Notre Dame takes two of three against Virginia Tech for season’s second ACC series win
Notre Dame played host to Virginia Tech over the weekend, and the Irish were able to win two of three to claim their first ACC series win in nearly a month.
Freshman southpaw Cole Kmet made his first career start Friday against Virginia Tech with a significant portion of the Irish football team and its head coach, Brian Kelly, in the crowd to cheer on their tight end. Unfortunately for them, however, they were not in attendance to see Kmet’s first career win, as the Irish bats were unable to generate much run support and fell to the Hokies, 9-1.
Kmet got off to a strong start, holding the Hokies (17-23, 7-14 ACC) scoreless through two and sending them down in order in the second inning. However, beginning in the third inning, Notre Dame (17-23, 8-13) gave up one run apiece for three innings straight, all of which were charged to Kmet.
The bottoms of the innings were uneventful, as the Irish recorded their first hit of the night in the third inning on single from junior shortstop Cole Daily. After that hit, the Irish were able to load the bases, but all three men were left stranded. They made up three of the 10 men Notre Dame left on base over the course of the game.
Irish skipper Mik Aoki pulled Kmet after 4 2/3 innings of work. However, the bullpen — Aoki went through four more pitchers — went on to give up six runs over the remaining 4 1/3 innings.
“A little rocky. Not great,” Aoki said Friday of Kmet’s first start. “Part of me wonders if he’s starting to wear down a little bit physically. When he’s good, the baseball has some vertical kind of sink to it. He was a little bit more horizontal today.
“So he wasn’t great, but I guess I felt like the fifth inning when he comes out, [3-0], it was certainly a manageable game.”
However, the Hokies put up a crooked number in the top of the sixth, scoring four runs — capped off when redshirt-senior first baseman Sam Fragale crushed a line drive 3-run homer over the left field wall — to give themselves a 7-0 lead. They would put up two more runs in the eighth inning to increasing the lead to 9-0.
When the Irish entered the ninth inning, they had gone 19 innings without scoring a run, but they were finally able to break the drought. Freshman center fielder Ryan Cole drove a long ball to right-center field and ended up with a stand-up triple. Freshman pinch hitter Jared Miller grounded out to second, but got the job done, scoring Cole to put the Irish on the board in a 9-1 loss.
Aoki said the Irish bats come and go, something they need to work on, but added that his squad has struggled against pitchers like Hokies freshman southpaw Ian Seymour all year.
“I think the first thing is hitting can be a bit of a fickle deal anyway. Some days, it goes really great; some days, it doesn’t. It tends to be contagious both ways, too, good or bad,” he said Friday. “But I think we’ve had some issues dealing with the guy who’s the left-handed pitcher who’s the fastball-changeup guy, and we suffered from it again tonight. We’ve just got to get back to work.”
Notre Dame got off to a fast start Saturday, as the Irish scored the game’s first run in the opening frame. Although junior second baseman Nick Podkul grounded into a double play, Daily scored after the he drew an opening walk and advanced to third on a single by senior left fielder Jake Johnson.
But the Hokies answered in the top of the second, after a bunt from Fragale resulted in a single after a review. Thanks to the replay, Virginia Tech promptly drove in Fragale with a single from junior center fielder Nick Menken.
The Hokies struck again in the fourth, as redshirt-junior catcher Luke Horanski took Irish graduate student Scott Tully deep, the southpaw’s seventh home run given up this season. But Notre Dame came back in the bottom half of the frame after senior designated hitter Alex Kerschner turned what looked to be a routine base hit into a triple, as the ball made it all the way to the wall and plated junior center fielder Matt Vierling to tie the game, 2-2.
Notre Dame grabbed the lead in the fifth thanks to some more luck. Daily flied to the warning track in straightaway center, but Menken dropped the ball and Daily made it all the way to third with just one out. After Johnson was hit by a pitch, Daily scored on a Podkul groundout to put the Irish up 3-2.
The Irish distanced themselves in the bottom of the sixth, as freshman third baseman Niko Kavadas led off the inning with a single, and after the Irish loaded the bases, Kavadas scored on a sacrifice fly by sophomore catcher Bryce Gray. Daily then doubled down the left field line to plate sophomore first baseman Daniel Jung to stretch the lead to 5-2.
After the sole blemish, Tully was solid for the rest of the game, going after the Hokies and getting outs in play. The senior managed to make it all the way into the ninth, seeking his first career complete game. But after one out, Tully gave up three straight hits and two runs to suddenly cut Notre Dame’s lead to only one run and was subsequently pulled by Aoki. Sophomore right-hander Andrew Belcik came in to try and shut the door, but he gave up two straight singles to load the bases and put the Irish in real trouble. Virginia Tech then tied the game on a sacrifice fly, and southpaw Tommy Vail was forced to come in and keep the Irish from falling behind. The freshman managed to force a pop out to end the inning.
“I thought he pitched great, he does what Scott does, which is sort of fastball-changeup,” Aoki said of Tully on Saturday. “ … He was in the strike zone, he was efficient with his pitches and he competes at a high level. Probably should’ve gotten him out in the ninth, but he did what he does: He just goes out there and competes at a really high level.”
The top of the order was due up for the Irish in the bottom of the ninth, but Daily, Johnson and Podkul went down in order to send the game to extras.
In the top of the 12th, the Hokies loaded the bases with two outs. The Irish got their ground ball up the middle that Podkul made a diving play on and flipped to Daily at second to seemingly end the inning. But the junior dropped the ball, allowing two runs to score and putting the Irish down 7-5.
But in the bottom half of the frame, the Irish managed to pull of an improbable comeback. After a leadoff walk from Johnson, Podkul finally broke through with a single to put runners on first and third with nobody out. However, Vierling struck out swinging, and Miller grounded into what seemed to be a routine out. But Virginia Tech redshirt-sophomore right-hander Nick Enright recorded an error trying to get Podkul out at second, and Johnson scored to cut the lead to one. After a Kerschner strikeout put the Irish on their last legs, a wild pitch from Enright advanced the winning run to second. Jung was then hit by a pitch to load the bases, and Irish junior right fielder Eric Gilgenbach ripped the first pitch he saw into left center field to plate two runs and win the game.
On Sunday, the Irish managed to win their second conference series of the season thanks in large part to Podkul. The junior finished a triple shy of the cycle and firmly broke out of his mini slump. Notre Dame jumped out to an early lead with two runs in the first, and then after the Hokies took the lead in the third with a three-run inning, Podkul and Vierling hit back-to-back solo home runs to put the Irish back up one. Notre Dame kept the momentum going with a RBI single from freshman center fielder Spencer Myers to make it 5-3.
Podkul added another RBI with a single in the sixth to give the Irish a 6-3 lead. And though it seemed that deja vu was striking the Irish after Virginia Tech scored two runs in the ninth, Belcik came in and struck out the first and only batter he faced to seal the 6-5 win.
Notre Dame next faces Valparaiso on Tuesday in a nonconference matchup at Frank Eck Stadium. First pitch is set for 6:05 p.m.