Rally in 9th inning sparks victory
By CHRIS FEDERICO
It seemed as if Western Michigan had Notre Dame's number. In fact, it looked like the Broncos would upset the Irish Tuesday for the third consecutive time in three years.
But then an unheralded sophomore stepped to the plate with the Irish down 4-3 in their last at-bat.
With third baseman Andrew Bushey on second base and one out, shortstop Javier Sanchez — in the every-day lineup because of season-ending injuries to freshman infielders Matt Macri and Matt Edwards — crushed a double over left fielder Andy Roy's head for the tying run. The next batter, designated hitter Matt Bok, singled down the left field line to score Sanchez for the game-winner.
"My role this year has been to contribute any way I can," Sanchez said. "Today, I came up with a big hit. I do it for these guys in the dugout. Some of these guys may not do it in the late innings, but they do it earlier on. It's a total team effort."
Sanchez had only 13 at-bats last season as a freshman but has filled a huge need this year with some timely hitting. In the 10th inning of Notre Dame's 10-6 victory over Big East opponent West Virginia earlier this year, Sanchez hit a two-RBI double to give the Irish the lead.
"Javy [Sanchez] has been playing unbelievable for us," coach Paul Mainieri said. "He's shown us that he can do some great things. He made some big plays today, and he got the big hit there in the last inning."
Tuesday's game was only the most recent installment in a series of tough games between Notre Dame and Western Michigan.
The Irish were defeated 11-7 by the Broncos two years ago and then dropped a 7-6 game last season at Frank Eck Stadium.
"We always seem to play some great games with Western Michigan," Mainieri said. "Ever since I've been here, we've played them close."
The story for most of the game was the continuing dominant pitching of the Irish bullpen. Relievers Drew Duff and Ryan Kalita contributed 6 1/3 innings of scoreless work, allowing only five hits, while fanning seven batters on strikeouts.
"[The bullpen] has been phenomenal," Mainieri said. "Our pitching overall lately has been phenomenal."
After some early-season troubles, the Irish relievers have locked down recently, allowing only two earned runs in their last 11 games — a span of 38 innings.
Irish freshman Martin Vergara got the start on the mound and cruised through the first two innings, retiring the first five batters he faced before hitting left fielder James Galla in the face with a high fastball. Vergara then walked second baseman Steve Horn but got a fly-ball out to right field from the next batter to avoid any more trouble.
With the Irish ahead 1-0, the Bronco hitters finally got to Vergara in the third, scoring four runs on three hits while drawing four walks in the inning.
Duff came into the game for Vergara with the bases loaded and two outs and induced a first-pitch ground ball from shortstop Adam Rosales to end the threat.
The Irish chipped away at their three-run deficit in the bottom half of the third. First baseman Joe Thaman led off the inning with a single to left, taking second on the left fielder's error. A bunt single by center fielder Steve Stanley moved Thaman to third, and he would score on sophomore Steve Sollmann's double play groundball.
Notre Dame added one more in the fourth by way of Bushey's RBI sacrifice fly.
Even though the Irish struggled to score for most of the game, the team will be able to take away much from its hard-fought victory.
"We needed a win like that today," Mainieri said. "You love to just take the lead in the first inning and cruise to victory, but when you fight from behind like that and win it late, it does unbelievable wonders for your team's spirit and camaraderie."
The Irish return to Frank Eck Stadium Thursday, when they host Big East rival Pittsburgh for a doubleheader starting at noon.
U Senior co-captain Steve Stanley went 2-for-4 against Western Michigan Tuesday to push his team-leading batting average to .449. In 115 at-bats this season, the four-year starter has struck out only three times.
U The Irish bullpen has not allowed a run in its last 19 innings pitched and has given up only two runs in its past 11 games for an ERA of 0.48. In that span, opponents are hitting only .182 against Irish relievers.
All Sports Stories for Wednesday, April 10, 2002