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Tuesday, June 25, 2024
The Observer

Inconsistent Irish swept on the road by Duke

It's been a season of peaks and valleys for the No. 4 Notre Dame baseball team (21-8, 8-7 ACC). They had a four-game losing streak just after St. Patrick's Day where the pitching staff just couldn't stop the bleeding. The Irish then responded by winning nine straight, with their pitching settling down and the offense carrying the load. A three-game series against a Duke team at the bottom of the Coastal division (16-20, 6-12 ACC) seemed like a great opportunity for the Irish to keep the good times rolling. That's especially considering they entered the series on the heels of a 15-run outburst on Tuesday against Michigan.

But that couldn't be farther from what happened. Instead of shining, the Irish spiraled, suffering a blowout loss in game one against Duke and scoring just five runs over the final twenty innings of the series. Just when Notre Dame seemed to be at their highest peak, the Blue Devils swept them into another valley.

Graduate student outfielder Ryan Cole steps into the batters box against Butler.
Graduate student outfielder Ryan Cole steps into the batters box against Butler.

The unorthodox Thursday-Friday-Saturday series began with a Duke shellacking. The Blue Devils handed Notre Dame a sound 15-5 defeat, easily Notre Dame's worst defeat of the year. Duke jumped all over Irish starter senior left-handed pitcher Will Mercer for three runs in the first inning. The Blue Devils added three more across the second and third innings against the Irish bullpen, which was once again called into early action. A four-run fifth inning got the Irish right back in the game. But Duke put it out of reach with a seven-run eighth inning, forcing the Irish to burn through three pitchers.

Notre Dame's pitching held up much better on Friday. Less than two weeks removed from being named a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award, graduate student left-handed pitcher John Michael Bertrand scattered nine hits across six innings of work, allowing two runs. Senior outfielder Brooks Coetzee III starred at the plate, giving the Irish an early 2-0 lead with a second-inning homer, then putting the Irish back ahead 3-2 with a sixth-inning RBI groundout. But a home run by Duke's nine-hole hitter Luke Storm tied the game in the eighth. Notre Dame could not record a hit in the top of the 10th or 11th innings. And in the bottom of the 11th, Duke walked it off on an RBI single by RJ Schreck.

The Blue Devils' pitching staff befuddled Notre Dame's lineup in the series finale on Saturday. The Irish managed just five hits on the afternoon. Three of them came from their bottom two hitters and two not until in the ninth inning. The game was already out of reach by then. After taking a 1-0 lead in the first, Duke took control with a three-run fourth, punctuated by a two-run homer by Damon Lux. The usually sure-handed Irish made three errors, leading to a pair of costly unearned runs.

While the Irish have certainly shown their talent and big-game experience at times this season, this weekend serves as a reminder that the Irish are still a work in progress. Link Jarrett shuffled the order of the top of his lineup in each of the three games. Notre Dame had another starter fail to reach the second inning. And their knack for the little things proved nearly absent in Durham. Notre Dame won't be pushing the panic button after this week's sweep. But it showed there are still quite a few questions the Irish to answer over the last month of the season.