Notre Dame baseball saw a little bit of everything over the last week and a half. Playing through shootouts, blowouts and nail-biters, the Irish posted an even 4-4 record during spring break. Notre Dame got its first look at ACC competition — visiting Georgia Tech and now-No. 2 Wake Forest — and also played midweek baseball for the first time this year. After opening the season with 17 consecutive games away from home, the Irish hold a 9-8 record. They will get started at Frank Eck Stadium on Tuesday against Valparaiso.
Georgia Tech series (March 10-11)
The Irish opened conference play with a back-and-forth game in Atlanta. Though Georgia Tech struck first in the third, Notre Dame batted around and grabbed four in the fifth to take a 4-2 lead. Sophomore southpaw Jack Findlay maintained the narrow advantage in the middle innings, but the Yellow Jackets stung the Irish late. Junior pitcher Matt Bedford worked the seventh inning and surrendered four runs, including the game-tying homer to Jack Rubenstein. From there, Georgia Tech's dominant closer Terry Busse struck out four to seal a 7-4 Yellow Jackets win.
Notre Dame was never in game two. The Jackets scored in each of the first four innings, taking an 11-1 lead midway through the affair. Four different Irish pitchers yielded multiple earned runs, and none of them recorded more than four outs. On the contrary, Georgia Tech dominated on the hill. Jackson Finley and Luke Schmolke combined to throw nine strong innings in the 15-2 shellacking.
The Irish turned things around and obliterated Tech’s pitching staff in game three. It all started with a five-run first inning, highlighted by sophomore infielder Jack Penney’s grand slam. Later on, graduate student infielder Carter Putz and graduate student catcher Vinny Martinez also joined Notre Dame’s home run club. Meanwhile, graduate student pitcher Aidan Tyrell punched out five in four scoreless innings. When all was said and done, the Irish left the ATL riding the momentum of a 17-4 demolition.
Saint Joseph’s series (March 14-15)
Notre Dame then got its first look at midweek baseball. Facing Saint Joseph’s, the Irish found some of the consistency head coach Shawn Stiffler had hoped to see. Much of that stemmed from Putz on Tuesday, who further exploded out of his slump with three hits, four RBI and the go-ahead home run. Additionally, Notre Dame’s bullpen was nails, letting up just one run in the final eight innings of the 6-3 victory.
Game two was all over the place, to say the least. Though Notre Dame put lots of early traffic on the bases, the score remained even at one through four innings. That’s when things got wild. The Irish took the lead on junior catcher Danny Neri’s three-run bomb in the fifth. Then, Saint Joseph’s tallied seven between the sixth and seventh to lead 9-6.However, Notre Dame played power ball to answer right back in the eight. Penney went yard to start the frame, then Putz donned his superhero cape one more time. He launched the game-tying home run to the opposite field, adding another layer to his scorching week at the dish. In the ninth, Notre Dame won the game without recording a hit. With the bases already juiced from two hit batsmen and an intentional walk, graduate student outfielder Brooks Coetzee wore a pitch to win the game. On that improbable note, the Irish sealed their third consecutive win.
Wake Forest series (March 18-19)
Notre Dame’s burst of offense came to a screeching halt in Winston-Salem. In game one, Wake Forest’s Rhett Lowder bamboozled the Irish, hurling seven innings while ceding just one run. Notre Dame scored that run in the third, but home runs from Justin Johnson and Nick Kurtz fueled a 4-1 Wake victory.
The Irish’s hitting woes pressed on into game two. This time, it was Wake’s Sean Sullivan who feasted on Notre Dame with 11 strikeouts in a six-inning, one-run effort. Meanwhile, the Demon Deacon offense scored in each of the first four innings. Their seven runs in the first three frames drove Bedford’s season ERA up close to 10. All but one Wake Forest hitter scored a run in the Deacs’ 12-3 series-clinching win.
Staring down the barrel of an ACC sweep again, the Irish pushed back. Findlay led the charge, taking the ball and dominating Wake Forest. By the end of his 5.2 innings of scoreless work, he had racked up 10 strikeouts while holding the Deacs to just two hits. Meanwhile, Notre Dame came up with just enough at the plate. Graduate student outfielder Jack Zyska singled home Putz in the second inning. An inning later, Coetzee drove in a run with a single to left field. To make it 3-0, Coetzee came around to score in the sixth after leading off the frame with a double. Though Wake drew a run back in the eighth, graduate student pitcher Will Mercer closed out the game for a 3-1 Irish win and a happy flight home.