Notre Dame baseball set off to Birmingham, Alabama this past weekend to take on the UAB Blazers in a pivotal series. After two series against Lipscomb in Nashville and UNCG in Greensboro, the Irish sat at a disappointing 3-3. If the Irish are to be the “consistently top 25 team,” as Coach Shawn Stiffler described, and truly compete in the gauntlet of ACC play and the NCAA tournament, winning series such as these is essential.
The Irish opened up their Friday game at Young Memorial Field with junior RHP Jackson Dennies (0-1), who pitched three blazing innings. Dennies didn't give up a hit through 13 batters faced. Sophomore LHP Jack Findlay then came in, pitching four innings and surrendering only a single run off three hits. Findlay fanned six batters through 15 batters and consistently painted the strike zone, allowing no walks. The relief duties went to junior RHP Matt Bedford, who pitched two innings, facing eight batters, striking out one and allowing two hits and one run.
Notre Dame attacked the baseball early, scoring five runs across the first three innings. Junior outfielder TJ Williams reached first base on a UAB error and proceeded to score on an RBI double from graduate student outfielder Brooks Coetzee after being advanced by graduate student infielder Zack Prajzner. Graduate infielder and holdover star from last year’s team Carter Putz extended the lead 2-0 after bombing a sacrifice fly to deep left field to score Coetzee.
Sophomore infielder Jack Penney showed some growth in his batting and ripped a triple in the next at-bat, but was left on base. Freshman infielder Estevan Moreno smacked an RBI single through the infield to score junior catcher Danny Neri to make it 3-0 in the second, with Coetzee recording an RBI triple and Putz an RBI groundout to make the lead 5-0 in the third.
The Blazers scored a run of their own while the Irish went scoreless through the sixth. In the eighth the bats came alive again with sophomore infielder Nick DeMarco slashing a single and scoring along with Penney on an RBI single by Neri to make the lead 7-1. The Blazers managed one more run, but Irish pitching managed to hold the line and close out the game with a convincing 7-2 win.
Game two saw another convincing Irish victory, with the game finishing 7-3. Prajzner and Coetzee reached base off back to back singles in the fourth. Prajzner scored off a sacrifice bunt from graduate student catcher Vinny Martinez. Despite a three run homer from the Blazers in the fifth, the Irish followed with loading the bases in the subsequent inning and a Penney walk to get a run back. Then, in the next at bat, graduate student Nick Juaire shot an RBI single up the middle that scored two runs, making it 4-3. Moreno then hit a moonshot, recording his first ever home run as a member of the Irish and driving in three runs.
Irish pitching was again lights out throughout the game. Graduate student RHP Blake Hely (0-1) took the mound to start, pitching 3.2 innings and allowing only three hits and no runs while striking out four batters. The pitcher who followed him, graduate student LHP Will Mercer, pitched a tough 2.1 innings, allowing two hits and three runs. He fanned three batters of his own and recorded the win in the books. The save belonged to junior RHP Sammy Cooper, who allowed only one hit and no runs through a red hot three innings. He struck out two batters as well as he recorded his first save of the year.
The Irish dropped the last game of the series, falling 5-2. The Blazers took a 2-0 lead heading into the fourth. Danny Neri responded with a triple of his own in the fifth and scored on a Blazers error. The Blazers extended the lead to three, making it 4-1, off a solo home run the bottom half of the frame. Neri would come to the rescue again, massacring a ball to right field for a solo home run to make it 4-2 in the seventh. However, the Blazers responded that same inning with a run of their own and carried their 5-2 win through the eighth and ninth innings.
The Irish struggled to get runs on the board, having two runners in scoring position in the ninth, but could not capitalize. Irish pitching was not up to par, with sophomore RHP Radhek Birkholz giving up three hits and two runs across three innings, and graduate LHP Aidan Tyrell (1-1) allowing three hits and three runs in 3.1 innings. Tyrell recorded the loss. Graduate RHP Carter Bosch finished the game out, allowing two hits but no runs in 1.2 innings pitched. Irish pitchers combined struck out only seven batters.
Despite the concluding finale, the Irish have to be happy with a series win as they continue to play rough and tumble games on the road. Now sitting at 5-4, the Irish will begin their conference play this weekend in Atlanta, Georgia with a three game series against Georgia Tech. Friday’s game will be at 6 p.m., Saturday’s at 3 p.m. and Sunday’s at 1 p.m. The Irish will look to make a statement in the ACC and continue to build off two straight series wins.