Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Friday, April 19, 2024
The Observer

20230404, 20230404, Baseball vs. Northwestern, Frank Eck Stadium, Meghan Lange-6.jpg

Irish bats deliver dominant power display to sweep Tennessee Tech

Irish on historic home run pace after 43-run weekend

Whenever a team starts a new season, there is one universal goal: build an identity. No matter preseason expectations or talent, figuring out what a team can count on is paramount to finding success at every juncture of their campaign.

Just 10 games into 2024, there is no doubt what Notre Dame baseball’s identity is. This Irish team is built to slug. And their results this weekend against Tennessee Tech were just the latest piece of evidence to support it. After taking two of three from the Golden Eagles, the Irish have clobbered 28 home runs in 10 games, a 2.8 homers per game average that is double the program record (1.4, set in 2022). Notre Dame hit a program-best 79 long balls that season en route to its first College World Series berth since 2002. This year’s team is on pace to launch about 149.

Maybe at some point the Irish bats will come back to Earth. But even their outstanding performances in their first two series pale in comparison to the slugfests that occurred in Cookeville, Tennessee, this weekend. The Irish didn’t waste any time getting started in Friday’s series opener, jumping out to a 3-0 first inning lead, with graduate student infielder Simon Baumgardt continuing his hot start with a two-run homer.

Senior outfielder Brady Gumpf and sophomore infielder Estevan Moreno connected on sixth inning solo shots to extend the Irish lead. Though Nicho Jordan’s three-run blast in the inning’s bottom half gave Tennessee Tech life, the Irish turned it into a laugher with nine runs over the final two innings. Graduate student infielder Josh Hahn, junior infielder Jack Penney and senior infielder Connor Hincks each left the yard in that time, adding to Notre Dame’s offensive onslaught. Graduate student Bennett Flynn impressed on the pitching side, retiring all nine hitters he faced in the final three fames with a whopping seven punch outs.

However, positive stories for Irish pitching were hard to find the rest of the series. In both of the final two games of the series, the Irish were shelled for nine runs against Tennessee Tech within the first two innings. Sunday’s starter, sophomore Caden Spivey, failed to retire any of the nine batters he faced. Notre Dame surrendered 11 runs in each contest.

For most teams, such pitching woes would be a death sentence. But the Irish bats rose to the occasion, the daunting challenge of producing enough runs to lead them to victory, galvanizing the offense. Trailing 9-3 after three innings Saturday, Notre Dame ended the top of the fifth on top 12-11. Moreno, who tied an Irish program record with a three-homer game last season, reached that illustrious mark once again. He started the Irish rally with a two-run shot in the fourth, brought the Irish within one by clearing the wall the very next inning and tacked on much needed insurance with another long ball in the eighth.

Junior right-hander Ricky Reeth was an unsung hero for the Irish on Saturday as well. After Notre Dame’s first two pitchers surrendered 11 runs (10 earned) through 3.2 innings, Reeth threw four scoreless innings to allow the offense to pull ahead rather than keep playing catch-up.

Saturday’s game was so crazy that Penney’s two-run shot in the fourth hardly registered as a notable moment once the dust finally settled. But he made sure his mark on the weekend would not be forgotten. Down by a whopping 9-2 margin after an inning in the series finale, Penney started the comeback train with his third round-tripper of the weekend to lead off the third. Slowly but surely, the Irish chipped away, bringing the score level in the fifth after three-straight multi-run innings.

Tennessee Tech regained an 11-9 edge by, of all things, a wild pitch and a passed ball. But the might of Penney and the Irish was too much for the home team to overcome. Penney circled the bags again in the seventh inning, tying the game with a two-run blast. Baumgardt’s second RBI double of the day gave the Irish the lead for good in the eighth, with Gumpf tacking on the insurance courtesy of a two-run shot himself.

Last season, the Irish reached double-digit runs nine times in 54 games. They’ve already hit that mark in half of their 10 contests in 2024. It was the first time Notre Dame scored 10-plus runs in at least three straight games since April 30 to May 10, 2022. That dominant 2022 offense did so twice. The pitching will need to improve, but a team containing as much power and resilience as the Irish have shown this season is a nightmare for anyone to face.

Sign up for our Observer Sports newsletter!
Have an Irish sports question? Ask it for our Observer Sports mailbag!