Notre Dame snaps losing streak with two wins in North Carolina
Joe Everett | Wednesday, March 8, 2017
Notre Dame added two more wins to that column at the USA Baseball-Irish Classic — its final in-season tournament — in Cary, North Carolina, over the weekend.
Hosting the tournament at the USA Baseball National Training Complex, the Irish (3-8) dropped their first two games before recovering to take the next two over Rhode Island and Monmouth.
Notre Dame kicked off the tournament Friday by dropping a close decision to Maryland, 4-3. Junior right-hander Brandon Bielak took the no-decision after throwing six innings of one-run ball. Bielak was locked in a pitcher’s duel with Maryland’s Brian Shaffer, a junior right-handed pitcher, who held Notre Dame’s offense in check until the seventh inning. Facing a 2-0 deficit to the Terrapins (5-5) in the frame, the Irish pushed three runs across the plate thanks in large part to a dropped-ball error by Terrapins sophomore right fielder Marty Costes. However, the Terrapins struck back with a two-run ninth inning to regain the lead, and the Irish were unable to respond in the bottom half of the frame. Irish head coach Mik Aoki said another close loss was a difficult way to start the tournament.
“I thought we played okay, but that loss was a tough one,” Aoki said. “We made a comeback and unfortunately lost it, but you’re going to get that sometimes — that’s baseball.”
Early Saturday action saw the Notre Dame bats go lifeless against UMass Lowell in an 8-0 loss, as River Hawks sophomore pitcher Collin Duffley tossed seven innings of three-hit ball to go along with eight strikeouts. Irish junior right-hander Peter Solomon had a solid outing, striking out eight himself. He was hurt, however, by an early two-run home run by UMass Lowell first baseman Steve Passatempo. The River Hawks (4-6) took control of the game from there.
The Notre Dame bats came alive Saturday night, however, as the Irish snapped their six-game losing streak by defeating Rhode Island, 8-4. Matt Vierling sparked the Irish, as the sophomore outfielder singled and scored in both the second and fourth innings to give the Irish a 2-0 lead. He then broke the game open in the bottom of the fifth by hitting a grand slam over the left-center field wall to make it 6-0. Although the Rams (5-6) threatened to steal another win from the Irish with a four-run sixth inning, Irish junior southpaw Sean Guenther steered the Irish away from trouble with 3 1/3 innings in relief, and Vierling, also a right-handed pitcher, moved to the mound to get the final out and earn the save.
Notre Dame closed out the USA Baseball-Irish Classic on Sunday when it took on Monmouth. The Irish got key contributions from junior right-handed pitcher Brad Bass and freshman first baseman Daniel Jung to take down the Hawks (1-8), 4-0. Bass struck out nine over seven shutout innings, while Jung drilled a pair of solo home runs to provide all the offense the Irish needed. Vierling also drove in two runs in the victory.
With consecutive wins under its belt, Notre Dame now prepares for ACC play. The Irish will travel to Clemson this weekend for a three-game series, to Davidson for one game next Tuesday and then will wrap up their road trip with a three-game series at Pittsburgh. Aoki said he believes his team is improving and will continue to do so.
“We certainly have a lot of things to improve on, but I certainly believe we’re capable of competing at a high level [on this road trip],” Aoki said. “We’re trending in the right direction.”
The Irish will take on the Tigers in Clemson, South Carolina, starting on Friday, with the series’ first pitch scheduled for 6:30 p.m.