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Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024
The Observer

Irish take two of three in weekend series with Boston College

Notre Dame took two of three from Boston College in a home series this weekend at Frank Eck Stadium.

The Irish (20-24, 10-14 ACC) pulled off another  walk-off win as they took the game to the bottom of the tenth inning but were able to overcome the Eagles (15-28, 6-18), 5-4, in Friday’s series opener.

Notre Dame got on the board in the second inning when junior third baseman Matt Vierling walked to lead off the inning and freshman designated hitter Niko Kavadas followed up by going yard with a homer to right field.

Senior left fielder Jake Johnson flew a solo shot to right for his third of the year in the next inning.

The Irish got off to a strong start defensively, as well, with graduate student southpaw Scott Tully on the mound. Tully had a no hitter through the end of the fourth inning, which Eagles junior catcher Gian Martellini broke up to lead off the fifth with a base hit to left field.

The Eagles started playing some successful small ball in the seventh with a walk and back-to-back bunts to load the bases with no outs, but the game changed in an instant when Martellini sent one long to left-center field, just off the top of the wall for a grand slam, to put Boston College on top.

Irish head coach Mik Aoki said he was extremely pleased with Tully performance and that the seventh inning was just a small mishap in an otherwise strong outing.

“I thought it was really good. I thought it was really, really good. Obviously the one inning, give them some credit,” Aoki said. “Obviously it starts with the free 90, it was a really good bunt that the kids laid down, the second bunt was another one that was a pretty a pretty decent bunt and the Martellini puts a really good swing on the ball and it happens to be in the five-minute span that the wind wasn’t howling in from left, so, but that ball was going to score two or three, easily, regardless. Outside of that I thought Scott was really good.”

Notre Dame tied the game in the bottom of the inning when a wild pitch allowed sophomore first baseman Daniel Jung to score from third base.

With freshman left-handed pitcher Cole Kmet on the mound, the Eagles went down one-two-three, in the ninth.

“I thought Cole looked really, really good,” Aoki said of the freshman. “I think maybe having a little bit of a lighter week this week, and not having to balance it with smashing into other large men probably really helped him.”

In the bottom of the 10th, senior left fielder Jake Johnson outraced a ground ball up the middle for a single. Junior second baseman Nick Podkul walked, and with two outs, Kavadas lined a walkoff single just over the head of sophomore first baseman Jack Cunningham, scoring Johnson.

“I don’t think this was a one-off,” Aoki said of Kavadas. “I think this has been the trajectory for him for the better part of four to six weeks, so I’m really happy for him.”

The Irish are now 4-0 in extra innings this season.

“I think that we’ve been able to sort of just take that one-pitch-at-a-time-mentality, not try to do too much, just kind of keep the line moving so to speak from the batting order and then, defensively and on the mound, in order to have some success in a situation like that, you have to be able to put up zeroes or limit offensive opportunities,” Aoki said of his team’s extra-innings success.

Saturday afternoon, the Notre Dame bats went silent as it was the Eagles who took game two of the series by a score of 6-0. Boston College southpaw Dan Metzdorf was tremendous on the mound, going eight innings strong while allowing just two hits.

The Eagles first got on the scoreboard in the second inning, an inning in which they did not record a hit. Notre Dame starting pitcher, sophomore Zack Martin, walked one batter and hit another, allowing for a sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly that gave Boston College the early lead. Martin would only go two innings on the day as he was relieved by Cameron Brown who went a little more than five innings, giving up five runs in the process. After the game, head coach Mil Aoki commented on his team’s inability to put together more productivity at the plate.

“I think Metzdorf did a good job, kind of cross counted us and pitched a little bit backwards with some change ups in hitter counts,” said Aoki. “Some of the better balls we hit seemed to be right at people. There weren’t a whole ton that we put right on the barrel, but the ones we did sort of ended up in gloves.”

Boston College would add a single run in the fifth and the sixth innings before tacking on three in the eighth. On a day where not much went right for the Irish, Aoki emphasized the need for his team to be tougher at the dish heading into the rubber match on Sunday.

“I give a lot of credit to Metzdorf, but I think there’s a function of it where we could have been a little more competitive at the plate than we were today,” he said. “I didn’t think we were as tough as we need to be.”

In the final game of the series Notre Dame defeated Boston College 5-4 Sunday afternoon to claim the weekend series. The Irish managed to cap the weekend with a victory behind strong performances from sophomore Andrew Belcik and Kmet on the mound.

The Irish got ahead early in the final game of the series. In the bottom of the first inning, Johnson reached first on a walk. With Johnson on first, Podkul hit a deep double off the wall in the left field to bring in a run, giving Notre Dame an early 1-0 lead.

After striking out the first two batters he faced in the top of the second inning, Vail got himself in a bit of a jam. He surrendered an infield single up the middle and a walk consecutively, giving the Eagles an RBI chance with two men on and two outs. But Vail managed to escape unscathed, striking out junior third baseman Jake Alu to close out the inning.

Boston College started to get the bats going in the top of the third inning, as Vail appeared to lose his command. After sophomore center fielder Dante Baldelli doubled to right center and advanced to third on a sacrifice fly, freshman outfielder Chris Galland knocked him in with a single over the head of Podkul. Sophomore first baseman Jack Cunningham then singled to score Galland and give the Eagles a 2-1 lead. Vail went on to walk sophomore second baseman Brian Dempsey, which scored Cunningham, to hand the Eagles a 3-1 lead.

After Vail walked two consecutive hitters in the top of the fourth, Aoki brought in Belcik to take over with two men on. The right hander got out of the jam to give the Irish a chance to bounce back at the plate. And in the bottom of the fourth, the Irish capitalized. After Vierling walked, junior right fielder Eric Gilgenbach sent one far over the left field wall to give tie the game at 3-3, scoring Kavadas.

Boston College quickly answered Gilgenbach’s home run in the top of the fifth inning with a sacrifice fly by Alu to take a 4-3 lead.

The Irish made their final push in the bottom of the eight inning, as Podkul was hit by a pitch and advanced to second on a wild pitch, Vierling was walked, and senior designated hitter Alex Kerschner was intentionally walked. With the bases loaded,  Kavadas singled to left field, scoring Podkul and tying the game at 4-4. Then, Gilgenbach reached on a fielder’s choice which scored Vierling and gave the Irish a 5-4 lead. With a one run lead heading into the final inning, Kmet entered in the top of the seventh and sealed the Irish 5-4 victory. 

“We got a few good innings out of Tommy [Vail], and then he kind of lost it,” Aoki said. “[Belcik came in] and sort of steadied the ship. He gives up that little unfortunate run, just a jam shot in the ‘couldn’t throw it any better’ categroy that starts it. But, with [Belcik] and Cole [Kmet] doing a nice job down the stretch there, it gave our offense a good chance to scrape something together…”

Specifically, Kmet and Belcik have been crucial to the Irish bullpen this season, and Aoki noted their lack of mistakes on the mound.

“[Belcik and Kmet] have been pretty solid all year long, and I think the big thing is that, by and large, they don’t shoot themselves in the foot. You have to hit to beat them. That’s a big deal,” Aoki said. “I think at the professional level, some of those closers get away with walking some people because they’re pretty prolific strikeout guys, and when you’re playing game number 72 of 162 it doesn’t feel as much like life and death whereas for us, those eight and ninth innings take on tha real pressure type of thing. The fact that you’re throwing strikes and you’re not sort of contributing to your own demise I think is a really big deal.”

Aoki also said Kavadas, who had the go-ahead RBI for the Irish on Sunday, has had stellar play and versatility as of late.

“He’s been really good. I think he’s a testament to just hard work. He puts in hours-- swinging the bat, taking ground balls at third, at first, DHing,” he said. “He and a couple of other guys … they’ve been defensively sort of like utility knives-- we’ve sort of put them all over the place. I’m really impressed with Niko, the fact that, you know, third base, first base, just bouncing around the field and being a freshman and still being able to not get thrown off. He just goes out there and plays.”

The Irish will take on Western Michigan Tuesday, May 1 at Frank Eck Stadium.