Notre Dame readies for ACC series with North Carolina State
Brian Hartnett | Friday, April 17, 2015
Notre Dame will begin the start of what Irish head coach Mik Aoki called a “12-game season” this weekend when it hosts North Carolina State at Frank Eck Stadium for a three-game series.
The Irish (24-11, 9-9 ACC) still have 20 games left on their schedule, but they have just 12 more opportunities to better their position in the crowded conference standings. Notre Dame is one of five ACC teams with an in-conference winning percentage of .500.
North Carolina State (20-14, 8-9) is not one of the teams tied with the Irish, but the Wolfpack sit just a half-game behind Notre Dame in the conference’s Atlantic division. Despite the competitiveness of the conference race, Aoki said the Irish would not be doing anything different to prepare for the Wolfpack.
“It’s just as important as every other weekend series,” he said. “ … This hopefully gives us the opportunity to get off to a good start for a 12-game season.”
Notre Dame will enter the series having won eight of its last nine games. The Irish saw their eight-game winning streak snapped Wednesday night, when they fell 5-0 to Toledo in nonconference action. After being swept in its first two conference series at home, Notre Dame turned the tides with a sweep of then-No. 7 Florida State last weekend.
North Carolina State, meanwhile, will make the trip to Frank Eck Stadium having lost five of its last seven games. The Wolfpack lost two of three games to North Carolina last weekend.
Despite the Wolfpack’s recent struggles, they will still bring in a tough pitching staff, Aoki said. North Carolina State’s pitching staff ranks 25th in the nation with a 2.99 overall ERA.
“We’ve faced good pitching all year long in the conference, and we’ll face it again,” Aoki said. “We’ll face talented players up and down their lineup.”
Aoki cited North Carolina State’s youth as one of the team’s biggest strengths. Sophomore infielders Preston Palmeiro and Andrew Knizer rank second and fourth, respectively, in batting average on the team. On the mound, sophomore right-hander Cory Wilder and freshman left-hander Brian Brown have combined to start 17 of the Wolfpack’s 36 games, with both pitchers holding sub-3.00 ERAs.
“They’re a little younger than they’ve been the past couple of years,” Aoki said. “ … The [College World Series] team two years ago and last year, they had a disappointing year, but it’s not like the talent level went down, just that their talent level is a little bit younger than it was.
“With youth, sometimes comes a little bit of growing pains, but if we don’t come in here and get ready to control the things we can and be engaged, we’ll have our lunch handed to us.”
Notre Dame deviated a little bit from its usual starting pitching rotation last weekend, as sophomore right-hander Ryan Smoyer started Friday and freshman right-hander Brad Bass started Sunday. The only certainty for the weekend is that freshman right-hander Brandon Bielak will make his scheduled start Saturday, Aoki said, but he is hopeful Friday’s usual starter, senior right-hander Scott Kerrigan, and Sunday’s starter, junior right-hander Nick McCarty, have made enough progress in recovering from injuries to possibly compete this weekend.
“Scotty threw [Wednesday], and he felt pretty good,” Aoki said. “We’ve got to see where McCarty is. I don’t think it was anything too terribly serious, so I would think that he should be OK, so he should be back into it.”
North Carolina State and Notre Dame will meet this weekend in a three-game series at Frank Eck Stadium. The first pitch of the series opener is scheduled for tonight at 6:05 p.m. Saturday’s game is scheduled to start at 2:05 p.m., and Sunday’s first pitch will be at 1:05 p.m.