Notre Dame rebounds with back-to-back non-conference wins
Zach Klonsinski | Thursday, April 20, 2017
Notre Dame downed Central Michigan and Illinois State in midweek non-conference action to rebound after being swept by No. 18 Wake Forest over the Easter weekend.
The Irish (17-20, 7-11 ACC) jumped all over the Chippewas (19-17, 8-1 MAC) on Tuesday at Comerica Park in Detroit, scoring the game’s first eight runs en route to an 8-3 victory.
It was offense-by-committee for the Irish at the plate — six players combined to knock in the eight Notre Dame runs. Senior third baseman Kyle Fiala and junior left fielder Jake Johnson had a pair of RBIs each as the Irish scored five runs in the third and tacked on another three in the fourth to jump to the big lead.
Junior right-hander Charlie Vorsheck and freshman righty Patrick McDonald combined for eight innings of four-hit ball.
“That was what we think of when we think of Charlie at his best,” Irish head coach Mik Aoki said. “Commanding the fastball to both sides of the plate and getting the breaking ball over. It’s enough of a difference to keep hitters off of the fastball a little bit.
“And Patrick did a good job with his fastball, and his breaking ball is a little more dynamic than Charlie’s, but those two guys did a really good job.”
Notre Dame then survived a challenge from Illinois State (10-25, 0-6 MVC) on Wednesday at Frank Eck Stadium, hanging on for a 7-6 win.
After spotting the Redbirds three runs in the top of the first, Irish senior catcher Ryan Lidge tied the game with one swing, turning on a 3-1 pitch that barely nicked the right-field foul pole — his first home run of the season.
“Honestly I didn’t hit it completely on the barrel, but I hit it well enough with just the right trajectory,” Lidge said. “It’s nice to get that first one. I was pumped about it because I knew it was a good answer to their first inning.”
Freshman designated hitter Nick Neville led off the second with a triple and scored on a sac fly by sophomore second baseman Nick Podkul, then sophomore center fielder Matt Vierling found the game for his own three-bagger with one out in the third. Lidge followed with a double to notch his fourth RBI on the day.
Irish starter Ryan Smoyer calmed down after giving up three runs in the top of the first inning. The senior righty allowed four earned runs off six hits over five innings of work to move to 2-2 on the season. Aoki said it was an important outing for Smoyer, who entered the contest with an ERA of 13.00 in just nine innings of work.
“He’s made some progress,” Aoki said. “Tonight was pretty good. That was as good as we’ve seen Ryan in a while. I know that he gives up the three runs in the first inning, but he was in the strike zone. That has been an Achilles heel for him in the past.”
The Redbirds closed within one in the sixth inning, but junior lefty Sean Guenther struck out five of the six batters he faced to earn the two-inning save, his fourth of the season.
“Not only is he a strike thrower, but he really commands it.” Aoki said of Guenther. “He can move that fastball in and out. He’s been able to add a slider that, when he throws it right, is a swing-and-miss pitch, and he hasn’t really had that in the past.
“He’s exactly what we need at the back end.”
The midweek wins were a big turnaround for the Irish after they were swept by the Demon Deacons (28-11, 12-6 ACC) in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Notre Dame dropped a tight 4-3 contest Friday before falling 13-7 and 5-1 on Saturday and Sunday.
“We had our opportunities [on Friday and Saturday],” Aoki said. “[Friday night] one more swing of the bat, and we could have won that one.
“And then honestly, I felt very much the same way about Game 2. It got away from us late. … In spite of the sweep, I felt we played really good baseball.”
Notre Dame hits the road again this weekend for ACC action in a Friday-Sunday series against No. 19 Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Cavaliers (31-9, 10-8) swept the Irish in the regular season in 2015, but Notre Dame bounced back to down Virginia during that season’s ACC championships.
“It’s an atmosphere our kids haven’t been to before, and it’s a good one,” Aoki said. “They love their baseball. They’re avid about their Hoos.
“They’re a little more offensively oriented than they have been in years past … but I like our matchups. I like our pitching, I like the way we’ve played.”