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ND wins first ACC game, drops series to NC State

| Monday, March 21, 2016

Though Notre Dame picked up its first ACC win of the season with Saturday’s win over No. 13 North Carolina State, the Irish dropped two of three to the Wolfpack in Raleigh over the weekend.

The Irish (8-10, 1-5 ACC) won their first conference game of the season with an 8-4, 12-inning thriller Saturday afternoon.

After trailing 4-0 through four innings, the Irish bats exploded by scoring eight runs on 16 hits over the remaining eight innings. They cut the four-run deficit in half before the start of the ninth inning, but juniors second baseman Cavan Biggio and outfielder Torii Hunter, Jr., each crossed the plate on hits by sophomore utility player Jake Shepski and senior shortstop Lane Richards, respectively, to extend the game into extra frames.

The Wolfpack (16-6, 3-3 ACC) and the Irish traded scoreless extra-inning frames until Notre Dame broke through with four runs in the top of the 12th, including a bases-clearing single off the bat of senior first baseman Zak Kutsulis.

Irish senior first baseman Zak Kutsulis swings at a pitch during Notre Dame's 4-2 loss in 14 innings to NC State on April 18 at Frank Eck Stadium. Kutsulis had four hits and two RBIs in the win on Saturday.Michael Yu | The Observer
Irish senior first baseman Zak Kutsulis swings at a pitch during Notre Dame’s 4-2 loss in 14 innings to NC State on April 18 at Frank Eck Stadium. Kutsulis had four hits and two RBIs in the win on Saturday.

Irish head coach Mik Aoki said he was proud of the way his team fought back from a deficit against a pitcher who has had its number in the past.

“I thought that was a really good effort by our guys,” Aoki said. “It would have been easy to sort of pack up our bags and go on home being down four runs to a kid who’s had as much success as (sophomore lefty) Brian Brown has had in this league. … He handled us pretty well in the tournament last year, so to come back, chip away at him and to get through some quality arms in their bullpen — I thought that was really good.”

Friday’s and Sunday’s games saw offensive explosions from N.C. State, however, as the Wolfpack picked up 9-1 and 16-6 victories for the series win.

The “big inning” plagued Notre Dame throughout the weekend, even in Saturday’s win. A five-run seventh inning Friday, a four-run fourth Saturday, and both a five-run and six-run inning Sunday gave the Wolfpack 20 of their 29 runs scored in the series.

“I think it’s what happens when you play a really good hitting team like N.C. State,” Aoki said of surrendering runs in spurts over the weekend. “When you give away as many free [walks] as we did. Whether it was walks, whether it was finding ourselves in negative counts, we just pitched it really poorly unfortunately today.”

The five-run seventh was the highlight of Friday night’s game, but junior right-handed pitcher Ryan Smoyer kept the Irish in the game by surrendering just two runs on three hits through 4 1/3 innings. N.C. State did, however, force Notre Dame to use seven pitchers on the night, with the loss going to Smoyer. The Irish scored their only run of the game with two outs in the ninth inning when senior utility player James Nevant came into the game as a pinch hitter and smashed his first career home run to spoil a complete game shutout for Wolfpack junior right-hander Joe O’Donnell.

Then, on Sunday, what looked to be a second consecutive conference win for the Irish early in the contest turned into an overwhelming victory for NC State. The Irish took a 5-0 lead into the bottom of the third before the Wolfpack plated 16 runs through the next five innings. Highlights for Notre Dame included a two-hit day for Kutsulis and two RBIs for freshman third baseman Cole Daily. Sophomore right-handed pitcher Peter Solomon picked up the loss for Notre Dame as he gave up three hits and three runs, including the go-ahead run in the fifth inning. Because NC State was up by 10 runs through eight innings, the ninth was not played.

Notre Dame returns to action Tuesday when it welcomes the University of Illinois-Chicago to campus.

“They’re a solid team,” Aoki said of the Flames (9-10, 2-1 Horizon). “They compete really hard. Offensively they have some kids who swing the bat really well, and so we need to play well. But that’s kind of the goal every day, right? It doesn’t really matter who the opponent is. We try to play as well as we can. Certainly after today, we want to get right back out there, get ourselves going again and try get some consistency built where we’re playing at a really high level day in and day out.”

First pitch between the Irish and the Flames is set for 6:05 p.m. Tuesday night at Frank Eck Stadium.

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