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Irish go 4-3 on road trip

| Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Notre Dame ended a seven-game southern road trip by taking two of three games at Clemson over the weekend, winning a conference road series for the first time as a member of the ACC and capping off a stretch in which it went 4-3 overall.

The Irish (14-4, 3-3 ACC) lost two of three games at Georgia Tech on March 6-8 and then topped Savannah State, 5-3, in 11 innings Wednesday afternoon.

Notre Dame head coach Mik Aoki said his team wasn’t flustered by its first two conference road series. The Irish were 1-14 in conference road games last season, the lone win coming at Miami on April 20.

“Capturing series wins on the road in this conference is extremely difficult, extremely challenging, especially when you look at a place like Clemson, where they’ve got a pretty enthusiastic fan base, and it’s not exactly the friendliest environment in which to play,” Aoki said. “Our kids did a phenomenal job of just blocking that stuff out. … It’s an important series win for sure.”

Notre Dame struggled against Clemson junior starting pitcher Matthew Crownover in the first game of a Friday doubleheader, managing only three hits in eight innings in a 6-1 loss. Irish bats woke up in the second frame of the doubleheader, however, as Notre Dame managed a season-high 16 hits in an 11-6 victory. Notre Dame saw its early 6-0 lead vanish completely, as the Tigers (9-9, 2-4) tied the game with a six-run sixth inning, but the Irish pulled ahead for good with two runs in the eighth inning and three in the ninth.

Notre Dame’s usual Sunday starter, junior Nick McCarty, closed out the rubber game of the series, a 5-1 Irish win, by allowing one unearned run and five hits in six innings of work. Nine Notre Dame players finished with hits in the game, including freshman outfielder Jake Johnson, who has now reached base in all 18 contests this season.

Johnson has found early collegiate success by sticking to his skill set at the plate, Aoki said.

“He has a very advanced feel for where the strike zone is,” Aoki said of Johnson. “It’s part of who and what he is — he’s not a kid that right now is going to be launching balls over the fence and hitting 400 foot-plus home runs.

“He understands that about himself. He plays within who he is, an incredibly advanced hitter in terms of his approach.”

Notre Dame’s other two victories on the road trip came in extra innings. The Irish recorded a 3-2 victory in 10 innings over Georgia Tech (14-5, 4-2) on March 6 and earned a 5-3 win in 11 innings over Savannah State (9-11, 4-2 MEAC) on Wednesday.

With runners on the corners and two outs in the 10th inning against the Yellow Jackets, sophomore infielder Kyle Fiala hit a single up the middle to give the Irish the one-run lead. Five days later, Notre Dame capitalized on three Savannah State errors in the top of the 11th inning and junior Ricky Sanchez, pinch hitting in the situation, laid down the sacrifice bunt that gave the Irish the go-ahead run.

With the two extra-innings victories, Notre Dame is 6-0 this season in games decided by two runs or less.

“I think it was a function of our guys being really locked in, being extremely competitive in the pursuit of trying to win the game for as long as was necessary,” Aoki said of the extra-inning wins. “We did it against a really good Georgia Tech team at another place that’s not easy to play.”

Georgia Tech won the other two games of the series to give Notre Dame its first weekend series loss of the season. The Irish cut Georgia Tech’s lead to 7-5 in the seventh inning, but the Yellow Jackets added four runs in the eighth inning to earn the 11-7 win March 7. In the next day’s rubber match, Notre Dame managed only five hits in eight innings against Georgia Tech sophomore starting pitcher Brandon Gold, who led the Yellow Jackets to a 4-1 win.

Notre Dame will play its home opener Wednesday, when the Irish meet Central Michigan at Frank Eck Stadium. First pitch is scheduled for 6:05 p.m.

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About Brian Hartnett

Brian Hartnett is a senior marketing major and journalism, ethics and democracy minor. The Carroll Hall resident hails from Clark, New Jersey and covers Notre Dame football, as well as other University topics.

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