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Cavaliers sweep Irish in home weekend series

| Monday, March 30, 2015

The weather was bleak for Notre Dame and No. 12 Virginia this weekend, with Friday’s game being rescheduled to a chilly Saturday doubleheader, and torrential winds and sleet whipped into Frank Eck Stadium during Sunday’s game. The weekend was similarly bleak for the Irish, as they were swept by Virginia.

Notre Dame (16-10, 3-9 ACC) was trounced by the Cavaliers (18-8, 6-6) 9-1 in its first game Saturday, then lost in heartbreaking fashion, 4-2, in the second game. Sunday, the Irish did their best to avoid the sweep, but were unable to make up a two-run deficit in the ninth inning and lost 5-4.

Irish senior pitcher Scott Kerrigan winds up during Notre Dame's 9-1 loss to Virginia Saturday at Frank Eck Stadium.Mary McGraw | The Observer
Irish senior pitcher Scott Kerrigan winds up during Notre Dame’s 9-1 loss to Virginia Saturday at Frank Eck Stadium.

The weekend series marks the end to a tough stretch of ACC play for the Irish, after facing Georgia Tech and Clemson on the road and No. 8 Louisville at home the past two weekends.

“You look at a year ago at this point, we were 1-11 or something like that in the league,” Irish head coach Mik Aoki said. “I mean, 3-9, that’s not the kind of progress we want to be making, but at the same time I don’t know if anybody in our conference has gone through the gauntlet that we just went through.”

Senior right-hander Scott Kerrigan got the start against one of college’s best pitchers in Virginia junior Nathan Kirby in Saturday’s first game. Kerrigan kept the Irish close, 3-0, until six Virginia runs in the seventh and eighth innings opened up the game. Kerrigan pitched 6 1/3 innings, giving up nine hits and six runs, while striking out three and walking three. Kirby, on the other hand, pitched six innings of shutout baseball, striking out eight and giving up five hits and two walks.

“Scott was okay for five or six innings, but you know this is where you speak to the situation with your bullpen that we don’t have it fully loaded,” Aoki said.  “So you’re kind of making decisions on the fly about you’re chasing three runs against one of the nation’s best pitchers, do you come in and use one of the ‘bullets’ that you have at that point? And I made the decision that we are going to try and get maybe one more out of Scott and see where we can go, and I probably left him in there for one pitch to many.”

Aoki said he elected to go with several inexperienced relief pitchers to close the game after Kerrigan began to struggle so he could save regular relief pitchers for the next two games.

“To be honest with you, it was kind of like a family-first outing for [Kerrigan] because he did get knocked around a little bit in that last one, and then they got an obviously great deal of separation there but without that we don’t have [freshman pitchers Evy] Ruibal and [Sean] Guenther to be able to give ourselves an opportunity to win yesterday and today,” Aoki said. “We kind of had our shot, but we weren’t able to get it done.”

Notre Dame did have shots at the late game Saturday and the game on Sunday, but simply could not get over the hump, Aoki said. Irish freshman right-hander Brandon Bielak kept Notre Dame in Saturday’s later game long enough for them to tie it up 2-2 in the seventh. Bielak pitched 7 1/3 innings of four-hit ball with five strikeouts, giving up four walks and two runs. The relievers Ruibal and Guenther both gave up a run apiece in the ninth and Virginia took the game.

Notre Dame was outpaced Sunday by the Hoos, who scored a run in each inning from the third to the seventh. Junior right-hander Nick McCarty took the mound for the Irish, allowing nine hits, five runs — four earned — while Virginia junior starter Brandon Waddell gave up two runs in 5 1/3 innings.

“You look at Virginia as a team who scuffled with a couple of teams, but you can tell how good they are,” Aoki said. “Their pitching is really good, we’ve been a little banged up, which I don’t want to use as a crutch, but that fact of the matter is that it has limited a little bit of the use of our bullpen. It’s kind of shortened our lineup a little bit.”

The Irish were able to get one back in the fourth and fifth innings and one in the eighth and ninth innings, but failed to take advantage of some crucial situations. Notre Dame put runners on second and third with no outs in the sixth, down 4-2, but were unable to capitalize on the situation.

“That’s a tough one, you know, certainly a tough one,” Aoki said. “In that case you hope that you can make a productive out to even just score a run and looking back on it, maybe it’s a tie ball game.”

The Irish had trouble stringing hits together, as they went 12-for-62 Saturday for a .193 team average, while going 8-for-37 Sunday (.216).

“I think some of the things that we were doing at a really high level early on, we’ve gotten away from, for certain guys, not for all of them,” Aoki said. “Just like anything else, some guys are doing really well, and some guys are struggling. But that’s sort of the nature of this game, and the way in which guys deal with the adversity that they’re facing is going to define who we are as a team.”

Junior first baseman Zak Kutsulis stood out for the Irish, going 2-8 with three RBIs and one run.

Junior shortstop Lane Richards hit his first career home run in the ninth inning of Sunday’s game to bring the Irish within one, but that was as close as they would get.

Notre Dame next faces Eastern Michigan at Frank Eck Stadium at 6:05 p.m. on Tuesday.

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