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Notre Dame outlasts Valparaiso

| Thursday, April 26, 2018

It could have been prettier, but the Irish were able to outlast a Valparaiso comeback attempt on Wednesday evening, giving them just their second three-game win streak of the season after hanging on to win 6-5.

The Notre Dame bats were hot from the start, as the Irish (18-23, 8-13 ACC) jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning on just one hit. Junior Cole Daily led off with a walk and a wild pitch promptly advanced the shortstop to second base. A double from senior left fielder Jake Johnson plated the speedster, putting the Irish on the board.

Back-to-back walks loaded the bases and junior right fielder Eric Gilgenbach grounded into a fielder’s choice, driving in Johnson and giving the Crusaders (14-21, 4-5 MVC) the force out at second. Senior designated hitter Alex Kerschner reached on a fielder’s choice, but still did his job, as he attempted to steal during the next at-bat, but was caught between first and second, leaving enough time for junior third baseman Matt Vierling to steal home.

Eddie Griesedieck | The Observer
Irish junior outfielder Eric Gilgenbach follows through on a swing during Notre Dame’s 2-0 loss to Northwestern on April 11 at Frank Eck Stadium.

The Irish added to their lead the next inning when Crusaders redshirt-junior left fielder Blake Billinger failed to catch a routine fly ball that hit his glove, allowing freshman center fielder Ryan Cole, who had just stolen second base, to score on the error.

Freshman southpaw Tommy Sheehan was on the mound for Notre Dame and had a nearly flawless outing — the only exception coming in the top of third when the Crusaders hit a solo home run.

Sheehan went another three innings of scoreless baseball, throwing just under 100 pitches. Irish head coach Mik Aoki was pleased with the freshman’s performance against the Crusaders.

“I thought it was really good. There were little elements of it where he was kind of in and out of the zone,” Aoki said. “Three walks. One hit batter, but I thought it was good. He made pitches for the most part when he needed to. He went six innings with one run given up and the run was a home run that was kind of a jetstream job that rode the wind out of here to right field, so I thought he pitched really well.”

The Irish would add two more runs over the course of the game, in the bottom of the third and the bottom of the sixth innings, handing them a 6-1 lead going into the top of the seventh.

“I really feel like all season long, consistently, we’ve really been a pretty good offensive team,” Aoki said of the team’s hot bats in the game. “There have been moments, like there are for every team, that you struggle a little bit, obviously we struggled in that Northwestern game, we struggled in that first game against Virginia Tech, but I think for the most part, we have been a pretty decent offensive team, and so they’ve just got to keep doing what they’ve been doing. I think they’ve been doing fine.”

Without Sheehan on the mound, however, the bullpen made things interesting.

Sophomore right-hander Anthony Holubecki was the first to come in in relief, but he lasted for less than an inning, giving up back-to-back hits. A fielder’s choice later in the inning cut the Notre Dame lead to 6-2.

Once Holubecki hit a batter with a pitch to load the bases, Aoki pulled him in favor of fellow sophomore righty Andrew Belcik, who quickly gave up a double, scoring junior second baseman Chase Dawson.

Aoki brought in left-hander Cole Kmet in the top of the eighth with two outs and the freshman was able to collect the final out.

However, the final frame did not go as smoothly for him, in search of his eighth save of the year.

Junior shortstop Sam Shaikin hit a line drive to left field that Johnson misread, allowing him to pull into second base for a double. A bloop single to center field brought him home and cut the lead to two runs. Senior first baseman Zack Leone hit blasted a ball into right-center field, which hopped over the wall for a ground-rule double, preventing a run from scoring. However, senior third baseman Chad Jacob quickly brought home the runner on third, senior right fielder Giovanni Garbella with a line drive to right, allowing Garbella to tag up and score.

The tying run was at the plate with junior catcher Scott Kapers, but the Irish escaped with a win as he grounded out to Daily, who made a diving stop to end the game.

Aoki said that the scoreboard was not representative of the bullpen’s performance and that Valparaiso got back in the game due to a few plays in the outfield.

“I think [the bullpen was] OK. I wasn’t thrilled with [Holubecki] coming in and hitting that second guy that he faced, but we make a couple more plays in the outfield and it looks really different,” Aoki said. “[Gilgenbach] just got turned around, that’s a play that he makes most of the time. [Johnson] in that [ninth] inning just broke back on that ball to start that inning, that’s a play that he makes 99 percent of the time, so I’m not really all that concerned. They threw strikes. Cole threw strikes, Belcik threw strikes for the most part, it was fine.”

This weekend, the Irish will host conference foe Boston College. Aoki believes the Eagles will pose a challenge for his squad, due to their consistent toughness.

“They are going to be a highly-competitive group, they are all the time. They’re sort of tough-minded, they’re never out of the fight, so we have to play well,” he said. “Obviously in baseball it always starts from the mound, so we need a good start from [graduate student left-hander Scott] Tully and [sophomore right-hander] Zack Martin and obviously we need to take advantage of our opportunities when we have them offensively because they’ve got three experienced guys going to the mound and they’re guys that have had success in this conference. It should be a good series.”

The Irish and the Eagles (14-26, 5-16) will face off Friday at Frank Eck Stadium. First pitch is scheduled for 6:05 p.m.

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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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