Strong pitching leads Irish to series win over NC State
Brian Hartnett | Monday, April 20, 2015
It was a marathon of baseball this weekend for Notre Dame, which won its third consecutive conference series by taking two games of a three-game set against North Carolina State at Frank Eck Stadium.
The Irish (26-12, 11-10 ACC) played 32 innings, 23 of them coming Saturday after a gloomy weather forecast for Sunday forced them to push the series finale up one day. After winning 2-0 Friday night, Notre Dame fell 4-2 in a 14-inning affair in Saturday’s first game before coming back to record a 7-2 victory over the Wolfpack (21-16, 9-11) in the nightcap.
“This was a series where we didn’t get a ton of hits in it, but guys weren’t sitting there feeling sorry for themselves, they weren’t sitting there calculating their batting averages,” Notre Dame head coach Mik Aoki said. “We were just sitting there trying to do everything we can to win. Guys that struggled impacted the game by using their legs, impacted the game by playing defense.
“We got enough timely hits throughout the course of the weekend to come out [winning] two out of three, and that’s a good club over there, so we’re going to take it and run with it.”
After allowing four runs in a three-game sweep of then-No. 7 Florida State last weekend, the Irish pitching staff held NC State scoreless for the first 16 innings of the series. Sophomore right-hander Ryan Smoyer kept the Wolfpack in check Friday night, allowing five hits and striking out two in seven innings of work. Smoyer, who had primarily served as Notre Dame’s midweek starter before a recent injury to senior right-hander Scott Kerrigan, improved his record to 6-0 on the season.
“He’s done a really good job, but you could kind of see it coming a little bit,” Aoki said of Smoyer. “It was one of those deals where early in the year, his fastball command was a little bit off. I don’t think he was actually as sharp this week as he was last week [against Florida State], but he did a good job of competing.”
Sophomore catcher Ryan Lidge provided both RBIs for the Irish, which managed only three hits against Wolfpack pitching. Lidge lined a double into the right-field corner in the fourth inning, scoring senior right fielder Robert Youngdahl. He added his second RBI on a single to right field in the sixth to score senior left fielder Ryan Bull.
The Irish began the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader at 2 p.m. Saturday. After a 45-minute break between games, they concluded play in the second game shortly after 10 p.m.
“I told these guys afterward that outside the 25-inning game I was involved with [as head coach of Boston College in 2009] against Texas, I thought that was one of the most impressive things I’ve seen a group of young people do,” Aoki said.
Notre Dame surrendered its first runs of the weekend in the seventh inning of the first game when NC State freshman pinch hitter Brock Deatherage hit a double to deep left-center field.
The Irish came back to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth after they loaded the bases on three consecutive one-out singles. Lidge walked with the bases loaded, and a groundout by junior shortstop Lane Richards knotted the score at two.
That would be it for the Irish offense, however, as it failed to manage a hit over the last five innings.
“We had good at-bats all throughout that first game [but] we weren’t quite able to get the one when we needed it to push the run across or something like that,” Aoki said. “That’s kind of the nature of baseball.”
NC State pushed ahead in the 14th inning after loading the bases with one out. The Wolfpack went up by a run on a sacrifice fly to center field by sophomore catcher Andrew Knizner and added an insurance run on a walk to junior shortstop Ryne Willard.
Notre Dame’s offensive struggles did not carry over to Saturday’s second game, as the Irish overcame an early two-run deficit by scoring four runs in the second against Wolfpack sophomore left-hander Ryan Williamson.
Richards put the Irish on the board with a two-run home run to left field. Notre Dame added two more runs on a single to left by sophomore third baseman Kyle Fiala, which scored junior first baseman Zak Kutsulis and junior center fielder Kyle Richardson.
“I think it was a matter of stringing some good at-bats together here and there, and then Lane gives us a big boost with one swing of the bat,” Aoki said of Notre Dame’s early scoring.
The Irish held the lead from there, as Notre Dame’s pitching staff did not surrender a run after the first inning. Irish junior right-hander Nick McCarty, who missed his scheduled start last weekend due to injury, returned to strike out six and allow four hits and two runs in 5 2/3 innings.
“I didn’t think Nick was quite as sharp as he has been at times during the season, but in fairness to Nick, that’s a pretty high bar,” Aoki said. “He’s been really pretty good.”
With an 8-1 record in their last three ACC series and a winning record in conference play, the Irish feel good about their position at this point in the season, Aoki said.
“We kind of set as a goal that we were going to try to just grind through and win each series, and since we sort of hit that reset button a few weekends ago, we’ve won three series in a row,” he said. “ … We’ve just got to take it one game at a time and just try to finish.”
Notre Dame will return to action Tuesday night, when it travels to Indianapolis to face Indiana.