Irish struggles continue after dropping last two in series with Clemson
After a weather delay postponed the start of the series on Friday, Notre Dame and No. 6 Clemson kicked things off for the weekend on Saturday afternoon, and the Irish wasted no time getting themselves on the board.
After a lead-off walk by junior shortstop Cole Daily, senior center fielder Jake Johnson belted a shot over the wall in right field, giving Notre Dame (13-18, 5-10 ACC) the 2-0 lead. Daily continued to contribute, extending the Irish lead to 3-1 with a double in the fourth that knocked in freshman first baseman Niko Kavadas.
Meanwhile, senior pitcher Scott Tully started strong on the mound, keeping Clemson’s opportunities limited as the Tigers scored just one run over the first three innings on a sacrifice fly. Tully made it through six innings of work, giving up just two earned runs as the Tigers (25-7, 10-5 ACC) added a solo shot in the fifth inning.
Although Clemson did load the bases in the seventh and eight, the Irish bullpen, along with an RBI double by junior second baseman Nick Podkul and a solo homer by sophomore first baseman Daniel Jung, helped provide some insurance to the Irish lead. After the 5-2 win head coach Mik Aoki noted how important it was for his team to win a close game like this against a high quality opponent such as Clemson.
“I felt really good about it, the eighth and ninth innings got a little tight … we wiggled off the hook a couple of times there,” Aoki said. “I hope that this was the start of maybe the maturation of this team where we end up making the pitch we need to at that point because at times we haven’t done that this year.”
The tide shifted for the Tigers in the second game of the series as they put on a show offensively, beginning in the third inning, when junior second baseman Jordan Greene and freshman center fielder Kier Meredith went long back-to-back.
Greene sent the ball to left field, over the head of senior left fielder Alex Kerschner, as his blast barely cleared the fence, giving the Tigers the 1-0 lead. However, the damage continued when Meredith followed immediately with a bomb down the right field that well cleared the hedges at Frank Eck Stadium.
The Tigers continued to increase their lead in the next inning, as freshman southpaw Tommy Sheehan walked two batters on eight pitches. His fourth wild pitch of the year then advanced the two runners to second and third. Greene lined into the hole between first and second, driving home redshirt junior third baseman Grayson Bryd and sophomore catcher Kyle Wilkie, putting the Irish into a four-run hole.
The inning ultimately came to an end in dramatic fashion with an official replay to review a double play. Daily seemingly tagging Meredith, who was caught in a rundown between first and second, and threw home to tag Green out at the plate. However, upon further review, it was determined that Daily had not, in fact, tagged Meredith and he was called safe at second. However, a quick ground out from sophomore shortstop Logan Davidson ended the inning.
The next inning was more of the same for the Tigers. Sheehan hit another batter — Clemson star junior right fielder Seth Beer. He was brought home on a line drive by senior left fielder Drew Wharton, as the throw from junior right fielder Eric Gilgenbach was not in time and Wharton advanced to second base, putting Clemson up 5-0.
The Tigers increased their lead once again in the top of the sixth inning, going long again, as Wilkie hit one out of the park for his first career home run.
The Irish were finally able to generate some offense in the bottom of the seventh, getting on the scoreboard as Gilgenbach recorded Notre Dame’s first extra-base hit of the day with a double to left field. Freshman designated hitter David LaManna advanced Gilgenbach to the corner and sophomore catcher Bryce Gray drove him home with a line drive double to the left field corner.
The Irish were able to stage a bit more of a comeback in the game’s final frame, as Gilgenbach hit another double to lead off. With two outs, Daily showed off his wheels, racing to first for an infield hit to put runners at the corners and Johnson hit a looper to short center field, driving in Gilgenbach, to go 4-for-5 on the morning. Podkul followed it up with an RBI double of the left field wall, driving in Daily, but junior third baseman Matt Vierling popped out to center field to end the game.
In the second game of the doubleheader, the Tigers struck early, as sophomore right hander Cameron Junker walked Davidson with two outs. The home plate umpire then called a balk on Junker, moving Davidson over to second. Senior catcher first baseman Chris Williams proceeded to hit a line drive to left to plate Davidson and give Clemson the lead.
But Junker quickly regained control, retiring eight batters in a row and setting a new career high in strikeouts, with seven through 3 2/3 innings.
However, that control was lost as quickly as it was found, as a series of singles and an error put the Tigers in prime position to blow the game wide open. Senior third baseman Patrick Cromwell led off the fifth inning by dropping a single into right field. Greene sizzled a line drive just out of the reach of Vierling, rolling into left field, but Cromwell was forced to hang up at second.
Meredith continued his solid weekend with a single to right field, and Cromwell was sent home, beating out Gilgenbach’s throw. With Beer at the plate, Meredith attempted to steal second base and LaManna’s throw was errant, rolling into center field, as Greene scored on the error.
Junker was pulled and sophomore right hander Andrew Belcik came in to replace him.
“I feel like we just have to stay a little patient, because you look at guys like Belcik, you look at Holubecki, you look at guys that are coming out of the bullpen, or even starting for us, with the exception of Tully, and whether they’re sophomore or actual freshmen, the experiential part is that they’re still kind of freshmen,” Aoki said of the young bullpen.
Notre Dame was able to begin cutting into the Clemson lead in the sixth inning. Podkul led off with a single and Vierling followed up with a double deep to center, advancing Podkul to third, causing the Tigers to make a change on the mound, bringing in freshman right hander Travis Marr.
Kerschner hit a hard grounder that ricocheted off the glove of Marr and bounced over to the second baseman, giving Podkul enough time to get home safely. Gilgenbach followed it up with a long sacrifice fly to center field, bringing Vierling home.
But the Tigers were not finished offensively as Irish sophomore southpaw Cameron Brown came in in relief and immediately gave up three-straight hits: a double to Beer, a single to Davidson on a bunt and a single to Williams, plating Beer and snapping the Irish bullpen’s streak of 12-straight scoreless innings. Pinch hitter freshman Matt Cooper grounded into a double play, but brought Davidson home in the process, giving the Tigers the 5-2 win and the sweep of the doubleheader.
“We’re playing at a really high level, for the most part and we’ve been victimized by a couple of miscues that we have here and there,” Aoki said. “Today, we get two strikes on Beer, we leave a ball sort of up, he hooks it down the line for the double, … just little moments like that and they got their runs with hits, we got our runs with ours. And they were good at-bats. [Kerschner] gets to two strikes and battles and pushes that thing across, I thought [Gilgenbach] hit that ball right on the screws and so there’s a certain component of it that’s just bad luck, so to speak.”
Overall, Aoki feels his team’s morale has remained intact despite the rough patch it is going through, although there is a definite element of frustration for the squad.
“I think they’d be crazy if they weren’t a little bit discouraged with it, but it’s also, I think they can really see how close they are,” he said. “You go down to that Duke thing and 24 out of the 27 innings that we play, we’re playing really, really well. And this one here is sort of the same type of deal. We played pretty darn well. I would say Clemson just made the plays that they needed to make or the pitch that they needed to make, but I think they can see it, I think the frustration component is the fact that they’re not breaking through and doing that.”
Notre Dame will head to Michigan State to take on the Spartans on Tuesday at 3 p.m.