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Notre Dame prepares for top-10 matchup against North Carolina State

| Friday, April 13, 2018

This upcoming weekend, Notre Dame will return to conference play when it heads to Raleigh, North Carolina, for a three-game series against No. 4 North Carolina State.

For the Irish (14-19, 5-10 ACC), this will be their third series against a team ranked in the top 10 at the time they played this season. They will be coming into the weekend after a pair of games earlier this week, walking away with one win and one loss in those contests. On Tuesday, Notre Dame took a trip to East Lansing, Michigan, where it was able to sneak out a close win by a score of 8-7 over Michigan State. On Wednesday against Northwestern at home, however, the Irish were not so lucky. After giving up two runs early on, Irish pitching stood solid the rest of the game with sophomore southpaw Cameron Brown leading the way, throwing 5 1/3 scoreless innings in relief. It was ultimately not enough, however, as the Irish were held to just five hits and no runs on the night, falling to the Wildcats by a score of 2-0.

Chris Collins | The Observer
Irish senior outfielder Alex Kerschner focuses on the ball while at the plate during the Notre Dame’s 4-1 loss to Kent State on March 27 at Frank Eck Stadium.

When play gets underway Friday night, Notre Dame will be well aware of the tall task it faces. As the ACC’s best team, N.C. State has been trouble for its opponents all season. Yet the Irish had the Wolfpack’s number last season when they made the trip to Frank Eck Stadium, as Notre Dame was able to take two of three in that series. But Irish head coach Mik Aoki said he recognizes that this year’s N.C. State team is stronger and will be a tough challenge for his group.

“N.C. State is a terrific team, an outstanding team. They swing the bat, they pitch enough and they’re good,” Aoki said. “They’re balanced offensively, they can play the little game, they can hurt you with some power and they can hurt you with some guys that are just solid hitters all around, so we have our hands full going into this weekend.”

Adding to the challenge of this weekend is the shaky road performance of the Irish so far this season, as the team’s record sits at 5-8 away from home and they have let several of those games get away from them in the late innings. Aoki said he sees his team as a young group that can certainly learn from its past mistakes.

“It’s just a matter of a young team learning to sort of finish,” he said. “N.C. State is going to be a tough place to learn that, but on some level or another, this is how you learn it. You put yourself in these positions, and I think we’ve done a good job of putting ourselves in these positions. We’ve played well to do it. Now, we just have to punch through on some of these deals.”

Following the weekend series at N.C. State, Notre Dame has one neutral-site game in Indianapolis against No. 10 Indiana before three-straight weeks of home play. If the Irish are to take advantage of their stretch at home, then it begins with strong play this weekend, Aoki said.

“It’s still kind of right in front of us,” he said. “We’ve put ourselves in a bit of a hole, but … if we’re able to go three-out-of-four [against N.C. State and Indiana], now you’re starting to get to a point where maybe you can get something rolling, so that’s what we’re hoping for.”

Friday’s first pitch between Notre Dame and N.C. State is set for 6:30 p.m. The Irish and Wolfpack will then complete their three-game series against one another with games Saturday at 6:30 p.m. and Sunday at noon.

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