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Guenther moves from middle reliever to setup man to closer

| Tuesday, April 21, 2015

In a Notre Dame bullpen filled with talented young arms, freshman left-hander Sean Guenther has been the most permanent fixture.

The reliever leads the Irish with 19 appearances, which have come in roles ranging from that of a middle reliever to a setup man to most recently, the team’s closer. Along the way, Guenther’s numbers have improved as he’s gone along — he hasn’t surrendered a run since March 28 and has picked up four saves since then.

“He’s really mature — the game really doesn’t speed up for him at all,” Irish head coach Mik Aoki said of Guenther. “Every now and then, he might get a little bit over fired up, but he seems to have the acumen to take a deep breath and slow himself down and make quality pitches.

“More than anything else, like most of his classmates, he has really good stuff, and he’s just ultra-competitive.”

The 5-foot-11 Guenther was far from destined to being the closer at the start of the season. He had been a starter in high school, and the closer role was slotted for a pair of his classmates, tall right-handers Peter Solomon and Brad Bass. After Solomon and Bass went down with injuries in the middle of the conference schedule, however, Guenther started appearing later and later in games.

“When Peter and Brad came down, by default, it’s been Sean,” Aoki said. “That’s not a slight on his ability because we’ve always believed in his ability, and if you’ve looked at the track record of where we’ve put him into games, you can easily make the argument that we’ve put him into more precarious situations than either Brad or Peter, and he’s thrived in it.”

Guenther has thrived in several tight situations recently, recording two saves in Notre Dame’s sweep of then-No. 7 Florida State earlier this month and shutting down North Carolina State on Friday night for his fourth save, which tied him with Solomon for the team high.

Notre Dame’s defense has played a central role in Guenther’s last few outings, he said.

“We’ve played great defense; it’s really helped me out,” Guenther said. “I don’t remember the last error that was made behind me, so it’s a lot easier with that aspect going on, but I just try to do what I’ve been doing all season long, [which] is getting guys out.”

Guenther, who sports a 1.97 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 32 innings, said the biggest adjustment to the college game has been learning to focus for short, high-intensity relief situations.

“I try to throw a lot harder, for one,” he said. “It’s a lot of coming in and just going right after guys right away. It’s late in the game, guys have been through the order a couple of times.

“It’s way different than starting guys off and trying to hide pitches. You have everything out there right from the get-go; you can just go out there and attack.”

Guenther said he has benefitted from being a left-hander in his plan of attack against opposing hitters. The Atlanta native has pitched the second-most innings of Notre Dame’s left-handed pitchers, trailing only occasional starter sophomore Scott Tully.

“When lefties come up, I get called in as kind of a matchup, and that instantly gets to them,” Guenther said. “They’re ready to hit against a righty, and then I come in as a lefty, it’s a big mental game we like to play.

“Honestly, I don’t really have a preference of [facing] lefties or righties, but lefties definitely don’t like hitting me as much as another righty who throws similarly.”

Guenther and Notre Dame’s bullpen, which includes fellow freshmen Solomon, Bass, Charlie Vorsheck and Evy Ruibal, will be assuredly charged with the tasks of helping the Irish secure prime conference positioning down the stretch. Notre Dame, which currently possesses an 11-10 record in conference, still has ACC series remaining against Wake Forest, North Carolina and Boston College.

Despite the potentially high stakes, Guenther said he plans to stay with the fundamentals that have made him so highly used by the Irish this season.

“I’m just going to keep trying to get guys out when they put me out there,” he said. “I try not to look too far down the road and just kind of focus on what’s gotten me this far and just stay ready and stay hungry.”

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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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