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Notre Dame falls to Florida State in three-game series

| Monday, April 25, 2016

In its first series away from home in a month, Notre Dame dropped all three games to ACC Atlantic Division-leading Florida State.

The Irish (23-15, 9-10 ACC) took an early lead in each game of the weekend, but the No. 10 Seminoles (28-11, 13-4) stormed back in all three to sweep Notre Dame at Dick Howser Stadium in Tallahassee, Florida.

Coming into the weekend having won seven consecutive games and 15 of their previous 17, the Irish were looking to stay hot against a Seminole team with national championship aspirations.

Notre Dame started the series off strongly, plating a run in each of the first three innings of Friday night’s game. The pitching staff was unable to keep the Florida State offense down, however, as the Seminoles scored 12 total runs in the game, including five in the eighth inning to put it away late.

Irish junior starting pitcher Ryan Smoyer delivers a pitch  during Notre Dame’s 6-3 win over Chicago State on April 12.Kathleen Donahue | The Observer
Irish junior starting pitcher Ryan Smoyer delivers a pitch
during Notre Dame’s 6-3 win over Chicago State on April 12.

Saturday afternoon’s game also ended with a Florida State victory, but it was a much different story. The Irish used some late-inning heroics from sophomore left fielder Jake Shepski to extend the game. With his team down 6-4 with two outs in the top of the ninth, Shepski launched a home run over the right field fence to bring in junior catcher Ryan Lidge and tie up the game.

The Seminoles kept the Irish from scoring again, in the process stranding five total Notre Dame baserunners in the 11th and 12th innings, before winning in walk-off fashion in the bottom of the 12th inning.

Then on Sunday, Notre Dame put up a five-spot in the first inning off Seminoles freshman right-hander Cole Sands, though all five runs were unearned. The Irish batted around in an uncharacteristically-sloppy inning for Florida State that included five Notre Dame hits but three defensive errors.

The Irish and junior starter Ryan Smoyer ran into trouble in the fifth after breezing through the first four innings. Smoyer gave up five runs on three hits in the inning to tie the game, and the Seminoles took a 7-5 lead in the bottom of the sixth with two more runs off sophomore reliever Brad Bass.

Florida State sophomore shortstop Taylor Walls put the game out of reach with a seventh-inning grand slam off Bass, making the lead 11-5. Notre Dame tacked on an eighth-inning run to bring the game to its final score of 11-6.

“I think we competed fine,” Irish head coach Mik Aoki said. “We didn’t play great at times, but I think we competed fine. We didn’t pitch it great at times. There were stretches certainly where we did. I think everybody who went out there, in stretches, pitched quite well, but then unfortunately we also had the negative ones too where we just gave away too many free [bases] and created too much of their offense for them. That sort of is [Florida State’s] recipe for success. They create, getting those free 90s. They’re a patient hitting team, and those things certainly help a lot. Sadly, we contributed to it.”

Arguably the best performance of the weekend for Notre Dame belonged to sophomore relief pitcher Brandon Bielak on Saturday. After sophomore starter Sean Guenther worked six innings of six-run ball against the hot Seminole offense, Bielak tossed four shutout innings to give his team a chance to come back. He tied his career high in strikeouts with eight while dropping his ERA in relief appearances to 0.75 in 24 innings of work.

“[Bielak] was great,” Aoki said. “I thought he pitched remarkably well. I thought he did a great, great job. He’s pitched phenomenally well since coming out of the bullpen. He’s been really, really good.”

Notre Dame finds itself in fourth place in the Atlantic Division with just nine conference regular season games remaining, which means it would currently qualify for the 10-team ACC tournament field starting at the end of May. The Irish also need a strong finish to the season to hold off charges from hot teams like Wake Forest, who swept North Carolina this weekend, and Boston College, who took two of three from Louisville.

The Irish will look to get back on track Tuesday against Indiana at Victory Field in Indianapolis before returning to Frank Eck Stadium on Wednesday night for a midweek game against Eastern Michigan.

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