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Saturday, May 25, 2024
The Observer

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Irish suffer sweep at North Carolina, remain winless in ACC road games

Notre Dame goes without a lead for 25 innings in lopsided series

Notre Dame baseball’s bad only got worse over the weekend in Chapel Hill. The Irish went 0-3 at North Carolina, never leading in the series and twice conceding double-digit runs. Now 15-18 overall and 2-16 in ACC play, the Irish have lost 10 consecutive conference games and are 0-12 in league games outside South Bend.

Even more concerning, Notre Dame now occupies dead last in the ACC, sitting two games behind Pittsburgh.

Friday: Notre Dame 0, North Carolina 13 (seven innings)

Though it’s a low bar to clear, senior right-hander Matt Bedford has been one of Notre Dame’s most reliable pitchers this season. Showing up in the rotation nearly every weekend, Bedford entered the North Carolina series with a 4.65 earned run average over his previous four ACC starts. That’s not a great ERA, but it’s been enough to keep Notre Dame in ballgames.

But even he could control the Tar Heel onslaught this weekend. North Carolina pieced him up for seven runs on seven hits in 3 2/3 innings, launching two home runs and striking out just once. The Tar Heels even more badly tore into sophomore right-hander David Lally Jr., scoring five runs off him in the sixth inning alone.

Right away, North Carolina seized momentum on a decisive pitch in the first inning. With two outs and a Tar Heel on third, Parks Harber took a full-count pitch from Bedford and crushed it out to left field. The two-run home run, Harber’s 12th this year, put North Carolina ahead immediately.

After back-to-back hits with nobody out set up a third Tar Heel run in the second, Casey Cook teed off on Bedford in the third. Punishing the pitcher for a leadoff walk, Cook homered to right-center, making it 5-0 with his 10th round-tripper of the season. North Carolina would add two more runs as Bedford departed in the fourth.

In the meantime, Tar Heel starting pitcher Jason DeCaro owned the Irish from the jump. The freshman right-hander tossed six shutout innings with three strikeouts for the best outing of his career, helping to hand Notre Dame its second shutout loss this year.

The North Carolina offense celebrated DeCaro’s work with six more runs against Lally and graduate right-hander Will Jacobsen in the sixth. After Harber singled to finish a four-RBI night, Luke Stevenson cranked a three-run shot to right field, hanging a baker’s dozen on the Irish.

Saturday: Notre Dame 2, North Carolina 7

North Carolina showed no signs of a hangover in game two, immediately attacking the Irish once again. Anthony Donofrio took the eighth pitch he saw from Jack Radel and pounded it to center for a leadoff home run. The North Carolina right fielder would record three hits on the day, driving in two and stealing a base.

Radel and the Irish initially responded nicely to Donofrio’s dinger, though. The freshman right-hander punched out the next two hitters he faced, limiting the first-inning damage to a single run. Notre Dame then opened the second with consecutive singles from graduate third baseman Simon Baumgardt and senior first baseman Connor Hincks, moving the tying run to scoring position. But Tar Heel starter Shea Sprague punched out two with runners on second and third, killing the threat.

North Carolina then made the Irish pay for their poor execution with another leadoff blast in the bottom of the second. Alberto Osuna, after falling behind 0-2 in the count, cracked a solo shot to left field that doubled the home lead.

That lead would stretch to three in the fifth, as a Donofrio single sent Radel packing through 83 pitches. All things considered, the rookie did well to keep Notre Dame alive, conceding three runs in 4 2/3 innings. He also put his best stuff on display, punching out six Tar Heels.

After Radel’s exit, Notre Dame finally snapped its 12-inning scoreless streak with two outs in the sixth. Baumgardt singled to drive in senior center fielder T.J. Williams on a close play at the plate. He then scored on a single from Hincks, trimming the North Carolina lead to one and ending Sprague’s start.

But in the blink of an eye, the Tar Heels restored it to three. A walk loaded the bases against sophomore right-hander Caden Spivey for Alex Madera. He delivered the game’s biggest hit — a two-run single that put North Carolina ahead 5-2.

While Notre Dame went scoreless against Dalton Pence and Matthew Matthijs out of the Tar Heel bullpen, the North Carolina offense kept adding on. Vance Honeycutt tagged a solo home run in the seventh. Then Madera scored after a leadoff triple in the eighth, bringing the game to its final score of 7-2.

Sunday: Notre Dame 3, North Carolina 10

In all but a mirror image of Friday’s game, North Carolina inflicted the knockout blow on an already reeling Notre Dame team in the series finale. The Tar Heels thrived against sophomore right-hander Rory Fox early, pinning eight hits and seven runs on him in less than four innings. Aidan Haugh also dealt another shutout start for North Carolina, punching out six across five clean innings.

For the third straight day, the Tar Heels opened fire with a home run in the first inning. Honeycutt delivered the shot, a two-run swing that put North Carolina ahead six pitches in. The Tar Heels would add additional runs on singles in the second and third, opening up a 4-0 lead.

However, the game really got away from Notre Dame in the fourth inning. With two outs and a run already home, graduate right-hander Tobey McDonough walked the first hitter he faced to load the bases. The Irish then unraveled, uncorking a wild pitch, committing an error in center field and conceding an RBI single to fall behind 9-0.

Notre Dame would make the score a bit more respectable later on, plating a run on senior designated hitter Brady Gumpf’s single in the sixth. Junior shortstop Jack Penney then went deep for the first time since March 3, cutting the margin to 9-3. After another wild pitch brought in a 10th Tar Heel run in the eighth, the game and series went final with a seven-run North Carolina win.

Notre Dame begins nine-game homestand with two midweeks

For just the second time this season, Notre Dame will play two midweek games to start the second half of April. The Irish will face Valparaiso at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday and Purdue Fort Wayne at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday before hosting Boston College for an ACC series this weekend. The upcoming homestand wraps up with a series against No. 12 Wake Forest next weekend.

Last season, Notre Dame met Valparaiso twice and swept the Beacons with a pair of four-run wins at Frank Eck Stadium. Valparaiso owns an 11-22 overall record this year and holds a 3-9 mark in Missouri Valley Conference play. The Beacons have lost six of their last seven games and also pitched poorly over the weekend, allowing 33 runs in their series loss to Belmont.

Valparaiso’s numbers as a team, beginning with its .249 batting average and 7.22 ERA, don’t look great. Kyle Schmack does most of the damage at the plate, leading the team with 11 home runs, 24 RBI, 22 walks and a .297 batting average. Jake Jakubowski, the team’s best pitcher, holds a 3.31 ERA in 16 1/3 innings of relief this season.

Meanwhile, the Horizon League-based Mastodons are 13-22 with a 7-8 record in conference play. They have made more noise than the Beacons this season, defeating Butler and Indiana while splitting a four-game series at Missouri in March. Purdue Fort Wayne enters South Bend coming off a series loss at Oakland over the weekend. 

While the Mastodons offer more complete hitting, their pitching has been quite the adventure in 2024, evidenced by an 8.62 ERA. But fortunately for the Mastodons, two of their best pitchers have appeared the most, with Kevin Fee (3.86 ERA) and Carter Sabol (4.40 ERA) combining for 82 innings. On offense, Justin Osterhouse paces the team with nine home runs, 34 RBI, 11 steals and a .390 batting average. Two other hitters — Jacob Walker and Grant Thoroman — also wield .300-plus batting averages.