Kutsulis hits for cycle against Cardinals
Zach Klonsinski | Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Notre Dame opens its home slate Wednesday evening against Toledo, looking to crawl back into the win column after being swept by No. 4 Louisville on the road last weekend.
The Irish (6-8, 0-3 ACC) hung right with the Cardinals (14-2, 3-0 ACC) in the first and last matchups in the three-game series to conclude spring break. Notre Dame lost the first game of Friday’s doubleheader, 4-3, on a walk-off home run by Louisville in the bottom of the 11th inning and then fell 1-0 in Saturday’s series finale. Those results sandwiched an 8-2 loss in the second game Friday.
The Irish split its four games at the USA Baseball-Irish Classic over the first weekend of spring break, which Irish head coach Mik Aoki called a “little bit of a disappointment.” Aoki noted his squad finished the Classic on a high note though, as freshman right hander Matt Vierling hit a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 10th inning to beat Niagara, 6-5. Vierling, the designated hitter for the Irish the first nine innings, took to the mound in the 10th and didn’t allow a hit while allowing one walk.
Despite ending the Classic with the win, Aoki said he was apprehensive entering the Louisville series.
“All week long, I was concerned and worrying about our team and where we were at, even though we had finished on such a high note, and it was just the way we were playing,” Aoki said. “I thought we looked a little uninspired and there was something missing. Then you go to Louisville and lose three difficult games … to open the ACC at 0-3, which is always a tough way, but this week, I think I’ve felt so much better about our club because of the manner in which we competed and the way in which we played down there.”
Although the team walked away from the Louisville series winless, the Irish received a couple of outstanding performances from senior first baseman Zak Kutsulis and sophomore left hander Sean Guenther. Kutsulis became the first Notre Dame player to hit for the cycle since 2000, going 4-for-5 from the plate in the first game Friday, while Guenther pitched 7 2/3 innings Saturday, surrendering just a single run on six hits.
“I think Zak, from beginning to end … has been probably our most consistent bat,” Aoki said. “ … Zak has really matured a lot as a hitter and understanding his swing and understanding the things that he needs to do to be successful.
“ … I think [Guenther’s] done a really good job making that transition from the bullpen to starter. I think he just has to continue to rely on his preparation and continue to just compete pitch by pitch and try to execute the very best pitches that he can.”
Aoki said senior left hander Michael Herne will take the mound when the Irish step onto their home turf for the first time this season Wednesday against the Rockets (2-13-1). Hearne has thrown 12 innings this year over two starts and one other appearance, but has yet to record a decision this season.
“Our goal [Wednesday] is to play, basically, as well as we can play,” Aoki said. “That’s the only thing that I’m going to get myself concerned with.”
The Irish and Rockets are set to get underway at 6:05 p.m. Wednesday at Frank Eck Stadium.