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Monday, March 4, 2024
The Observer

Irish drop homestand opener in blowout, prepare to host conference foe Virginia

Notre Dame is finally playing baseball at home after spending much of the early-season schedule on the road, and head coach Mik Aoki said he hopes the South Bend weather will cooperate during the second half of the season.

The Irish (11-15, 6-6 ACC) played their first 19 games — and 22 of their first 27 — on the road, mostly traveling to the baseball-appropriate climates of Arizona, North Carolina and South Carolina, Texas and Georgia. Of the 28 games remaining on the schedule, 20 will be played at Frank Eck Stadium.

The Irish began a 10-game homestand Tuesday night when they hosted Central Michigan for a mid-week, non-conference contest. The Irish fell behind after surrendering a first-inning run to the Chippewas, but sophomore catcher David LaManna’s sacrifice fly scored sophomore third baseman Niko Kavadas to tie the game at 1 in the bottom of the second.

Allison Thornton | The Observer
Irish junior first baseman Daniel Jung swings at a pitch during Notre Dame’s 3-1 loss to Florida State at Frank Eck Stadium on March 24.

Central Michigan scored six more runs — two of which were unearned — over the next two innings to secure a 7-1 lead over the Irish. A Notre Dame rally cut the deficit to two runs in the seventh inning, but the Chippewas plated five runs in the eighth inning and another five in the ninth inning to flatten the Irish comeback.

Notre Dame scored two more runs in the bottom of the ninth inning, but the offense could not overcome the mountainous 10-goal remaining deficit late in the game, dropping the matchup to Central Michigan 17-7 to start its 10-game homestand.

Despite his team’s shaky start, Aoki said he is hoping playing at home will prove to be beneficial for the Irish.

“It’s nice to be home,” he said. “This is a league that seems like teams play a lot better at home than they do on the road, so we’re hoping to continue that.”

This weekend, Notre Dame continues its homestand with a three-game series against Virginia (17-12, 6-6 ACC). The Irish offense, led by Kavadas and senior outfielder Eric Gilgenbach, will take on a Cavaliers pitching staff that has racked up a 4.41 ERA in 255 innings in 2019. The Cavaliers have surrendered 15 home runs to opposing batters this season, good for the sixth-most in the conference.

Kavadas and Gilgenbach have combined to slug 15 home runs this season, and Aoki said Kavadas has made some corrections that have led to his power surge.

“I think Niko just early in the year struggled with a few things,” Aoki said. “He’s made a few mechanical adjustments, and he’s swinging the bat well.”

Kavadas — a Granger native and Penn High School standout — saw his batting average dip to .177 after an 0-for-5 performance against Clemson on March 15. Over his last 10 games since then, Kavadas has collected hits in 8 games and raised his batting average to .224. He has slugged two home runs over the course of his last two games.

“Niko’s a good hitter, and he wasn’t going to continue to struggle,” Aoki said.

The Irish and the Cavaliers have not faced off since 2017, but Aoki said he believes his team will be prepared for the matchup against an unfamiliar opponent.

“These days, with as much video as there is and all the information that’s out there in various forms, I don’t think [Virginia is] totally unfamiliar,” he said.

Sophomore southpaw Tommy Sheehan will start on the mound in game one of the series Friday night. Junior lefty Cameron Brown takes the hill Saturday, and junior right-hander Cameron Junker will start in the series finale Sunday. The series is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. Friday.