Rotation leads Irish to series win over NC State
Joe Everett | Tuesday, April 4, 2017
Looking to turn the corner after being swept by Florida State last weekend, the Notre Dame baseball team bounced back by taking two of out three from visiting North Carolina State this weekend at Frank Eck Stadium.
For the Irish (10-16, 4-8 ACC), starting pitching has kept the team afloat, as the offense has struggled to find its groove, and the strength of the rotation was again on display against the Wolfpack (15-14, 5-7 ACC). In the opener Friday night, Irish junior right-hander Brandon Bielak conceded just one run over 5.2 innings, while junior lefty Sean Guenther twirled the remaining 3.1 innings to seal a 4-1 Notre Dame victory. Saturday, graduate student left-hander Michael Hearne provided a better encore, allowing only one run over seven innings of work. The Irish ended up with a 2-1 win thanks to a walk-off single by junior infielder Jake Shepski in the ninth. Sunday, junior right-hander Brad Bass kept the quality starts coming, as the junior right-hander struck out seven in seven innings, allowing only two runs. However, the Irish offense couldn’t break through against North Carolina State’s Michael Bienlein, and the Wolfpack broke the game open in the ninth to win 9-2.
Including their 7-4 win over Chicago State on Tuesday, Notre Dame ended its week with a winning record (3-1) for just the second time all year. Irish head coach Mik Aoki stressed that his team had a good week, but was upset the Irish didn’t seal the sweep on Sunday.
“I thought we played really well all weekend long, with the exception of one inning,” Aoki said. “I was really disappointed with us [in the ninth inning on Sunday], and it wasn’t because we gave up runs – I just felt like we didn’t compete at as high of a level as we did this entire week.”
This past weekend’s series marked a 9-8 turnaround for Notre Dame since the program started the season 1-8. Pitching has been a huge part of it, as Notre Dame’s team ERA has dropped from 7.85 to 3.24 since the opening string of games. With the starting pitching doing its job, Aoki views the offense as the missing piece for the Irish to string together some wins for the team, especially in providing run support.
“We’ve got to get Brad a win,” Aoki said. “It’s gotta be frustrating for him because he’s pitched so well, and we haven’t done a lot [to support him offensively}. Each of the last five weekends he’s been really good, so he has to understand that [the offensive performance] isn’t something he can control – the only thing he can control is his performance.”
“Our starting pitching as a whole has been really good for the last four to five weekends,” Aoki said. “That part has been coming along pretty well, and I continue to think that we play defense at a pretty high level. We had some opportunities [on Sunday] to tie and do some things, and we kind of botched them a little bit, but overall I thought we played pretty well this weekend. If we get three-out-of-four on the week the rest of the way, we’re probably in a pretty good place.”
On deck for Notre Dame is a trip to Ann Arbor, as the Irish face No. 22 Michigan on Tuesday night in a non-conference showdown set for 7 p.m. Although Michigan holds the advantage in the all-time series 87-47, Notre Dame won last year’s contest 9-5, with Hearne holding the Wolverines to one run over seven innings. The following night, Notre Dame will take on the South Bend Cubs in a friendly at Four Winds Field starting at 6 p.m.