet again.”
With the four wins on the weekend, the Irish improved to 6-0 on the season – the best start for an Irish squad since 1960.
Notre Dame 19, Winthrop 6
The contest with the Eagles got off to a slow start Friday afternoon, as the game remained scoreless through three innings, before the Irish plated six runs on seven hits in the top of the fourth as Notre Dame sent 10 batters to the plate in the inning.
Sophomore shortstop Greg Lopez led the Irish against Winthrop, going 4-for-6 with six RBIs, four runs scored and a home run.
First baseman Matt Edwards was 3-for-4 with two RBIs and a pair of runs scored and catcher Javi Sanchez went 3-for-5 and also had two RBIs and two runs scored for the Irish.
Junior pitcher Chris Niesel was again dominating on the mound for Notre Dame, getting his second win of the season while allowing only one earned run over seven innings pitched with five strikeouts.
“We know what [Niesel] is going to give us every time,” Mainieri said. “He had another quality outing and put a lot of strikes in there and made the other team try to beat him.”
Winthrop got five of its six runs in the ninth inning Friday with Notre Dame entering the inning up 19-1.
Notre Dame 12, Florida Memorial 3
Against the Lions, the Irish put 11 runs across the plate in the first five innings, as Mainieri played many of his players that do not usually start against NAIA Florida Memorial.
Sophomore outfielder Brennan Grogan hit his first career home run against the Lions, and freshman catcher Sean Gaston had a four-hit day. Lopez had a pair of doubles for the Irish in a 2-for-3 performance.
Freshman pitcher Jess Stewart got the win for the Irish in his first career start, allowing two runs in five innings pitched. Classmates Chris Vasami and Jeff Samardzija, who also plays wide receiver for the Notre Dame football team, also got time on the mound in the contest.
Notre Dame 3,
Florida Atlantic 2
In arguably the best game of the weekend, the Irish needed a one-out, ninth inning solo home run from Edwards – his third of the season – to secure the win in a nail-biter.
The eventual game-winning shot came off Florida Atlantic closer Craig Hughes, who had not allowed a run in his previous 13 2/3 innings pitched on the season.
Edwards also had a game-tying solo home run to lead off the seventh inning.
Florida Atlantic had an opportunity to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth following a leadoff single from centerfielder Tim Mascia, who later stole second. After a groundout and a walk by left fielder Anthony Albano, the Owls had runners on first and third with one out.
But pinch hitter Robbie Widlansky hit into a fielder’s choice as Albano was thrown out at second, and pinch runner Mike McBryde – in the game for Mascia at second – got picked off rounding third and was tagged out in a rundown to end the game.
The loss was the first of the season for Florida Atlantic, who fell to 11-1 on the year and had been ranked as high as No. 12 coming into the weekend.
The Owls took the early lead in the game in the third inning, before the Irish came back to tie the score at 1-1 in the top of the fourth on yet another solo home run off the bat of Sanchez.
Sophomore lefty Tom Thornton got the start for the Irish and contributed seven solid innings, allowing two earned runs on six hits. Classmate Ryan Doherty got the win for the Irish, pitching a scoreless 1 1/3 innings to end the game.
“Tom Thornton, for the second straight week in a row against as good of competition you’re going to find in the country and in as difficult a setting as you’re going to find in the country, just completely dominated the other team,” Mainieri said. “He did a great job and gave us a chance to win with seven solid innings.
“If we keep getting that kind of pitching out of him for the rest of the year, we’re going to be tough to beat.”
Notre Dame 19, Minnesota 7
In their final game of the weekend, the Irish used a 19-run, 19-hit offensive attack to top the Golden Gophers.
Gaston lead the potent Irish offense, going 5-for-6 from the plate with three runs scored and three RBIs. Shortstop Matt Macri was also dominant at the plate, going 4-for-6 with five runs scored and a career-high six RBIs. Grogan finished the day 4-for-5 from the plate with two runs scored and a pair of RBIs.
The Irish found themselves in a 2-0 hole to Minnesota early before Macri’s two-run homer in the fourth tied the game at 2-2. The Irish would take a 4-2 lead later in the inning on RBI singles from Grogan and second baseman Steve Sollmann.
The Gophers rallied for four runs in the top of the fifth to reclaim the lead at 6-4, but the Irish tied it up again in the bottom half of the inning.
In their next at bat, the Irish blew the game open with seven runs on four hits as 12 batters came to the plate in the inning for the Irish. Notre Dame would add six more runs in the next two innings.
Freshman right-hander Derik Olvey made his first career start on the hill for the Irish, allowing five earned runs on seven hits in 4 1/3 innings pitched.
Freshman Dan Kapala got the win in relief for the Irish, working three innings and allowing one run.
The Irish travel to San Antonio Saturday for the Alamo City Irish Baseball Classic, where Notre Dame will face Southern Illinois, Texas-San Antonio and Penn State.
Freshman centerfielder Danny Dressman sprained his ankle trying to beat out a bunt in the game against Florida Atlantic and was unable to play Sunday against Minnesota. Mainieri said he is unsure of Dressman’s status for next weekend.
Junior pitcher Grant Johnson, who is trying to work back from Tommy John surgery that sidelined him for all of the 2003 season, was unable to play over the weekend due to tonsillitis.