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Monday, Feb. 26, 2024
The Observer

Irish drop series to No. 21 North Carolina, are 1-6 in their last seven games

Coming off of a loss to a struggling Western Michigan team that has only 11 wins on the season, the Irish entered into a series with No. 21 North Carolina in need of a win, having lost their last four games in a row.

Unfortunately for Notre Dame (13-21, 8-10 ACC), they could not keep up with the Tar Heels (27-10, 10-8 ACC), who took two out of the three games in the series and are tied currently for second place in the ACC Coastal division.

Alexis Hernandez | The Observer
Irish freshman left fielder Ryan Carr loads up at the plate in a 5-2 victory over Virginia on April 5 at Frank Eck Stadium

In the first game of the series Friday night at Frank Eck Stadium, the Tar Heels jumped out to an 8-1 lead after just two innings and never looked back, eventually winning 10-1. The North Carolina pitching tandem of juniors Tyler Baum, Andrew Grogan, and freshman Josh Dotson held the Notre Dame batters to just six total hits and gave up only one earned run for the game while striking out nine. Baum got the win, improving his overall record to 7-2 on the season and his ERA to an above-average 3.33. Baum has pitched the most innings out of any North Carolina pitcher so far this season, recording 51 and 1/3 innings pitched over the course of the season thus far.

Irish junior first baseman Daniel Jung was a bright spot for Notre Dame, recording his eighth multi-hit game of the season after going 2-for-3 at the plate to go along with a walk. Freshman left fielder Jack Zyska tallied his first career home run and first on the season on a blast to deep center field off of Baum in the first inning.

For the Tar Heels on offense, freshman designated hitter Aaron Sabato proved to be a problem for Irish junior starter Cameron Brown on the mound, as Sabato finished 3-for-6 on the day with three RBIs, two of which came via a two-run blast to the scoreboard on a 3-0 fastball in the first inning. Sabato is now tied for the team lead in homers with nine and third in RBIs with 31. Junior catcher Brandon Martorano was 3-for-5 at the plate, driving in a run and scoring one of his own. Junior center fielder Dylan Harris also hit his sixth home run of the season, and freshman shortstop Danny Serretti improved his average to .314 on the season while also recording his first home run on the year.

While Brown struggled Friday night, giving up six earned runs and 10 total on 11 hits and walking five, the freshman duo of Evan Tenuta and Aidan Tyrell were able to quell the Tar Heel bats past the fourth inning. Tenuta went 3 and 2/3 innings, giving up just two hits and fanning six. Tyrell closed out the game for the Irish, pitching two innings of nearly perfect work.

In the second game of the series and first of the doubleheader Saturday afternoon, the Tar Heel bats were on fire yet again, and North Carolina ultimately prevailed 13-6. Martorano, junior third baseman Ike Freeman and senior second baseman Dylan Enwiller were strong at the plate. Martorano finished 3-for-5 with two RBIs, Freeman went 3-for-5 with three RBIs while scoring three runs of his own, and Enwiller drove in four RBIs on three hits while also scoring three runs for the Tar Heels. North Carolina had six total home runs on the afternoon.

Junior starter Tommy Sheehan struggled on the mound for the Irish, giving up eight earned runs and 11 total, after giving up 13 total hits in six innings of work. For the Tar Heels, junior starter Austin Bergner went seven strong, striking out six and giving up only four runs despite allowing 11 hits. Bergner’s record moved to 4-0 on the year.

In the second game of the double header and final of the series, the Irish sent junior Cameron Junker out to the hill, and Junker did not disappoint. The 6-foot-5 slinger from Cincinnati tossed seven innings against the high-powered Tar Heel offense, allowing just two runs and one walk while striking out six. Junker was able to record his fifth quality start of the season, and it was the third time this season he has pitched seven innings or more.

The Tar Heels got on the scoreboard first in the fourth inning after a Serretti single scored by junior first baseman Michael Busch. But the Irish answered right back in the bottom half of the fourth, as sophomore third baseman Niko Kavadas led the inning off with a double to right field and then scored on an RBI single through the left side from senior right fielder Eric Gilgenbach to tie the game at 1-1.

North Carolina regained the lead in the sixth with a solo home run to right from Busch, his ninth on the year, which is tied for Sabato for the team lead.

In the seventh, the Irish battled back and took their first lead of the game. Gilgenbach worked a leadoff walk and a single from Jung got two runners on. After a sacrifice bunt from freshman designated hitter Cater Putz moved the runners over, sophomore shortstop Jared Miller dropped down a sacrifice bunt to score Gilgenbach and tie the game. Jung scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch and the Irish led 3-2 after seven.

In the eighth, sophomore pitchers Tommy Vail and Joe Boyle entered in tense situations with the Tar Heels threatening. With the tying run on second, Vail entered the game and struck out both batters he faced. Boyle entered the game and after a stolen base, the go-ahead run was just 90 feet away. Boyle got Serretti to strike out swinging to end the inning and keep the Irish in front.

In the ninth, the Tar Heels tied the game at 3-3. With the tying run on second and two away, freshman right fielder Caleb Roberts singled up the middle and the run crossed the plate right before Miller’s throw reached home and the game was tied.

In the bottom of the ninth, Irish freshman second baseman Zack Prajzner turned on a 2-1 pitch to left field with the bases loaded and it landed fair to clinch the win for Notre Dame. It was the first walk-off hit this season for Notre Dame and first since Kavadas hit a walk-off single in the 10th inning to defeat Boston College on April 27 of last season.

Notre Dame will close out its current nine-game home stand with a matchup against regional foe Northwestern at 6 p.m. on Tuesday at Frank Eck Stadium.