Irish set for ACC rival Seminoles
Zach Klonsinski | Friday, April 22, 2016
Notre Dame rides a seven-game winning streak south this weekend, into an important ACC road series against No. 9 Florida State.
The Irish (23-12, 9-7 ACC) are coming off one of their largest home stretches of the year, which enabled them to gather momentum heading into the second half of the regular season. Of Notre Dame’s last 13 games, 12 have been played inside the friendly confines of Frank Eck Stadium. The Irish are 10-2 in those games, and they also won the lone road game of the stretch, defeating Michigan State, 1-0, in East Lansing, Michigan, on Tuesday afternoon.
During Wednesday night’s come-from-behind victory over visiting Central Michigan, Notre Dame struggled to keep the leadoff hitter off the bases. Eight of the nine Central Michigan leadoff batters reached base, and this led to the Irish being schooled in the art of small ball for most of the night as the Chippewas sacrifice bunted, stole bases and took advantage of wild pitches and passed balls throughout the game.
“I think our problem on our side was that we weren’t retiring the leadoff hitter,” Irish head coach Mik Aoki said following the game. “ … Give them a lot of credit. There were sometimes we weren’t in a negative count and they got a two-strike hit to score the kid from second or score the kid from third.”
Irish freshman outfielder Matt Vierling proved to be the hero against the Chippewas, hitting a game-tying home run in the bottom of the seventh and pitching scoreless eighth and nine innings before hitting the walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth, which also made him the winning pitcher of record. Vierling and sophomore utility player Jake Shepski both occasionally take to the mound, but Aoki said he generally avoids bringing them in until the later innings.
“It kind of makes a mess of our lineup when Shepski and Vierling come into it,” Aoki said. “Sunday against [Boston College] was kind of an example of that. Had that game gone any longer, [sophomore right hander Brad Bass] was in our four-hole [in the lineup] or something like that. It kind of makes a mess of our lineup so you want to hold those guys out until the end.”
Against the Seminoles (25-11, 10-4), Notre Dame will go with sophomore right hander Peter Solomon on the mound in the series opener Friday afternoon and then send Sean Guenther, another sophomore, out to start game two on Saturday. The series’ Sunday finale starter has yet to be determined.
The Seminoles swept Stetson in a midweek home-and-home series Tuesday and Wednesday but dropped last weekend’s series on the road against Wake Forest, 2-1. Notre Dame took the series from the Demon Deacons by an identical score at the beginning of April.
Florida State boasts a top-20 offense nationally in terms of run production, as the Seminoles are tied for 18th in the country at 7.9 runs per game, including six games in the month of April where they have scored eight or more runs. In four of those games, the Seminoles reached double digits, culminating in 12 and 16 run performances on then-No. 4 Louisville two weekends ago.
Senior third baseman John Sansone powers the dangerous Florida State offense, leading the team in batting average (.386), slugging percentage (.593), hits (56), RBIs (46), total bases (86) and doubles (tied for first on the team and 18th nationally with 15) while placing second on the team in on-base percentage and runs scored.
The Seminoles have been exposed on the mound at times this season but, overall, find themselves one of the better teams in the country, posting a team ERA of just 3.48 and a WHIP of 1.30, both in the top 50 nationwide.
The twin duo of junior Jim and redshirt sophomore Ed Voyles — both right handers who stand 6-foot-7 and just over 200 pounds — highlight the Florida State pitching staff, along with freshman right-hander Chase Haney. Jim Voyles sports a spotless 5-0 record and leads the team with just a 1.02 ERA over 35.1 innings of work, while his brother ranks third among Seminole pitchers with more than 29 innings and a 3.10 ERA. Haney has been very good in his freshman campaign, as well, posting a 1.66 ERA of his own.
Interestingly, the trio has combined for just two starts this season — both belonging to Ed Voyles — meaning the Irish may have trouble scoring in the later innings when the trio usually does their work.
Friday and Saturday’s matchups are slated to begin at 6 p.m. while Sunday’s series finale is on the docket for 1 p.m. at Dick Howser Stadium in Tallahassee, Florida.