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Thursday, May 23, 2024
The Observer

Notre Dame baseball continues homestand against No. 8 Virginia

Graduate student Blake Hely fires a pitch during Notre Dame‘s 2-1 loss to Louisville on Mar. 26 at Frank Eck Stadium.
Graduate student Blake Hely fires a pitch during Notre Dame‘s 2-1 loss to Louisville on Mar. 26 at Frank Eck Stadium.

After a 2-0 start to the week, Notre Dame baseball is in for another test at home this weekend. No. 8 Virginia (32-6, 12-6 ACC) will come to town for a chilly series in South Bend. The Irish have already faced three ranked conference opponents this year and took two of three from then-No. 6 Louisville at home in late March.

For the first time since 2019, the Virginia-Notre Dame matchup will shift back to Frank Eck Stadium. The teams have met five times in the last two years, with the Irish winning four. That included a three-game sweep in 2021 in Charlottesville and a 3-0 victory in the 2022 ACC Tournament.

Improving Irish bullpen ready for the next step

All season, Notre Dame’s bullpen depth has raised questions. Three weeks ago against North Carolina, it kept the Irish from back-to-back ranked home series wins. Though Notre Dame has proven consistent arms at the top of its staff, they can only take the mound so often. Furthermore, the status of star sophomore pitcher Jack Findlay remains up in the air. He exited Saturday’s loss to Clemson with discomfort in his arm.

The good news? Notre Dame’s bullpen dominated this week’s non-conference opposition, twirling 13 scoreless innings between two games. In Tuesday’s 7-3 defeat of Valparaiso, Irish relievers put out the fire of what had been a shootout through two innings. Junior Sammy Cooper escaped a bases-loaded jam and tossed three innings, then graduate student Carter Bosch and junior Ryan Lynch pitched on cruise control in their four combined frames.

On Wednesday, a slow Notre Dame offense put even more pressure on the bullpen. Even so, the positive results continued and carried the Irish to a 2-1 defeat of Western Michigan. Though the Broncos knocked freshman starter David Lally, Jr. around for five hits in three innings, they were no match for graduate student Justin Moore and sophomore Ricky Reeth. The two no-hit Western Michigan over six innings, striking out eight. That allowed Notre Dame to take the lead in the seventh and survive a zero-for-10 effort with runners in scoring position. 

Virginia primed for success down the stretch

The Cavaliers reached the College World Series just two years ago, and this year’s team has the pieces to do it again. Only one ACC team is hitting north of .300 in conference games at this point. That would be Virginia with a .311 mark. At the same time, UVA holds a 4.40 team ERA in ACC play, good for third-best in the league.

Five Virginia players have 150 or more at-bats to their name this year. All of them carry batting averages of .367 or better, and each has a .990-plus OPS. Jake Gelof headlines them, as his 15 doubles, three triples and 17 home runs add up to a ridiculous .860 slugging percentage. And he leads Division I college baseball with 67 RBI for good measure. Beyond him, Ethan Anderson is the man of the hour after a five-hit, two-homer performance in Tuesday’s 19-6 beatdown of VCU. Rounding out the pack, Kyle Teel leads the team with 16 doubles, while Griffin O’Ferrall and Ethan O’Donnell have combined to swipe 21 bags.

This weekend, expect the Wahoos to throw two tough starting pitchers in Brian Edgington and Jack O’Connor. The two have both thrown 45-plus innings and have respective ERAs of 2.36 and 3.18. Notre Dame did not see either of them in last year’s lone matchup with Virginia.

Standings check

Both teams have plenty on the line heading into this weekend. Virginia holds a two-game lead on North Carolina and Miami in the ACC Coastal Division. Meanwhile, Notre Dame sits on the low end of a bunched-up middle of the Atlantic Division. The Irish are just a game and a half out of second place but must leapfrog three teams to get there. 

This weekend’s Friday-Saturday-Sunday series will have start times of 6 p.m., 3 p.m. and 1 p.m., respectively. On Friday, Notre Dame football alum and Chicago Bears tight end Cole Kmet will throw out the first pitch for the annual Irish Wear Green game. ACC Network Extra will air all three contests.