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Notre Dame drops home opener to Northern Illinois

| Wednesday, March 21, 2018

After waiting for over a month to play their home opener, Notre Dame left Frank Eck Stadium disappointed Tuesday night, losing to Northern Illinois by a score of 5-3. With the loss, the Irish have now lost three straight and eight of their last ten games.

For both teams, the game started off relatively quiet at the plate — both starting pitchers came ready early on. For Notre Dame (8-11, 2-4 ACC), sophomore right-hander Zack Martin was firing in the first few innings, getting through the first four frames with just one hit allowed and no runs scored. At the plate, the Irish stranded a pair of runners in scoring position on base in the second inning, but they made good on their opportunity in the third when a wild pitch allowed freshman third baseman Jared Miller to score and give the Irish the early lead.

In the fifth inning, however, Martin finally cracked, as he gave up a walk and single to start the inning. The Huskies (5-14, 0-0 MAC) capitalized, bunting over the runners before an RBI single and a sacrifice fly knocked both of those runners in and gave them a 2-1 lead over the Irish. Notre Dame responded in the bottom of the frame. Senior left fielder Jake Johnson got on base with a single and came around to score on a double by junior shortstop Cole Daily, as NIU committed an error and allowed Johnson to come all the way home from first to tie things up, 2-2.

In the sixth inning, the Irish were not as fortunate. Sophomore right-hander Andrew Belcik came in to relieve Martin, making his team-high 11th appearance for Irish on the mound. And the Huskies got to him quickly, getting three straight singles to left field and reclaiming the lead. With two outs, Belcik gave up a two-run double, and the Irish found themselves down 5-2. Afterwards, Irish head coach Mik Aoki said Belcik struggled with location during the inning.

“Belcik gave up the three that he gave up,” Aoki said. “He wasn’t very good. I thought that he was in the middle of the zone, the slider wasn’t as good as it had been earlier on and he just had an off night.”

The rest of the way out, both sides saw the bats go quiet, as the only run put up after the sixth was thanks to a dropped fly ball in right field by Northern Illinois that allowed senior designated hitter Alex Kerschner to score in the eighth inning. On the night, the Irish did not score an earned run.

If there was a bright spot for the Irish, it would be their relief pitching after the sixth. Sophomore right-hander Anthony Holubecki came in to throw 2 2/3 hitless innings, and he was followed by Tommy Vail and Cole Kmet, who closed things out in the ninth inning. Aoki said he was happy with the strong performances out of his late relievers.

“I thought Holubecki was pretty good. I thought he and [Martin] threw the ball well,” he said. “And then Tommy and Cole at the end. Cole got the guy we brought him in for; and Tommy gave up a free 90, but he bounced right back.”

Following the loss, Notre Dame now gets a chance for redemption at home when it takes on Wake Forest for three home games this weekend, with the first game being played Friday at 6:05 p.m.

Aoki said he knows he’ll need more out of his team if they are to succeed going forward.

“We’ll need better effort than tonight,” Aoki said after the game. “I think that was the worst we’ve been by a long shot offensively, and it was [throughout the lineup] we were terrible, and so we’ve got to get better there. Defensively, we were fine tonight and four of our five pitches threw fine, so we’ve just got to get back to who we’ve been to this point in the season offensively.”

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