Baseball Season Recap

The Notre Dame baseball season has been over for a week. Head coach Dave Schrage, in his first season with the Irish, led a young team to a 28-28 record. Here's a quick recap of the year and what Notre Dame can look towards in 2008.

***Batting champion: A.J. Pollock at .372. The freshman third baseman barely edged out junior shortstop Brett Lilley by one percentage point. Pollock and Lilley were consistent threats at the top of the Notre Dame lineup. Both were named to the All-Big East third team.

Pollock had a stellar first year. The Hebron, CT native became the fourth Notre Dame player to lead the team in hitting as a freshman. Pollock had 26 multiple-hit performances in 54 games played. The freshman had some memorable efforts. In a 17-9 win over Western Michigan, Pollock was 5-for-6 with two RBI's and two runs scored. In a victory over West Virginia, the third baseman was 3-for-3 with six RBI's and three runs scored, including a home run. In addition to being a terror at the plate, Pollock showed speed on the base paths. The freshman was 11-for-13 in stolen base attempts and constantly earned hits by placing a well-laid bunt down the third base line.

The only negative for Pollock was his fielding. The third baseman led all Notre Dame players with 19 errors. But because of a hole at third base, Schrage decided to put the team's best athlete at the hot corner. In high school, Pollock played shortstop. Regardless, Pollock's future at Notre Dame looks extremely bright and the Hebron, CT native should again be a major contributor for the Irish in the upcoming seasons.

***ERA champion: David Phelps at 1.88. The sophomore right-hander actually led the Big East in the regular season in this category. Phelps was clearly the best pitcher on the Notre Dame team. The Hazelwood, MO native ended the season 8-5 and struck out 102 batters in 110 innings pitched.

Phelps not only was dominant on the mound. The right-hander stayed in games, logging five complete games on the year. The Irish didn't have another hurler achieve this feat once. For his accomplishments, Phelps was named to the conference's first team and became only the third Notre Dame sophomore to receive this honor.

A few of Phelps' performances stick out. In a 1-0 win over South Florida, the right-hander pitched a complete-game, striking out 10, including the side in the ninth inning. Phelps hurled another complete game in a victory over Seton Hall, this time striking out a career-high 11 while surrendering one run.

Phelps was 0-2 in his last three starts. But this was hardly the right-hander's fault. In a loss to Louisville, Phelps struck out 11 and allowed three runs in seven-plus innings of work. In the Big East tournament loss to Villanova, the sophomore hurled eight innings of three-run ball and struck out nine but a lackluster offense sent Notre Dame home for the season. Next year, Phelps should continue his hot throwing and again be one of the league's best pitchers.

***High moment: Taking two of three on the road against Rutgers. A dramatic ninth-inning victory over the Scarlet Knights helped Notre Dame win the series in Piscataway, NJ. It was the Irish's 11 win in 14 games. To show how good Rutgers actually was this season, the Scarlet Knights ended up winning the Big East Tournament, including a 12-2 pasting of the Irish in the first round.

Phelps's strong pitching, coupled with a offensive outburst, propelled Notre Dame to a 15-3 victory over Rutgers in the opening game. Matt Weglarz contributed five RBI's while Lilley added four. The Scarlet Knights came back on Saturday to blank the Irish 7-0 to set up the rubber match. Ross Brezovsky put Notre Dame up 4-3 with a two-run triple in the eighth inning but a Rutgers' home run in the bottom of the frame tied the contest up at 4-all. Jeremy Barnes' RBI triple gave the Irish the lead back and helped Notre Dame to a heart-stopping 6-4 win over the Big East-league leaders. It was Schrage's 500th career victory in his head coaching career.

***Low moment: Directly after the series win over Rutgers. After taking two of three from the Scarlet Knights, Notre Dame ended the season 4-9. The big series should have given the team added confidence heading into the home stretch. Instead, the Irish went south. Included in this stretch was a 4-3 defeat to Division III opponent, Franklin College. After the loss, Notre Dame rebounded to take two of three from Seton Hall to put themselves into solid position for the Big East Tournament.

Louisville changed that in a hurry. The Cardinals, who qualified for the NCAA Tournament, swept the Irish the following weekend. After being rained out against Michigan, Notre Dame would only have to win once in the regular season finale series against UCONN to clinch a berth into the league tournament. The Irish got the victory on Friday in a ninth-inning win but lost the next two contests to slip to seventh in the final standings.

In the Big East Tournament, Notre Dame was dusted by Rutgers 12-2. The Scarlet Knights scored seven runs in the sixth inning to break a 2-2 tie. Villanova quickly ended the Irish's season the following morning 3-2 despite Phelps‘s solid performance. In the blink of an eye, Notre Dame‘s year was complete and gone was any hope for the a sixth straight league tournament title.

***What to expect next year: an above .500 season. The Irish were one of the youngest teams in the Big East this season. Notre Dame's fortunes look rosier in Schrage's season year as head coach. Phelps will once again anchor the pitching staff. Another hurler or two, whether that be Sam Elam, Kyle Weiland, Eric Maust, Wade Korpi, etc., will have to step up to provide the depth necessary to make a charge for the conference title. Hitting-wise, five of the six top hitters will be back, led by Pollock and Lilley. The Irish will need a RBI producer as men left on base was a big downfall in 2007. Notre Dame will also need to shore up their defense. The Irish committed 82 errors, which led the 66 unearned runs. All in all, Schrage's team should be near the top of the Big East standings in 2008.


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