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Shepski sets team records in three-game sweep

| Thursday, March 31, 2016

Last weekend, Notre Dame rode a three-game sweep of Virginia Tech to its first over-.500 record since the start of conference play.

The Irish (12-10, 4-5 ACC) bats came alive in Blacksburg, Virginia, starting with a 16-4 pounding of the Hokies (10-16, 1-8) on Thursday night, led by sophomore designated hitter Jake Shepski.

Shepski had a record-setting night for Notre Dame, tallying three home runs, a triple and a double in the victory for a total of 17 bases, nine RBIs and four runs scored. He hit a solo homer in the first inning, a three-run homer in the second, a two-RBI triple in the third, a three-RBI homer in the fourth and a double in the eighth, finishing just a single short of hitting for the cycle. His three home runs are the first for the Irish since Matt Edwards did it in March of 2005, and he is believed to have recorded the most total bases and RBIs in single-game history for Notre Dame.

“Just kind of like any other day, I was just trying to go out there and compete and help the team win,” Shepski said. “I just walked up to the plate with some confidence, trying to get on top of [Virginia tech sophomore starter Packy Naughton]. I know he’s supposed to be a pretty good pitcher. He got behind in some counts on me, I got some good pitches, and it worked out well.”

Freshman third baseman Nick Podkul and senior catcher Ricky Sanchez each recorded three-hit days for the Irish as well. The team combined for 16 runs on 21 hits and three walks.

Junior right hander Ryan Smoyer (2-3) tossed eight innings for the Irish, allowing three earned runs and striking out a career-high seven batters while earning the victory.

The Irish followed up their 12-run victory Thursday night with a 6-2 win Friday behind 6 2/3 innings from starter Sean Guenther (2-2), who allowed just one earned run on eight hits and two walks. Sophomore righty Brandon Bielak finished out the remaining 2 1/3 innings with two hits and no runs allowed, dropping his ERA to 0.69 on the season.

At the plate, junior second baseman Cavan Biggio paced the Irish with two walks, a hit and three RBIs while freshman right fielder Matt Vierling added two hits, an RBI and a run scored.

Then on Saturday, Notre Dame completed its sweep with a 5-2 victory over the Hokies. Biggio picked up where he left off Friday with a four-hit day at the plate, including a third-inning home run. The Irish scored one run in each of the first three frames before adding a pair of insurance runs in the top of the ninth.

Sophomore righty Peter Solomon threw five innings of three-hit ball, allowing a single earned run and earning his first win of the season in the process. Senior reliever David Hearne finished the game with four shutout innings, giving up just one hit and striking out four Hokies.

After starting 1-5 in the conference, the three-game sweep gives a boost to Notre Dame’s confidence heading into a 13-game homestand.

“That weekend was a huge weekend for us, to go out there and sweep,” Shepski said. “We knew we needed to have a good weekend just to get all of our heads in the right place and to set us up for the rest of the way, and I think that really helped our mindset moving forward. I think we’re really looking forward to this weekend. We’ve got Oregon [on Thursday] and then Wake Forest this weekend, so moving forward we have more confidence. We had some really tough losses against both NC State and Louisville, so this was good for us.”

The Irish look to build on their four-game winning streak when they welcome Oregon (11-9, 2-4 Pac-12) to town Thursday. Notre Dame will then return to ACC play with a three-game set against Wake Forest (17-10, 4-5) over the weekend.

“We just need to go out there, play our game and play together,” Shepski said. “I think that’s the most important thing, that we have each other’s backs. Although baseball’s such an individual sport, I think it really comes out, especially in college baseball, when everyone gets hyped behind the guys that are playing and to have everyone moving on the same cylinder. We need to go out there with confidence, have our pitchers do their thing and have the hitters back them up. Hopefully everything will be working together.”

All four games this week will be played at Frank Eck Stadium.

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