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Notre Dame starts strong, but falls in Kissimmee championship

| Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Coming off a narrow loss in the title game of the Alamo Irish Classic, the Irish headed to Florida to host the Kissimmee Irish Classic, where they took on Youngstown State, Seton Hall and Seattle, going 2-for-3 on the weekend.

Notre Dame (6-4) opened the weekend with a win over the Penguins (1-8), as junior shortstop Cole Daily led the Irish to victory, going 4-for-5 and stopping just a home run shy of hitting for the cycle.

Notre Dame opened up scoring in the bottom of the first when Daily recorded his first hit of the day, singling up the middle and advancing to third on a fielding error. It was junior third baseman Matt Vierling who plated the shortstop, however, singling to left field for the early lead.

It was the bottoms of the third and fourth innings that truly separated the Irish and the Penguins. Daily recorded the first hit of the third for Notre Dame, crushing a triple down the right-field line. Senior left fielder Jake Johnson brought Daily home with a single to right field. A double from junior second baseman Nick Podkul followed, advancing Johnson to third, and Vierling followed it up with another single, bringing home Johnson and Podkul to put the Irish up 4-0.

Michelle Mehelas | The Observer
Irish senior left fielder Jake Johnson takes a swing during Notre Dame’s 5-4 win over Duke on April 28 at Eck Stadium. Johnson is batting .348 this season with 7 RBIs.

The fourth was even bigger for Notre Dame, as it tallied four more runs in the midst of a Youngstown State shutout. The Irish batted around in the inning, as junior right fielder Eric Gilgenbach led off with a single to center and was eventually plated by Daily’s third hit of the day — a single. Sophomore first baseman Daniel Jung came home on a passed ball and Podkul smashed a ball to right center, good for a triple and two RBIs as Daily and freshman catcher David LaManna scored. A pop fly from Gilgenbach ended the inning, making the score 8-0 — which would be the game’s final score — at the end of the fourth.

Irish head coach Mik Aoki said while he was impressed with Daily’s performance, he was not surprised, as the junior has had notable success throughout the season so far — recording a batting average of 0.381 this year.

“Cole played really well. He’s be playing well all season long,” Aoki said. “Although he certainly has not been 4-for-5 or whatever he was in every game that he’s played, he’s been really good defensively, he’s been really good at the plate, he’s been really, really good. He got some good pitches to hit and did a nice job for us.”

Although Aoki’s pitchers only gave up three hits to the Penguins, he feels there is still room for improvement.

“I think [graduate student southpaw] Scott Tully managed the game OK. I wouldn’t have considered him to be like super sharp, but he managed the game pretty well and kind of worked himself a little bit in and out of trouble,” Aoki said. “I think [sophomore right hander] Anthony Holubecki did well and I would’ve liked to have seen him finish the game, but his pitch count got to a point where he hasn’t really been in a while, so we just needed to get him out when we did, but I thought he threw the ball extremely well. And between [junior right hander] Shane [Combs] and [freshman leftie] Brandon [Knarr], we were able to sort of finish it up and our guys did a pretty good job there.”

The next day, the Irish faced off against Seton Hall (4-5), getting down early as the Pirates jumped out to a 4-0 lead by the top of the second inning. Freshman pitcher Cole Kmet came in to relieve starter freshman Tommy Sheehan in the midst of some trouble in the second and managed to escape, but also gave up three runs.

The Irish began to punch back in the third, as LaManna bunted his way aboard and eventually worked his way around the bases to get Notre Dame on the board. The Irish added a run in the fourth and another in the fifth. The Pirates tallied two more runs in the sixth, making it a 6-3 game. The Irish turned the momentum in their favor the next inning, however, as a series of singles and some smart base running from Johnson brought home three more runs to tie the game. The squads traded runs in the eighth, keeping the game knotted at seven and the Pirates scored once more in the ninth, forcing Notre Dame to score to end the game. And that is just what it did, as the Pirates walked four batters, the last of which was a two-out, bases-loaded walk drawn by Gilgenbach, bringing in the go-ahead run and handing the Irish the win.

“I don’t think he’s pressing quite as much at the plate, trying to come outside of himself and do too much,” Aoki said of Gilgenbach. “In general, he’s been looking for better pitches to hit. I just think a lot of it comes with maturity. He’s still a work in progress, but he’s an extremely talented kid, a very hard worker and he’s doing a good job of developing into a good offensive player.”

The Irish went into Sunday with a perfect record for the weekend, but struggled with pitching as they gave up nine walks to Seattle (7-5) over the course of the game.

The Irish found themselves in another early hole, as the Redhawks plated three batters in the top of the first. Eventually, Notre Dame began to crawl back into the game, scoring runs in the third, fourth and fifth. The Irish kept it close until the seventh inning, in which they gave up two runs and failed to answer in the bottom of the frame. The Redhawks added another four in the eighth, and were able to keep the game just out of reach, despite a four-run bottom of the ninth from the Irish, who lost 11-7.

“I thought we came out a little flat,” Aoki said of the game. “Pitching was a bit of a struggle in terms of just being in the strike zone and whatnot, but I do think we fell behind early and kind of clawed our way back into it, then they were able to sort of separate from us a little bit. But our kids kept going up there offensively and having good at-bats, just being able to sort of control what we could on the offensive end of things. I thought our kids never packed it in and did a nice job.”

For their next outing, the Irish will head back to Florida to embark in ACC play, as they will play a three-game series at Miami, before playing two games against St. Joseph’s and then heading to Tallahassee to face off against No. 4 Florida State.

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About Elizabeth Greason

Elizabeth is a senior studying civil engineering from New York, NY (yes, the actual city). She is a proud resident assistant in McGlinn Hall and is a die-hard Mets and Giants fan. She is currently serving as assistant managing editor of The Observer and she also has an obsession with golf that is bordering on unhealthy.

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