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Irish wrap up homestand, head south for conference series

| Friday, March 29, 2019

Prior to Tuesday night, no Atlantic Coast Conference team had ever stolen more than a dozen bases in a game.

The Irish changed that narrative and smashed a conference record when they swiped 14 bags in a 6-3 win over Chicago State (6-16, 1-1 WAC) at Frank Eck Stadium. The previous conference record of 12 stolen bases was set by North Carolina State back in 1990. Notre Dame (10-12, 5-4 ACC) needed each of those extra bases on a night when the team collected only five combined hits.

Allison Thornton
Irish junior first baseman Daniel Jung takes a big cut at the plate in a contest against Florida State at Frank Eck Stadium on March 24.

“We found a way to overcome a difficult night at the plate where we didn’t swing it particularly well,” said Notre Dame head coach Mik Aoki. “We did a good job of kind of producing some offense in a different kind of way.”

Bats went cold with the falling temperatures after an 8:00 p.m. sunset. From the bottom of the sixth inning until the end of the game, Notre Dame and Chicago State combined for one hit. Despite struggles with the bat, Notre Dame still found ways to score.

In the bottom of the seventh inning, a walk, stolen base and single from the Irish drove in an insurance run to build a two-run lead. In the bottom of the eighth, Notre Dame drew two walks, stole four bases and scored one run despite not collecting a single hit.

Over the course of the game, Notre Dame drew 12 walks and stole 14 bases. Entering play on Tuesday, the Irish had collected only 20 stolen bases in 21 games. Aoki said the Irish will continue to take what the defense offers to them on the base paths, but high stolen base totals may not continue in the upcoming series against Georgia Tech.

“I think we have a couple guys like Spencer Myers, Ryan Cole, Ethan Copeland and a few other guys who can steal bases, but I also think that the rest of us are more along the line of base stealers of opportunity,” Aoki said.

This weekend, Notre Dame goes back on the road to continue conference play against a Georgia Tech squad off to a hot start in 2019. While the Irish and the Yellow Jackets are tied in the conference standings at 5-4, Georgia Tech has wrecked its non-conference schedule to surge out to a 17-8 overall record. Earlier this week, the Yellow Jackets romped in-state rival No. 4 Georgia (8-17, 2-4 Sun Belt) 11-2 ( to secure home-state bragging rights.)

Aoki expects continued difficulties at the plate against a Georgia Tech pitching staff that has posted a 3.78 ERA in 226.1 innings of work this season. Junior starting pitcher Connor Thomas leads the staff with a 2.83 ERA, and junior rotation-mate Xzavion Curry has held opposing batters to a .215 average this season.

“We’re going to go up against a very, very good pitching staff at Georgia Tech, so we’ve got to take advantage of opportunities that we get,” Aoki said. “I think we’ve got to take advantage and make sure we do a really good job in the situational hitting game because I don’t think we’re going to have a ton of scoring opportunities.”

Aoki expects a trio of low-scoring matchups in the weekend series if his pitching staff can continue their early-season success.

“I’d like to see us continue to pitch the way that we have on the weekends,” Aoki said. “I think that Tommy [Sheehan], Cam [Brown] and Cam [Junker] have been really, really good.”

Sheehan has impressed to a 3.99 ERA over 38.1 innings this season. The sophomore made his best appearance of the year in a start against Clemson earlier this month, holding the Tigers to seven hits and two runs in a complete game gem on the road.

Sheehan will attempt to continue his strong start to the season when he takes the mound for the Irish on Friday night in Atlanta. He will be followed by Cameron Brown on Saturday night and Cameron Junker in the Sunday series finale.

First pitch on Friday is scheduled for 6:00 p.m. The series will be televised on ACC Network Extra.

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