Baseball: Doherty impresses in opener
BY BRYAN KRONK
Senior Staff Writer
A new season at Eck Stadium began with a new face on the mound performing the same old dominating routine for Notre Dame, as freshman Ryan Doherty hurled his way to a win in his first career start in the 8-3 Irish win over Toledo in the home opener for the Irish Tuesday night.
"I was really happy for Ryan, his first career start, and he pitched real well out there," Notre Dame coach Paul Mainieri said.
The homecoming was a welcome sight for the Irish, who returned home after an 11-6 record in a month's worth of road games.
"It was a lot of fun being out there tonight," Mainieri said. "After 17 games on the road, our guys were so excited about being back on our home turf. You could see there was a little extra bounce in their step, and they were genuinely excited about playing."
An opening day crowd of over 1,400 witnessed the victory for the Irish, which saw the home team start the game with a familiar sight — an early run.
Leadoff hitter Steve Sollmann popped a double down the right-field line that was just out of reach of a charging Toledo fielder. After freshman Brennan Grogan sacrificed Sollmann to third and Matt Edwards walked on four pitches, senior Kris Billmaier hit a sacrifice fly to get the Irish on the board first.
While the Irish would take advantage of shaky Toledo pitching all night, the Rockets were held stagnant by Doherty, who struck out six of the first eight batters he faced.
"[My performance] was good," Doherty said. "We just came off a real good weekend at Villanova, so it was just my job to get a good start in there."
Doherty was poised to retire the side in order for the third straight inning in the top of the third, until an error by shortstop Matt Macri extended the inning for Toledo. After allowing a single, Doherty walked the bases loaded before allowing a two-run single to give the Rockets a 2-1 lead.
Doherty was able to recover, striking out one more Rocket batter to close out the top of the third.
Notre Dame capitalized on another poor outing by Toledo starter Brian Kovacs. Once again, it was the junior captain Sollmann who started the rally, this time by reaching base on a perfectly executed bunt down the third-base line to lead off the bottom of the third. After Sollmann took second on a botched pickoff attempt, Grogan followed with a similar bunt, placed perfectly between the pitcher and third baseman. The defensive indecisiveness cost the Rockets, allowing Grogan to reach base and Sollmann to advance to third.
Sollmann then scored on one of Kovacs' five wild pitches.
With Grogan on third after a stolen base, and Billmaier on first after being hit by a pitch, Javier Sanchez smacked a single through the left side, scoring Grogan.
Two batters later, Cody Rizzo knocked Billmaier home with a single to center to give the Irish a 4-2 lead.
In the fifth inning, Rizzo once again came through; bringing home two more runs on a towering double to left-center. Greg Lopez knocked in his freshmen teammates Rizzo and Craig Cooper with a single through the left side, giving the Irish an 8-2 lead.
Rizzo and Lopez combined to drive in five of the eight Irish runs.
"A lot of the freshmen did the job tonight for us," Mainieri said. "We got big hits from Lopez and Rizzo."
Martin Vergara replaced Doherty in the top of the fifth in a planned rotation move, thus preserving the win for Doherty. Vergara allowed only one run on four hits while striking out four in four innings of work.
"I thought we played pretty well," Mainieri said. "Doherty and Vergara both pitched well."
Senior Matt Laird pitched the ninth, allowing one hit but finishing off the Rockets with relative ease.
Now 12-6, the Irish will face Purdue in an intrastate rivalry match tonight at 5 p.m.
"Purdue's playing really good ball right now," said Mainieri. "There's a rivalry between the two schools in all sports, so we're looking forward to the challenge."
All Sports Stories for Wednesday, March 26, 2003