Irish Ready for League Tourney

A three-game sweep over the weekend by the Notre Dame baseball team put a cap on a successful 2006 regular season. The Irish claimed the Big East conference title and finished the year 41-14-1, the fourth most wins ever for a Notre Dame team. Now, another attainable prize awaits them.

Starting on Tuesday, May 23rd in Clearwater, Florida, the league will host the Big East Conference Baseball Championship and the pairings are set for the eight-team tournament. Notre Dame, the top seed, will play eighth seed South Florida on Tuesday. First pitch is slated for 8 p.m. These two teams played a three-game series earlier in the season in Tampa, FL. The Irish swept the trio of contests by a combined margin of 29-11. The double elimination tournament concludes on Saturday with ESPNU televising the title game at 1 p.m.

Notre Dame first had to take care of some business on Saturday. The Irish beat Villanova 12-1 behind senior Tom Thornton's pitching and an offensive attack at the plate. The biggest news out of the contest came from Craig Cooper. The senior first baseman went 3-for-4 on the day, ending the regular season batting .432 and .481 in conference games. Cooper's high league average was good enough to claim the Big East batting title for the third straight season. His .444 career mark in conference games is the highest ever for a Big East player. A hit in his final at-bat on Saturday clinched the record. Cooper, a strong candidate for Big East player of the year, also was tops in the league this season in slugging and on-base percentage.

Thornton worked five innings of one-run ball to improve his record to 6-2 on the year. The senior allowed six hits and walked no one. For the season, he's only walked a total of five batters. Thornton pushed his overall mark at Notre Dame to 26-11.

***The Notre Dame Sports Information Department contributed greatly to this report. Top Stories