The third largest crowd ever (2,382) was on hand to watch the Notre Dame baseball team sweep their rival Rutgers on Sunday. The Irish called upon sophomore Tom Thornton (7-2) to finish off the Scarlet Knights and Thornton delivered with eight impressive innings, and had a no-hitter going for 5 2/3 innings. Thornton allowed just two runs on five hits, struck out eight and issued just one walk to pick up his seventh win of the season.
Fellow Sophomore Ryan Doherty came into the game in the ninth to close the game out and pick up his ninth save.
The Irish got going early in the bottom of the first. Steve Sollmann walked and later stole second putting him into scoring position. Designated hitter Matt Bransfield did his job lining a single to left center scoring Sollmann to give the Irish the 1-0 early lead.
The Irish picked up two more runs in the second when Craig Cooper led off the inning with a single. The next batter, Matt Edwards, took a 3-2 pitch and sailed it over the left field wall to give the Irish the 3-0 lead.
The Irish picked up another run in the fourth as Cooper singled again, and was later knocked in on a fielder's choice to give the Irish the 4-0 lead.
Matt Marci led off the fifth with a bang, hitting a mamouth homer over the left field wall that appeared to disappear into the night, dashing all hopes of a Scarlet Knight comeback.
Thornton kept cruising along punching out Rutgers hitters one by one, until the seventh inning with two outs. Thornton gave up four straight singles, scoring two Rutgers runs, and making the game a little more interesting. But, he forced third baseman Cory Rodriguez to bounce out to him to end the threat in the seventh and securing the now 5-2 lead.
The Irish had held Rutgers star and BIG EAST hitting leader Jeff Frazier to just one hit in the series until the ninth when he took a Ryan Doherty pitch and sailed it over the centerfield wall. But, it was a little too late for Frazier and the Knights as the damage had been done and the brooms were already out.
Irish Coach Paul Mainieri couldn't have been more pleased with his team's effort this weekend. "It was just a tremendous weekend in every aspect that you can ask for from our team," said Mainieri. "I'm just proud of our guys—the way they responded to the challenge."
Mainieri was also thrilled to see the old Tom Thornton show up again on such a critical night. "He really had great command. Tom was our best pitcher the first month of the season. The way he pitched tonight was the same way he pitched against Southern Cal, Florida Atlantic, Texas Tech and West Virginia. He pitched the same way, he just dominated."
"It's been no secret that my last couple of starts haven't been as good as the first half of the year so it really felt good to get back out there and contribute again in a successful manner," said Thornton. To go out there and really kind of earn something felt good to me."
Another player who had a big series for the Irish was junior Matt Macri. Macri finished the series 7-for-10 with a double and a home run. Macri came into Sunday's game hitting .363 and his 2-for-4 performance will certainly raise that average.
"I'm having a good year," said Macri. "It's all work done in the off-season. It's a credit to the coaches. I've worked a lot with Coach Grewe on my swing a lot. It's even better with the kind of year we're having as a team. It's fun to compete every day with the kind of players we've got and the way and the way we're going this season.
"I think I'm seeing the ball real well. My swing feels good. I'm confident at the plate. I'm just dialed in. I've got a good approach up there and I feel real good."
The homer Macri hit was a tape measure job and we asked Macri how far he thought he hit that one? "I'm not sure. I don't know how far that went. I definitely got a good piece on that."
Other Irish hitters having a good series were Craig Cooper (6-for-10, 2 2B, RBI, 3 R), Steve Sollmann (4-for-10) and Steve Andres (3-for-9, 3B, HR, 3 RBI).
The Irish return to Eck Stadium on Tuesday to face 19th-ranked Central Florida in a two-game series. "Samardzija will probably start Tuesday," said Mainieri. "After that, I'm really not sure."
The Irish will then close out the regular season with three games against Virginia Tech at home on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.