Offense powers Irish past Broncos for midweek victory
Benjamin Padanilam | Wednesday, May 2, 2018
Playing in its second-to-last midweek game of the season, Notre Dame hit four home runs and scored 14 runs against Western Michigan to cruise to a 14-4 win Tuesday night at Frank Eck Stadium.
The Irish (21-24, 10-14 ACC) jumped out to an early lead in the bottom of the first inning when junior second baseman Nick Podkul and junior center fielder Matt Vierling hit back-to-back home runs with two outs to give the Irish a quick 2-0 lead over the Broncos (18-19, 8-8 MAC). That lead was quickly extended in the bottom of the second inning when freshman third baseman Niko Kavadas led off the inning with a solo shot of his own to put Notre Dame up 3-0. And although the Irish would go scoreless in the third inning and the Broncos would add a run of their own in the top of the fourth, the Irish benefitted from yet another home run in the bottom of the fourth when junior right fielder Eric Gilgenbach followed up a Kavadas single with a two-run shot to left field to put Notre Dame up 5-1.
Irish head coach Mik Aoki said the early power display provided a much-needed boost for the team in the game, as the Irish took advantage of a wind blowing out to left field and gave themselves a cushion they would not relinquish in the game.
“It was good. Obviously the conditions were conducive to it with the wind blowing out some … but it was good,” Aoki said. “It’s always good to score first — kind of loosens it up a little bit, let’s us play from in front a little bit. I’m not sure that there’s a sport in existence that it’s not better to be playing from in front than behind.”
And the Irish would continue to extend the gap by which they were out front, scoring two runs in the sixth inning, four runs in the seventh and three more runs in the eighth to round out its 14-run outing. The Irish scored those runs on 13 hits — with Podkul, Vierling and Kavadas each notching at least two knocks — and a patient approach at the plate that netted eight walks drawn by Irish hitters.
But the performances on the mound were nearly as strong as the ones at the plate. Freshman southpaw Tommy Sheehan started the game for the Irish and threw four innings in which he allowed just four hits and one run — the result of back-to-back two-out doubles by the Broncos in the top of the fourth inning — with two strikeouts in 63 pitches.
“That might have been one of Tommy’s better performances,” Aoki said. “I thought he was in the strike zone. He had the one at-bat against [Broncos freshman right fielder Blake Dunn] that went 10 or 11 pitches, 3-2 counts on probably three or four of those — I think earlier in the year, he loses that guy, and he made him put it in play [and] recorded the out. I thought that was really good. I thought the compete factor there was much better than we had seen earlier in the year.
Then, sophomore right-hander Zack Martin came in for four innings of relief and picked up the win, allowing four hits and no runs on an efficient 46 pitches.
“Zack, for me, kind of got back to who Zack is — kind of in the strike zone and making people beat him,” Aoki said. “The past couple of outings, with [Boston College] and Virginia Tech the weekend before, some of the innings that got to him where there’s a walk and a hit batter or something like that — that’s, to me, really not who and what Zack is as a pitcher. So I think seeing him get back to who he was was good to see.”
The Broncos would score three of their four runs in the top of the ninth off of Irish sophomore right-hander Anthony Holubecki, but that proved to be far too little, far too late to get them back in the contest, as Notre Dame eventually recorded the final out for the 14-4 win.
The efficiency with which Sheehan and Martin made their way through eight innings was especially important for Aoki, as he said he plans to have the two in the fold for Sunday’s game against Pittsburgh, as the Irish will prepare for their final home series of the season starting Friday and lasting through Sunday. Looking to keep the momentum going with just seven games left on the schedule, Aoki said pitching will be a major factor this weekend against the Panthers (24-17, 10-11 ACC), with graduate student southpaw Scott Tully set to lead things off Friday when Notre Dame and Pittsburgh square off for the first game of the weekend at 6:05 p.m.
“Hopefully, Tully can create some momentum for us off the mound [Friday],” Aoki said. “When we go in there — obviously with seven games left, all of the games are really important to put us in a position to accomplish some of the things that we wanted to at the outset of the season. So [Tuesday night] was step one, and hopefully we can continue to play going in through the weekend and come out with some good results against [Pittsburgh].”