Sunday, June 1, 2003

Sollmann gets Irish up for NCAA Tournament


St. X grad then might turn pro

By Ryan Ernst
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The start to Steve Sollmann's junior year at Notre Dame was clouded with questions.

Could the quiet second baseman become a leader as one of the team's three captains? How would a switch to the leadoff spot affect his production? How would he handle the pressure of being a preseason All-American and the Big East Player of the Year? Would the team make it back to the College World Series?

Fortunately for the St. Xavier grad, his play on the field has put many of the aforementioned concerns to rest. Unfortunately, it also has raised a new question. Will this be Sollmann's last season with the Irish?

After all, his brother Scott left Notre Dame after his 1996 junior campaign to sign as the Detroit Tigers' seventh-round pick. And their careers have taken similar paths, both at St. X and in South Bend.

"There's definitely a possibility of leaving after my junior year," Steve said. "It would have to be the right situation, but given that situation, I would definitely sign on the line."

Sollmann would rather talk about something over which he has more control - another trip to Omaha. Last year, led by his hot hitting, the Irish won the Big East Tournament for the first time and made it to the College World Series for the first time since 1957. He hit .448 during the run and was named MVP of the South Bend Regional.

This Notre Dame team is starting to peak at the right time, becoming the first team to win back-to-back Big East Tournament titles. And although Sollmann is trying not to look too far ahead, as regional play begins, he admits it's hard not to.

"When you experience Omaha, it's unlike anything else as far as baseball experiences," he said. "It's something you want to keep experiencing. Hopefully, we can keep playing well and make it out there."

First things first. It's a tough thing to do when you're one of the premiere players in the nation at your position. It's even tougher when you're hitting .370 and you've stolen 37 bases in 41 attempts ... and the draft is right around the corner.

Allan Simpson, editor of Baseball America, sees Sollmann in the top 10 to 30 percent of a draft that should be heavy in college talent.

"He's a good college player. He works the count and puts the ball in play," Simpson said. "He could be a five-to-eight pick for certain teams but probably closer to eight-to-15."

Whether he decides to leave this season or come back for his senior year, Sollmann has a backup plan. And in Sollmann-like style, it's also drawing accolades.

The marketing major on Thursday was named to the Academic All-America team.

"Even if I leave, I'll definitely come back to Notre Dame to finish up," he said. "I'm actually ahead. I've only got 21 credits left, so I could do it in one semester."

Others

The Thomas More baseball team, which advanced to the NCAA Regional Championship, finished the season ranked 18th in the nation in Division III. It is the first time in the program's history that a team finished the season in the Top 25. The Saints (33-10), who set a school record for wins in a season, were ranked third in the Mideast.

• Ohio Wesleyan senior golfer Jay Tilton, a Winton Woods graduate, was named honorable mention on the Golf Coaches Association of America's All-America team.

• Wilmington senior pole vaulter Kyle Wolf, an Anderson graduate, earned his third outdoor All-America award, after tying for fourth at the Division III national championships.

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The college column is on vacation until next fall.




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