Irish oust Hokies in doubleheader
By JOE HETTLER
Assistant Sports Editor
Neither Matt Bok nor Joe Thaman started the opening game of a doubleheader against Virginia Tech Friday night for the Irish baseball team, but they definitely did their part to help end it.
Bok's pinch-hit triple in the bottom of the 11th inning was followed by Thaman's hard ground ball up the middle that ricocheted off Hokie pitcher Matt Crisci's head, allowing Bok to score from third base and give the Irish a 2-1 win.
A day after head coach Paul Mainieri challenged his team to play better, the Irish picked up their second win of the evening a few hours later in the night cap by defeating the Hokies 4-2.
With the wins, Notre Dame improves to 8-6 in the Big East and 21-12 overall, while Virginia Tech dropped to 7-5 in Big East play and 15-15 overall.
"Those two wins for us against Virginia Tech were as big of wins as we've had this season," Mainieri said. "I keep telling our players all year that `You just have to keep playing hard and there's a lot of baseball still to be played and people are going to beat each other in this league. If you just keep plugging away and keep battling, good things can happen.'"
In the first game, which was scheduled for seven innings, the Hokies scored first in the top of third inning after loading the bases against Irish starting pitcher Ryan Kalita. Kalita was a late decision after freshman pitcher Chris Niesel could not throw because of an illness.
With two outs, Kalita induced a ground ball to shortstop Javier Sanchez. Sanchez, however, bobbled the ball, allowing Virginia Tech to score an unearned run and take the early 1-0 lead. Kalita came back to strikeout the next batter to retire the side.
The Irish offense, on the other hand, had the unpleasant job of facing Hokie ace Joe Saunders. Saunders entered the game with a 5-0 record and an ERA of only 2.32. He baffled Notre Dame's hitters for most of the game by locating his pitches and using both sides of the plate. The Irish, however, finally got to him when center fielder Steve Stanley hit a bloop double down the left line to open the sixth inning. Two batters later, right fielder Kris Billmaier drilled a 1-2 pitch into the outfield, scoring Stanley and tying the game at 1-1.
Not until the bottom of the 11th did the score change, when Bok's triple and Thaman's infield single ended the game.
The main reason the Irish were able to keep pace with the Hokies was because of the outstanding Kalita's outstanding pitching performance.
"The key to the whole night for us was the way Ryan Kalita went out there and just pitched so marvelously and gave us a chance to win that first game," Mainieri said. "We were going up against a kid that, I would say, is a lock to be a first-round draft pick and be in the big leagues probably within a couple of years, and Ryan went out there and matched him pitch for pitch for six innings. He gave us a chance to win the ball game."
Right-hander J.P. Gagne also played a major role in keeping the score tied at 1-1 for several innings.
"What can you say about J.P. Gagne? He was just a gutty competitor, like he always is," Maineri said. "He pitches five scoreless innings and holds [Virginia Tech] until finally were able to get a big hit from Matt Bok, and then in the 11th inning we're able to win that game."
In the nightcap, the Irish jumped out to the early lead when Stanley singled and was later knocked in by left fielder Brian Stavisky's sacrifice fly.
Virginia Tech bounced back to take a 2-1 lead in the top of the third when center fielder Chris Winterfeldt singled and was followed by back-to-back doubles by Marc Tugwell and John West off Notre Dame starter Paul Ogilvie.
Those would be the only runs the Hokies could score off Ogilvie, who went the distance for the victory and, more importantly, saved the Irish from using any pitchers in relief.
"We go out there in the second game knowing we have a very thin bullpen, and Pete Ogilvie goes out there and pitches a complete game for us," Mainieri said.
Despite not feeling his best when the game started, Ogilvie became stronger and more dominant as the game progressed.
"During the game I actually didn't feel all that great," Ogilvie said. "But as the game went, I started to settle in and I felt almost stronger as the game went on. We made some great plays in the field, and I think I just pitched well to do the job."
Notre Dame tied the game in the bottom of the third inning when Bok singled and Stavisky doubled him home a few batters later.
The Irish took the lead for good in the sixth when Stavisky walked. O'Toole bunted him over to second before Billmaier knocked him with a single two batters later.
In the seventh, Notre Dame added an insurance run when Bok singled and Stavisky doubled him in a few batters later.
The Irish will face three straight Mid-American conference teams this week, beginning with Central Michigan on today. Mainieri believes it is important for the Irish to continue to play well and pick up some much-needed victories.
"It's important for us to continue to play good baseball and continue to build the confidence in ourselves which I think is growing with each passing game," Mainieri said. "So we're going to take these games very seriously."
All Sports Stories for Monday, April 15, 2002