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Baseball

Irish wins series against Demon Deacons at home

and | Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Irish went 2-1 in their series against Wake Forest over the weekend, winning the first two contests and dropping the last.

On Friday, Notre Dame (10-12, 4-5 ACC) jumped out all over the Demon Deacons (11-13, 5-4 ACC) in the series opener for a 5-2 win. Junior outfielder Matt Vierling hit a triple to score two before sophomore first baseman Daniel Jung’s double drove Vierling in for a third run in the bottom of the first. Meanwhile, Wake Forest managed to cut into the lead with a run in the second, but Irish starting pitcher Scott Tully limited the damage. The graduate student left-hander had a quality outing, tossing 6 2/3 innings of three-hit ball with three strikeouts and only giving up one run to preserve the lead.

In the seventh, Notre Dame added insurance with an RBI-single from junior second baseman Nick Podkul, who went 4-for-4 on the day. The Irish added another in the eighth thanks to a sacrifice fly from junior right fielder Eric Gilgenbach, and sophomore right-hander Andrew Belcik and freshman left-hander Cole Kmet saw out the remainder of the game on the mound for the Irish, giving up one run over 2 1/3 innings of work.

Wake Forest came out of the gates Saturday looking for revenge, as the Demon Deacons scored an early run in the first before adding another three in the fourth, thanks in large part to a two-run home run from freshman designated hitter Shane Muntz to go up 4-0.

Notre Dame started to chip away in the fifth with two runs and the sixth with one more run, but it also stranded the bases loaded in both innings. The Deacons added another two runs in the eighth to stretch the lead to 6-3, and in the bottom of the frame the Irish seemed done and dusted when sophomore catcher Bryce Gray grounded to short with two outs. But Wake Forest’s sophomore shortstop Patrick Frick bumbled the ball, and Gray reached safely. After back-to-back walks to load the bases, Irish senior left fielder Jake Johnson belted a triple into the right field gap to clear the bases and tie the game.

Freshman southpaw Tommy Vail was sparkling in relief over 2 2/3 innings for Notre Dame, and in the 10th inning, Jung drew a bases-loaded walk to seal the comeback win and the series for Notre Dame.

The Irish just didn’t seem to have it Sunday, however. After defeating the Demon Deacons in the first two games of the series, Notre Dame lost 9-3 in a grueling game which spanned almost four hours.

Sophomore right-hander Cameron Junker started on the bump for the Irish in Sunday’s contest. Right off the bat, Wake Forest got its offense going, as sophomore right fielder Nick DiPonzio and junior second baseman Jake Mueller hit consecutive singles. With two men on, Bobby Seymour doubled down the right field line, knocking in both runners and giving the Deacons an early 2-0 lead.

Notre Dame failed to get on the board in its first chance on the plate. Junior shortstop Cole Daily managed to hit a solid double down the left field line, but due to a mixup between the official lineup card and the lineup card given to the home plate umpire by Irish head coach Mik Aoki, Daily was called out for batting out of order.

Wake Forest went on to continue its scoring in the second inning, as freshman left fielder Michael Ludowig and junior catcher Logan Harvey both singled and freshman center fielder DJ Poteet moved both runners over into scoring position in with a sacrifice bunt. Ludowig and Harvey would then go on to score after Junker surrendered three walks to hand the Demon Deacons a 4-0 lead. Wake Forest put two more runs on the board in the fourth inning, when junior third baseman Johnny Aiello hit an RBI double, after which the Irish brought in sophomore right-hander Jack Sheehan to pitch, and Muntz hit into a fielder’s choice to knock Aiello in after the switch.

Notre Dame managed to put a run on the board in the bottom of the fourth inning, when freshman outfielder Niko Kavadas hit a double to score Gilgenbach, cutting the Wake Forest lead to five. The Demon Deacons went on to score single runs in the sixth, eight and ninth innings, while the Irish only managed to get two more runs on the board in the bottom of the last inning. The Irish brought in two pitchers to bridge the gap between Sheehan and Kmet, a member of both the baseball and football teams, who finished the eighth inning for the Irish.

After the game, Kmet commented on his decision to be a two-sport athlete at Notre Dame.

“Well, it’s always been a dream of mine, and I’ve never wanted to quit one or the other. So, this seemed like the best place for it, seeing the guys who have done it in the past,” he said. “ … [Irish head football coach Brian Kelly] was talking about it when I was getting recruited, and then the coaches here I was able to get in contact with, and it just ended up working out that way.”

The freshman said it can be tough to transition to a more elevated level of pitching in college baseball, but he feels confident in his development.

“It’s tough for me now — I mean college pitching is definitely a lot more elevated than [high school pitching], so it’s taken me a little bit of time to get used to that and stuff,” Kmet said. “I think my arm has been translated well so far, and that’ll just continue to work as I develop as a baseball player here.”

Aoki said he was pleased with Kmet’s performance and lauded his toughness on the hill.

“Mentally, he’s mature out on the mound,” Aoki said. “Things don’t bother him all that much. Running out of a tunnel to 81,000 people probably trains that a little bit. But also I think he’s just a kid, he kind of plays. [Pat] Connaughton was kind of the same way. [Jeff] Samardzija I faced from the other side, you know from a different dugout, but those guys — they just come in and they compete and they play.”

Finishing the series with two wins and a loss, Aoki said he was pleased with his team’s offensive performance in the series and feels confident in his squad moving forward.

“I thought we did a good job swinging the bat,” Aoki said Sunday. “We, the head coaches, made a ridiculous mistake on the lineup thing to start the deal, and I think that that kind of put us in a funk for a couple of [innings]. But credit to our kids, they overcame their coaching. You know, they competed a little bit today. I mean, we gave up 17 hits — I think like 10 of them were of the seeing-eye ground ball variety. I think today was just kind of a bad luck day. But I thought we played pretty well. I thought we showed a bit of resilience and toughness, and I think we put ourselves in a pretty good place going forward for the remainder of the year.”

The Irish will go on to play a two-game series against Kent State on Tuesday and Wednesday this week. Aoki said the focus heading into the series is simply to play well.

“Play well. Play well is what we try to do,” Aoki said. “You obviously want to win the games, but sometimes it ultimately doesn’t come down that way. I think the idea is week in, week out to just try to be the best version of Notre Dame that we can.”

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Toby is a junior PLS/Economics double major from Smithtown, New York.

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