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Sunday, May 26, 2024
The Observer

Irish pitching stars in shutout of Wildcats

Max Petrosky | The Observer
The Fighting Irish celebrate after defeating Purdue Fort Wayne at Frank Eck Stadium on April 20, 2022.

It’s a moment every young ballplayer dreams of. There truly is nothing like it — seeing a ball fly off your bat and over the fence for the very first time at the college level. Tuesday night, Notre Dame sophomore catcher Joey Spence turned that dream into reality. It happened in the eighth inning, when he made a pinch-hit appearance in a 10-0 game. On an 0-2 count, Spence got a pitch over the plate and drove it the other way. With some help from the wind, the ball sailed into the shrubbery for his first collegiate home run. 

That was just the capstone on a magnificent day for Notre Dame baseball. Wrapping up their nine-game homestand, the Irish shut down the Northwestern Wildcats 12-0, recording 14 hits and going 5-for-14 with men in scoring position. 

The avalanche began in a second inning that saw Notre Dame bring 10 hitters to the dish. With three runs already in, red-hot graduate catcher Vinny Martinez stepped to the plate in a bases-loaded spot. Though his swing looked very different from the ones he used to hit three home runs last weekend, the Stanford transfer still drove in all three runners with a jam-shot double to shallow right field. The ball dropped between three Wildcats and kicked off an outfielder's glove, and the hit gave Martinez 10 RBI in a four-game span.

While Martinez continued his hot streak, graduate reliever Carter Bosch bounced back from an ugly outing in his previous appearance. Bosch entered the game in the fourth after freshman starter David Lally Jr. ran out of gas following three shutout innings. With the bases juiced and nobody out, Bosch came in and slammed the door on Northwestern, striking out two and inducing a flyout.

After scoring small-ball runs in the third and sixth innings, Notre Dame brought out the big bats in their final two at bats. First, sophomore third baseman Jack Penney hit his second opposite-field home run in as many games. The two-run poke restored Penney’s team lead at six homers and pushed the Irish into a 10-0 lead. Spence added on with his first career big fly in the eighth, concluding a 6-3 stretch for Notre Dame at Frank Eck Stadium.

With the win, Notre Dame now sits at 15-11 overall, while Northwestern fell to 3-20.

Up next: Pittsburgh

The Irish will now hit the road for the first time in almost three weeks to visit the Pittsburgh Panthers (13-13, 4-6 ACC). Pitt has lost four of its last seven after dropping a series at Duke last weekend. Last May, the Panthers lost two out of three against Notre Dame in South Bend.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Pitt has not hit a ton relative to the rest of the ACC (.264 batting average). Sitting top three in the conference for both walks (168) and strikeouts (257), the Panthers play to the three true outcomes. Noah Martinez leads the Pitt offense, holding a 1.090 OPS to go along with seven homers and 28 RBI. Next to him, CJ Funk has launched nine long balls — four of them in ACC play. Beyond those two, three more Panthers have started every game this season. Jack Anderson, AJ Nessler and Sky Duff each have at least 27 hits, 14 RBI and 18 walks. Pitt rarely runs, holding up the conference rear with 13 stolen bases.

The Panthers also carry an earned run average just below seven, conceding an opponents' batting average near .300. Reliever Bryan Nash has Pitt’s lowest individual ERA at 3.72. To put that into perspective, Notre Dame has four regular arms with better marks. Starting pitching has plagued the Panthers more than anything. Their two regular starters, Jack Sokol and Kyle Mosley, possess a combined ERA near 7.00. 

Thursday and Friday's games will get underway at 3:00 p.m. at Pitt's Charles Cost Field. Saturday’s first pitch will fly at 1:00 p.m. ACC Network Extra will carry all three contests.