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Mainieri names 2004 captains

Chris Federico | Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Notre Dame baseball coach Paul Mainieri and his staff have named the Irish captains for the 2004 squad. Senior infielders Steve Sollmann and Javi Sanchez and junior pitcher Chris Niesel were granted the honor of leading the Irish into the upcoming season.”Each of these three guys has a great story behind him, and I’m so proud of them for the great things they’ve already accomplished and what they will continue to accomplish,” Mainieri said. “I don’t think our team could be in better hands than to have those three guys leading the way.”In selecting captains for the baseball team, players can nominate teammates for the position in essay form, and the Irish coaching staff evaluates the letters for the players they feel are most worthy of the honor. This year, Mainieri and his staff saw three distinct favorites for the positions.”[Sollmann, Sanchez and Niesel] were clearly the guys that their teammates looked to for leadership and looked up to for the way they go about their business,” Mainieri said. “I just felt that these three guys clearly should be named as captains and have that honor.”Sollmann, who also served as a captain in 2003, became just the eleventh player in the history of the program and the fourth in the Mainieri era to serve as captain in multiple years.Last season, Sollmann led the Irish with a .384 batting average. He was named a second team All-American by the American Baseball Coaches Association and a third team All-American by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association. Already this season, Sollmann has found himself named to three preseason All-America rosters and has been tabbed as the 2004 Big East Preseason Player of the Year.After seeing only limited playing time as a freshman, Sanchez burst onto the Irish scene his sophomore year at shortstop after injuries to Matt Macri and Matt Edwards left a whole at that position. That season, Sanchez hit .281 with five home runs and played a big role in Notre Dame’s run to the College World Series.Last year, Sanchez filled another void, this time at the catcher’s position vacated by Paul O’Toole. In just his first year behind the plate, Sanchez exceeded expectations by committing only eight errors and batting .303 along the way.”Fortunately we have a couple of senior players that have seen just about everything that college baseball can throw at them in Javi Sanchez and Steve Sollmann,” Mainieri said. “Adding their baseball ability to concern for the team to experience from having seen a lot of college baseball, those two guys have it all. I think they are just tremendously unselfish players that always put the team before themselves, and I think they epitomize exactly what seniors should be.”As a freshman, the right-handed hurler Niesel overcame a bout with mononucleosis that sidelined him for a month to finish 4-0 with a 3.36 ERA, but he best proved his worth at the end of the year with the season on the line. In Game 3 of the NCAA Super Regionals, Niesel held off a strong-hitting Florida State team in a 3-1 victory as the Irish advanced to the College World Series.Last year, Niesel finished 9-1 with a 2.65 ERA and 87 strikeouts in 98.1 innings pitched and was named third team All-America by the NCBWA.”Chris Niesel is head and shoulders the guy that everybody on our team looks to for leadership on that pitching staff,” Mainieri said. “I think everybody on our team, when they look at Chris Niesel, they realize we have a bulldog out there on the mound, and we’ve got a chance to win. He’s a great example for all of our younger players.”The first Irish game is now less than a month away, as the Irish will travel to Los Angeles to take on San Diego State Feb. 20 to start the season.