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Notre Dame splits both series in San Antonio en route to picking up first season wins

| Monday, February 25, 2019

Heading south for a four-game series over the weekend, Notre Dame split matchups with Eastern Michigan and Incarnate Word to earn its first two wins of the season. The Irish started the season slowly, as the Sun Devils swept the Irish, outscoring them 46-13, but the trip to San Antonio served as an opportunity to rebound against the Eagles and the Cardinal.

The bounce-back effort started strong in game one of the series against Eastern Michigan when Notre Dame (2-5) sent sophomore Tommy Sheehan to the mound.

Sheehan shined Thursday night, pitching seven innings and shutting down the Eagles’ offense. Meanwhile, the Irish offense got off to a hot start, connecting two runs in the opening frame to jump out to a 2-0 lead. Although the Eagles (1-6-1) added two runs in the top of the third inning, Sheehan quickly settled down afterward and the offense got to work, bringing nine batters around the bases, five of which came in the sixth inning alone.

Having clinched the team’s first win of the season, head coach Mik Aoki said he was impressed by Sheehan’s starting performance.

“I thought he did really well commanding the fastball and kept the game under control,” Aoki said. “He did a really good job executing his pitches and doing what you expect him to.”

Irish junior first baseman Daniel Jung led the offense with three hits and six RBIs. Jung started the scoring in the bottom of the first inning with an RBI single, driving in sophomore centerfielder Spencer Myers. Myers also proved critical to sealing the Notre Dame win, scoring four runs and two hits.

Jung continued to produce in the bottom of the sixth inning. The Irish were already ahead 4-2 and had the bases loaded. On the first pitch of the at-bat, he ripped a triple down the right-field line, plating all three baserunners, increasing the Irish lead to five.

“I thought he had a really good season last year and he continues to mature as a hitter,” Aoki said of Jung’s development as a player. “He has really good plate discipline and looks to drive the ball when he has to.”

The balanced performance of Jung and Myers to thank, Notre Dame landed its first win of the season, beating the Eagles 11-3.

In game two, junior Cameron Junker started the game for the Irish and struck out five batters in five innings, giving up just two earned runs. After Junker’s strong performance, junior right-hander Zack Martin allowed two runs in only one third of an inning, putting Eastern Michigan on top by four.

“I thought [Junker] did a good job. It is important for him to stay in pitchers’ counts,” Aoki said. “He has really good stuff. He uses an above average fastball and an effective slider.”

Eastern Michigan’s starting pitcher, sophomore Holden Cook had excellent control throughout the contest, throwing 99 pitches. Although the Irish bats went on to tack on two late runs, Cook’s six-inning shutout solidified the 4-2 win for the Eagles.

After splitting the two-game series against Eastern Michigan, the Irish turned to junior Cameron Brown in the series against Incarnate Word (6-2). Brown ran into some trouble in the top of the first inning, allowing an unearned run to score on a passed ball. After the run in the first inning, Brown settled in and pitched into the sixth inning without allowing another run. While the bats were quiet for the first four innings, they rallied in the fifth, when senior right fielder Eric Gilgenbach singled to center field, plating freshman third baseman Zack Prajzner. In the seventh inning, the Irish unknotted the tie, as a Jung single put the Irish on top for good, taking home the win 2-1.

Aoki said he has high hopes for Brown moving forward and said he believes Brown will be a firm starter for this season. However, despite Brown’s good numbers, Aoki thought he still could have been sharper, but Brown made good pitches when he needed to be.

After winning two of the first three games of the series, the Irish pitching struggled in the last game of the weekend against Incarnate Word. Notre Dame found itself in a hole early, as freshman Aidan Tyrell allowed six runs in the first inning. After walking the first two batters of the game, Tyrell earned a strikeout. But the next batter launched a home run into left field, putting Incarnate Word up 3-0 and the Cardinal never surrendered their lead through the remainder of the game.

While the Irish bats could not string together runs in the early innings, they ultimately found their groove. Gilgenbach led the Notre Dame offense, reaching base safely in all four plate appearances and adding four RBIs on the afternoon. While the Irish offense clicked in the second half in the game, it was too little, too late — the Irish lost 15-7.

While having Jung, Kavadas and Gilgenbach in the middle of the lineup is crucial to the team’s success, Aoki said the squad cannot learn to be too reliant upon them.

“We are going to need more contributions from other guys,” Aoki said.

After splitting the series with Eastern Michigan and Incarnate Word, Notre Dame will travel to South Carolina to play Charleston Southern and Ball State at the Swig and Swine Classic next weekend.

“Both of those programs present a good matchup,” Aoki said. “Ball State has two really good starters. We have to find a way to put everything together.”

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