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Friday, June 14, 2024
The Observer

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Irish travel to No. 22 NC State after series win at home

Both teams canceled their midweek games, turning their attention to this weekend’s series

The road hasn’t been kind to Notre Dame baseball when playing in-conference games since last April. The Irish are 1-12 in their last 13 ACC games away from Frank Eck Stadium, including an active 10-game losing streak in such contests. This season, Notre Dame has sweep losses to No. 13 Virginia Tech and No. 17 Florida State.

The schedule doesn’t get any easier now, with No. 22 NC State set to welcome the Irish into Raleigh for a three-game series this weekend. Both teams enter the matchup with momentum from home success. Notre Dame (14-9, 2-7 ACC) took two of three games from Miami last weekend and easily could have swept had it held a 7-1 lead. NC State (15-7, 5-4 ACC) fared just as well, dropping No. 13 Coastal Carolina in a midweek game before topping No. 9 Duke in a three-game series.

Last year, the Irish and Wolfpack met in South Bend for Notre Dame’s final home ACC series in early May. Notre Dame claimed the Thursday opener before the Wolfpack shut down the Irish bats to earn a come-from-behind series win. Before that, Notre Dame claimed three consecutive series against NC State dating back to 2019.

To pitch or not to pitch?

It’s hard to imagine a team’s pitching staff having a more up-and-down week than Notre Dame’s just did. Going back to the March 15-17 series at Florida State, the Irish allowed only eight runs across the final two games. But then a Tuesday matchup with Western Michigan pinned 10 runs on the Notre Dame arms through four innings of a 16-11 win.

The undulations didn’t end there, though. Notre Dame started the Miami series with tremendous pitching, conceding only two runs in each of its first two games. But Sunday’s 12-10 loss in 10 innings saw the Irish blow a six-run lead by giving up eight runs in one inning.

Right now, there appear to be two reasonable takeaways regarding the Notre Dame pitching staff. First, it still isn’t deep enough to handle a three or four-game week successfully. The Irish have not allowed seven runs or less in three straight games at any point this season, conceding 10 or more runs in 10 different contests. Overall, the Irish have pitched to a 6.53 ERA, which doesn’t rank poorly but has room to improve.

The second major takeaway is that Notre Dame’s most consistent hurlers are more clearly coming into view. Senior right-hander Matt Bedford, the only Irish pitcher to start in every weekend series, leads the list. Coming off a Friday start against Miami in which he set career highs in innings (4 ⅓) and strikeouts (seven), Bedford owns a 4.56 ERA on the year.

The men who pitched behind him Friday are settling in as well. Sophomore right-hander Caden Spivey, despite a 9.20 ERA for the season, has allowed just three runs in 8 ⅔ frames since moving back to the bullpen three weeks ago. Spivey also has 12 strikeouts and only two walks during that stretch. Having worked 4 ⅔ innings last weekend, graduate right-hander Bennett Flynn leads the Irish with 34 strikeouts and still holds a sub-4.00 ERA.

Notre Dame’s Saturday right-handers may have been even better, with freshman Jack Radel and junior Ricky Reeth combining for nine innings of two-run baseball. Radel handled the first four frames and now carries a 1.64 ERA in three starts since debuting in the rotation. Reeth took the Irish home, lowering his season ERA to 4.71 with five innings pitched.

Comeback Wolfpack going for second straight series win

Between March 12 and March 17, NC State lost four consecutive games, something the Irish haven’t done this year. The Wolfpack suffered a sweep at Georgia Tech after taking an ugly, 18-3 loss at home to UNC Greensboro.

That losing streak easily could have stretched to eight last week, but NC State wouldn’t let it happen. With a trio of one-run, come-from-behind wins, the Wolfpack earned a winning record against two ranked opponents.

NC State’s sixth comeback win of the season came on Saturday and was perhaps a defining moment a month in. After falling behind Duke 8-2 through the top of the eighth inning, the Wolfpack went to work. A single run in the eighth gave way to the ninth, which the Pack entered behind 8-3.

It exited with a wild celebration at home plate. NC State scored six runs in the frame, ending the game with a two-run, walk-off home run by center fielder Eli Serrano III. However, Duke run-ruled NC State in the third game, making this weekend’s series an important one for the Wolfpack and its momentum.

Zooming out to the big picture, NC State lost roughly 75% of its offensive production at the end of last season. But a balanced attack has kept the Wolfpack lineup running in high gear to this point in 2024. Alec Makarewicz is the team’s strongest hitter with 10 doubles, 10 home runs, 37 RBI and a slash line of .359/.433/.793. Also with 10 doubles and a batting average north of .350, Garrett Pennington ranks second on the team with 26 RBI.

On the mound, NC State hasn’t blown anyone away and is still working on finding its true ace. Sam Highfill, the team’s Friday starter who pitched well at Notre Dame last year, has a .196 opponents’ batting average, but untimely hits and walks have his ERA at 4.70. Logan Whitaker (5.14 ERA) and Dominic Fritton (8.37 ERA) will likely round the series pitching-wise for NC State.

Notre Dame and NC State will start their series in Raleigh at 7 p.m. Games at 8 p.m. on Friday and at 3 p.m. on Saturday will follow.