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Notre Dame looks to extend winning streak on the road against Michigan State

| Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Notre Dame has now won five consecutive games after a home sweep of Boston College over the weekend, and it will look to extend that winning streak in a midweek game at Michigan State when it travels to East Lansing on Tuesday.

The Irish (21-12, 9-7 ACC), coming off a weekend of domination over the Eagles in which they used a combination of quality pitching and an outburst of offense, will look to build on both facets against the Spartans (25-7, 7-2 Big Ten) in their first game away from Frank Eck Stadium since March 26.

During their 11-game homestand, which they started March 31, the Irish dropped just two games. Notre Dame’s current five-game win streak was kept alive with a late comeback against Boston College on Sunday to erase a five-run deficit. Senior left fielder Ricky Sanchez went 4-5 at the dish while plating three runs and scoring a pair himself.

Irish senior left fielder Ricky Sanchez rounds second base during Notre Dame’s 4-1 win over Boston College on Friday at Frank Eck Stadium. Sanchez leads Notre Dame with a .344 batting average.Chris Collins | The Observer
Irish senior left fielder Ricky Sanchez rounds second base during Notre Dame’s 4-1 win over Boston College on Friday at Frank Eck Stadium. Sanchez leads Notre Dame with a .344 batting average.

Irish freshman outfielder Matt Vierling, who hit a two-run home run Saturday in their 4-1 win over the Eagles, spoke after the game about why the team has had such a high level of success recently.

“[Irish head] coach [Mik] Aoki’s been talking about this a lot, where we’re walking this fine line between playing loose and staying in the game – staying focused,” Vierling said. “It’s like a perfect balance of, we’re having a really good time, a lot of fun, but at the same time, we’re getting timely hitting, pitching it really well, playing good defense and everybody is on board with the plan. So it’s really fun. It’s really, really good to be around.”

Now, Vierling and the Irish will look to stay hot against a high-powered Spartan offense that has five regulars in its lineup batting over .300.

Michigan State is led at the plate by junior first baseman Jordan Zimmerman, whose .427 batting average, 34 runs, five home runs, 13 doubles, 21 walks and .653 slugging percentage are all tops for the Spartans this season.

Redshirt junior left-hander Cam Vieaux and redshirt sophomore right-hander Dakota Mekkes pace Michigan State on the mound with strong ERAs of 1.18 and 1.36, respectively.

Notre Dame will counter with senior left-hander Michael Hearne, who leads the team with a record of 4-0 and a 2.72 ERA. After shutting down Valparaiso with a complete-game, one-run effort last Wednesday, Hearne will look to repeat that performance against Michigan State’s potent lineup.

One of Notre Dame’s many long-time rivals in baseball, the Spartans and the Irish have met 133 times previously, with Michigan State holding a 79-54 lead in a series stretching back to 1907.

Last year’s thriller between the two teams at Frank Eck Stadium needed 12 innings, with the Spartans coming away with a 9-6 victory. In that game, the Irish put up four runs in the first inning, with current junior second baseman Cavan Biggio crossing the plate twice for Notre Dame.

The newest entry into the rivalry will get under way at 3:05 p.m. at McLane Baseball Stadium on Tuesday in East Lansing before the Irish return home for another midweek game against Central Michigan on Wednesday.

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