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Season ends prematurely after loss to Arizona

Joe Hettler | Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Two years ago, Notre Dame shocked the college baseball world by beating No. 1 Florida State to advance to the College World Series. After recording the final out, Notre Dame players rushed the field and created a dogpile on the mound.

The same scene happened this year at Frank Eck Stadium. Except a different team did the celebrating.

No. 3 seed Arizona ended Notre Dame’s season in the NCAA Regional Tournament with a 7-6 win against the Irish June 6.

“Our kids played hard right until the end,” Irish head coach Paul Mainieri said. “If you were in that dugout, it was nothing but optimism, positive talk. We all believed we were going to do it. Sometimes in this business, you don’t get over the hump. It’s been a great year.”

The Irish scored six runs off Arizona starter John MeLoan in eight innings, but couldn’t hold off the Wildcats seventh-inning rally. Notre Dame freshman pitcher Dan Kapala walked Arizona’s leadoff hitter Trevor Crowe, Jeff Van Houten sacrificed Crowe to second before Jordan Brown singled in the run. MeLoan finished the game after throwing 141 pitches and surrendering all his runs via the long ball. First baseman Matt Edwards hit two homers and Steve Andres and Cody Rizzo added their own shots on a windy day.

Arizona closer Koley Kohlberg finished the game for his second save of the season.

“When I saw that the wind was blowing out today, I felt good about the way we swing the bats, but [MeLoan] was really tough,” Mainieri said. “He was a competitor, and we had a tough time with him. I’m disappointed for the kids. I’m not disappointed in them.”

The Irish threatened in the top of the ninth when freshman Danny Dressman leadoff with a walk. But Dressman was picked off first after slipping in the dirt trying to dive back to the bag. All-Americans Matt Macri and Steve Sollman struck out to end the game.

“They threw an excellent pitcher again, and he had his good stuff. It didn’t work out for us that way,” Edwards said. “We all thought we could come back and do this. Everybody had confidence and we were ready to go today. We just got beat out there today, and not because of anything that happened earlier this week. We put that all behind us and we were ready to go.”

Notre Dame starting pitcher freshman Jeff Samardzija cruised through the first three innings before struggling in the fourth. The Wildcats pushed four in the fourth to take a 4-2 lead. Samardzija went 5 1/3 innings allowing five runs on seven hits and striking out six and walking zero.

Senior Joe Thaman surrendered one run in 2/3 of an inning in the sixth before Kapala came on.

Notre Dame finished the season 51-12 record and another Big East championship. The 51 wins were the most ever by any Notre Dame baseball team and the team had five players drafted into the Major Leagues.

Kent State 2, Notre Dame 1

Notre Dame lost the opening game against No. 4 seed Kent State June 4 when Golden Flash starting pitcher Andy Sonnastine threw a masterful game in a 2-1 victory. The big righthander went seven innings, allowed one unearned run and struck out seven and walked just two. He effectively moved his slider inside and outside the plate to keep the Notre Dame hitters off balance all day.

“The stage was set,” Mainieri said. “I guess someone just forgot to tell Kent State not to do what they did today.”

Kent State manufactured a run in the fifth and added another on an RBI double in the eighth. Notre Dame’s only run was unearned.

The loss put the Irish in the losers bracket in the double elimination format.

Notre Dame 6, University of California-Irvine 5

The Irish stayed alive with a victory over the Anteaters June 5. Right-hander Grant Johnson clawed his way through five innings, allowing four runs (three earned) while striking out four and walking three. Notre Dame’s bullpen allowed just one unearned run through the next four innings to close out the game.

The Irish jumped on the board early, scoring one in the first and three more in the third. But Irvine battled back with a three-run fourth before tying the contest in the fifth.

Notre Dame took the lead for good in the bottom of the fifth when Craig Cooper hit an RBI sacrifice fly.

Notre Dame 7, Kent State 1

Irish starting pitcher Tom Thornton didn’t give Kent State a chance to pull off another upset.

In Notre Dame’s second game of the day, Thornton was brilliant by throwing for 8 1/3 innings, yielding just three hits and one run while striking out 12 and walking only two. He left the game in the ninth to a loud standing ovation from the crowd.

From the start, this game was much different than the first matchup between these two teams.

The Irish scored two in the first and added runs in the third, fifth, sixth and seventh innings. Steve Andres lead the Notre Dame offense by going 3-for-3 and driving in two runs. The win pushed the Irish into the championship game June 6.