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Notre Dame takes first game of series, drop Saturday doubleheader to NC State

| Monday, April 16, 2018

Notre Dame dropped its road series over the weekend to No. 4 North Carolina State, as the Irish won the first game of the series Friday but fell in both games of their doubleheader against the Wolfpack on Saturday.

North Carolina State (28-7, 13-5 ACC) got off to a quick start Friday, getting on the board for three runs in the bottom of the first inning. Graduate student left-hander Scott Tully, the starting pitcher for the Irish (15-21, 6-12) on Friday, surrendered a solo home run to Wolfpack senior center fielder Josh McLain in the first at-bat of the game, and then he gave up three more hits and a walk en route to surrendering the early 3-0 lead.

The Irish managed to cut the lead to one after the top of the third inning, as junior right fielder Eric Gilgenbach homered to left in the second and junior second baseman Nick Podkul homered to left center in the top of the third inning. North Carolina State went on to put four runs on the board on four hits in the bottom of the third, however, regaining a commanding 7-2 lead.

Eddie Griesedieck | The Observer
Irish junior right fielder Eric Gilgenbach watches an incoming pitch at the plate during Notre Dame’s 2-0 loss to Northwestern on Wednesday at Frank Eck Stadium.

But the Irish weren’t dead yet, as they managed to put up six runs in the top of the fourth inning, with half of them coming as a result of a three-run home run from junior third baseman Matt Vierling, another coming on a solo home run from freshman designated hitter Niko Kavadas, and the rest on RBIs from senior center fielder Jake Johnson and junior shortstop Cole Daily. The hit parade gave the Irish a one-run lead heading into the fifth inning. Although North Carolina State would go on to tie the game in the fifth inning at 8-8, Notre Dame scored three runs in the top of the seventh and one run in the top of the ninth to claim the 12-8 victory in the opening game of the series. Sophomore right-hander Anthony Holubecki, who entered the game in the bottom of the sixth inning, got the win on the mound for the Irish.

Irish head coach Mik Aoki said he thought Tully, despite what his stat line might suggest with 12 hits and eight runs — seven earned — allowed in five innings, did exactly what his team needed him to do by getting through five innings.

“I think Scott Tully — he just kind of kept competing and just trying to do everything he could to sort of keep it in there,” he said. “There were a couple plays where we didn’t really help him out all that much defensively, and he just kept going out there and doing what older guys do, which is to just try and compete at as high a level as he can and get us through the fifth inning.“

Offensively, Aoki said his team’s ability to come back in Friday’s win was a product of the lineup’s ability to ignore the score and string together good at-bats.

“One of the constant things we often hear is that, I think offensively, we’ve been a pretty solid, consistent team,” Aoki said. “ … I think our kids just kind of kept competing. I think our players — our position players in particular — have kind of just put up good at-bats; and obviously, big home runs by Matt Vierling and Nick Podkul and [Eric Gilgenbach] and all that. So I think it was those guys just concentrated on having good at-bats rather than trying to make up all that ground that we had lost.“

Notre Dame’s bats didn’t stay hot heading into Saturday’s doubleheader, however. In the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader, North Carolina State put up one run in the bottom of the first, two runs in the bottom of the third, three runs in the bottom of the fifth, five runs in the bottom of the sixth and one more run in the bottom of the eight for a total of 12 runs on the board. The Irish were only able to knock in two runs themselves in the game on eight hits, as they left six on base and dropped the contest 12-2. 

The Irish then dropped the second game of the doubleheader Saturday in similar fashion, as North Carolina State continued to stay hot at the plate, putting up 13 runs on the board. The Irish managed to score five runs themselves and actually outhit the Wolfpack, 15-13, but they stranded 14 runners on base en route to a 13-5 loss. 

After giving up 25 runs Saturday, Aoki said he thought the pitching staff had been a little overworked with the midweek games, resulting in the crooked numbers left on the board by North Carolina State during the doubleheader.

“Saturday was tough,” Aoki said. “We needed to be a little bit better than what we were. The doubleheader didn’t help us. … The reality of it is that we had played two games in the midweek, Tuesday and Wednesday, and I think we were a little bit short on our pitching.

“ … I think [our bullpen] just kind of got a little extended [during the week], and with the doubleheader coming on Saturday, when the first game kind of got away from us, we kind of had to go into protect-our-bullpen mode a little bit.”

However, Aoki also admitted that the tired arms of his staff only made it easier for what was a very strong and talented Wolfpack lineup to put up big numbers, as it has on many occasions this season.

“Their offense is probably the best offense that we’ve faced all year long,” Aoki said. “It’s really good. They have a combination of power; they have a combination of guys that can really run and are athletic and can hurt you with bunting, stealing bases and that sort of thing; they’re probably as balanced a lineup as we’ve faced all year long. We got ourselves into some negative counts against them; we got ourselves into some situations where we didn’t do a great job of sort of limiting walks and free bases and stuff; and they did what an older, experienced and talented lineup does on Saturday.”

Despite the poor results Saturday, Aoki said he was pleased with his team’s resilience and willingness to keep fighting, regardless of what the scoreboard reflected.

“I was proud of the way that our kids kept sort of fighting,” Aoki said. “In particular, our position players, I thought, did a really good job of just not worrying about what the score was and continuing to have good at-bats.”

Now, Notre Dame will get set to play No. 10 Indiana on the road in Indianapolis on Tuesday. First pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m.

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