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Notre Dame struggles in San Antonio over weekend

| Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Notre Dame got its 2017 season off on the wrong foot Friday and only barely recovered the rest of the weekend, dropping three of four games to start the year at the Alamo Irish Classic in San Antonio.

By the time the Irish (1-3) came to bat in the bottom of the first Friday against Lafayette, they already trailed thanks to an unearned run; Leopards sophomore third baseman Dan Leckie reached first despite striking out — the result of an error charged to freshman first baseman Connor Power —, advanced to second on a wild pitch and then scored on a two-run single. The Leopards (1-3) added three earned in the third inning, chasing Irish junior right-hander Brandon Bielak (0-1) from the game before tacking on another five for a 9-0 lead after the top of the sixth.

Notre Dame finally pushed a pair of runs across the plate in the bottom of the sixth, but Lafayette would answer with a final run in the seventh, securing a dominant 10-2 victory where Notre Dame had more errors (3) than hits (1) or runs (2). Irish pitchers surrendered 12 walks — plus a hit batsman — in the loss, while Lafayette senior right-hander Trevor Houck threw eight innings of one-hit ball, striking out seven against just one walk.

In their first game Saturday, things didn’t improve for the Irish: Senior right-hander Ryan Smoyer didn’t make it out of the first inning, issuing four walks and surrendering three earned runs in just two thirds of an inning, as Notre Dame trailed Saint Louis 3-0 before its bats got a chance to get going.

Senior shortstop Kyle Fiala tripled, then was driven in by sophomore center fielder Matt Vierling, to get Notre Dame a run in the bottom of the first, but the Billikens (4-0) would increase their lead to 5-1, then 7-2, with single runs in the second, third, fifth and sixth innings.

There was life in the Irish, though, who mounted a comeback effort in the bottom of the seventh, plating four runs to cut the deficit to 7-6. Senior catcher Ryan Lidge doubled, driving in sophomore third baseman Nick Podkul and sophomore designated hitter Eric Gilgenbach, to start the rally, before freshman right fielder Nick Neville and Vierling picked up RBIs to further close the gap.

The Billikens responded with a run in the top of the eighth, however, and allowed the Irish just one hit in the last two innings to close out the 8-6 victory.

Notre Dame picked up its sole win of the weekend over Incarnate Word later in the day Saturday, holding off a late Cardinals (2-2) charge to win 12-10.

Irish junior right-hander Peter Solomon (1-0) picked up the win, allowing just one run in six innings and striking out nine Cardinals. The top three hitters in Notre Dame’s order — junior left fielder Jake Johnson, Fiala and Vierling — each knocked in three RBIs in the win, as the Irish led 9-1 through six innings and 12-3 after seven.

Incarnate Word wasn’t done, though, plating three in the eighth and four in the ninth to nearly complete the improbable comeback. Irish junior southpaw Sean Guenther inherited runners on second and third, up 12-7, when he took the mound with no outs in the ninth. From there he did enough to see out the Irish victory — both inherited runners, as well as one that reached against Guenther, scored, but Cardinals freshman right fielder Nico Garza grounded out to third with two runners on to finish the game.

With the tournament championship already decided, Notre Dame and Saint Louis met again Sunday, and the result was the same: another Saint Louis win, this one by an 8-3 margin.

The Irish, playing as the road team, scored first this time when Neville plated a run on a single in the top of the second, but Saint Louis responded with eight runs in the third, fourth and fifth to take a commanding 8-3 advantage after five innings. There was to be no drastic comeback this time, though, as Notre Dame went hitless the rest of the way.

Head coach Mik Aoki’s club will be back in action this weekend, traveling to San Diego for the Tony Gwynn Classic.

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