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Bats silenced in ACC opener

| Monday, March 17, 2014

Notre Dame received a rude welcome to the ACC over the break as both No. 7/10 N.C. State and Duke swept the Irish in three-game series. Of the seven games the Irish played during their week-long trip to North Carolina, their lone victory was a 13-9, 10-inning, midweek win over Appalachian State in Boone, N.C., on March 11.

The Irish (6-12, 0-6 ACC) scored just seven runs in their first six conference games and were shut out three times, once by Duke (12-7, 4-2) and twice by N.C. State (14-5, 3-3). The Irish are batting just .234 as a team, while junior first baseman Blaise Lezynski (.303) is the only everyday player hitting over .270.

“The kids are without any question beginning to press a little bit,” Irish coach Mik Aoki said. “Without any question we hit some balls right on the button and weren’t rewarded for it, but part of that is just sort of the nature of baseball, and when things are going well, the results are good. You don’t think about that as much as when things are going poorly and your results aren’t good.”

In their first game in Raleigh on March 8, the Irish were up against Wolfpack junior left-handed pitcher Carlos Rodon, who will likely be one of the top picks in the next MLB Draft. Notre Dame took the lead in the third inning when senior catcher Forrest Johnson hit a leadoff single and made his way around the bases via a sacrifice bunt and two singles.

After the Wolfpack tied the score in the fifth, Lezynski scored two more with a two-out RBI single to left field. But senior right-hander Sean Fitzgerald allowed two more runs in the bottom of the sixth, and senior righty Donnie Hissa was charged with the loss after giving up two more runs in the eighth to give the Wolfpack the 5-3 victory.

Although Rodon is one of the most talked-about players in college baseball, his teammate, junior right-hander Logan Jernigan, was even more successful at shutting down the Irish in the second half of the doubleheader. He allowed just four hits and no runs in seven-and-a-third innings of work, making Notre Dame sophomore right-hander Nick McCarty (0-3) the tough-luck loser in the 1-0 Irish defeat.

“The thing that is escaping us and escaped us against Rodon and Jernigan were little things that were not taken care of consistently,” Aoki said. “We had our opportunities to win against Rodon, and we had the lead against him and just couldn’t make that pitch or make that play, and N.C. State did. The game against Jernigan, again, we had a couple of opportunities and couldn’t get a bunt down.”

Sunday’s rubber match was not so close. The Irish mustered only three hits, and junior left-hander Robert Youngdahl (1-1) gave up four runs, one earned, in two-and-a-third innings before being replaced by sophomore lefty Michael Hearne. Notre Dame used seven pitchers en route to a 7-0 loss.

The Irish bounced back with a 13-9 extra-inning win over Appalachian State (5-14) on March 11, their second comeback victory against the Mountaineers this season. Appalachian State scored five runs in the sixth inning and entered the ninth inning with a 9-7 lead, but freshman catcher Ryan Lidge hit a two-out double to ignite a rally that would conclude with a two-run double from sophomore outfielder Zak Katsulis. In the top of the 10th inning, the Irish scored four runs with two outs to ensure an end to the losing streak.

“Lidgie hits what looks at the time to be a relatively benign double to get things going, but that was a really gratifying win, and I think the team felt good about ourselves,” Aoki said. “I think as a coaching staff you start to look at certain things and you’re like, ‘Oh, gosh, maybe this is the thing that gets us heading in the right direction.’ Unfortunately it didn’t turn out to be that way.”

The series against Duke played out much like the three-game set against NC State. On Friday, Fitzgerald allowed just three runs in seven and two-thirds innings of work, while freshman second baseman Cavan Biggio picked up two RBI, and freshman third baseman Kyle Fiala accounted for the third Irish RBI. But Notre Dame could not muster another four-run 10th inning, and the Blue Devils got the best of junior right-handed reliever Cristian Torres (2-2) to win, 4-3.

The Irish scored just one run between both ends of Saturday’s doubleheader, dropping the first game, 4-1, and the second, 1-0.

“It wasn’t like we played poorly against Duke. We played well, they just played a little, just a tiny bit better,” Aoki said. “We’re knocking on the door, but we’re just not heeding the opportunity and walking through it, so kind of a work in progress. You try to stay as patient as you can with this crew and hope that we start to take advantage of those opportunities that we have.”

Notre Dame heads back to the diamond Tuesday to take on Robert Morris (Ill.) in Chicago, where Youngdahl is set to face senior right-hander Mike Topp. First pitch at CSU Baseball Stadium is scheduled for 7:05 p.m.

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