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Baseball

Irish go 2-1 in season-opening series

| Monday, February 17, 2020

In last year’s season-opening series, Notre Dame gave up 46 runs in three games, with their closest contest being a 10-1 loss to Arizona State. The series set the tempo for the season, as the Irish finished just 24-30 and never had a .500 record throughout the year, their mediocre season ending with an 0-2 record as an 11th-seed in the ACC Tournament.

If the 2019 season opener was an indicator for the rest of the season, the Irish certainly wouldn’t mind if their 2020 opening weekend indicates the direction of their upcoming campaign. Notre Dame plated 22 runs in three games and allowed just 12 en route to a series victory over the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The Irish took the opener 4-2 and the finale 9-3, the two victories sandwiched around a tight 10-7 loss.

Allison Thornton | The Observer

Irish third baseman Niko Kavadas swings at a pitch during Notre Dame’s 3-1 loss against Florida State on March 24, 2019.

The Friday contest was all about pitching, as the two teams combined for just seven hits. The Irish sent junior hurler Tommy Sheehan to the mound, and their ace responded accordingly, firing off seven stunning innings of one-hit baseball.

He walked one and struck out nine, dominating the Blazers’ bats all game. However the Notre Dame offense was also stagnant, and neither side scraped as much as hit off the opposing pitcher in the first five innings. UAB got a one-out triple in the sixth but couldn’t score. Notre Dame ultimately struck first in the seventh inning.

Irish junior first baseman Niko Kavadas worked a walk, advanced on a sacrifice bunt and then wheeled home when Irish sophomore shortstop Zach Prazjner snuck a single through the left side. Over the next two innings, the Irish tacked on three runs via wild pitches to stake themselves to a 4-0 lead. UAB got two runs out of the Notre Dame bullpen, but the Irish put the game in the hands of 6-foot-7-inch junior closer Joe Boyle, who struck out a pair of batters to end a ninth-inning threat.

On Saturday, both offenses came to life, as they combined for eight runs in the first two innings. Notre Dame got the jump on the Blazers, scoring three times before UAB batted for the first time. Prazjner, moving up to third in the order, again came in clutch for the visitors, poking an opposite-field three-run home run for his second career long ball and a 3-0 Notre Dame lead.

UAB responded with a two-run shot from first baseman Colton Schultz to cut the deficit to one, and then the Blazers pushed three more across in the second for a 5-3 lead. The Irish gave up another run before rallying in the seventh.

With two outs in the seventh, junior second baseman Jared Miller drilled a double — part of his 4-4 day — and came around to score on an infield single and throwing error. Graduate student left fielder Eric Gilgenbrach was up next, and he absolutely launched a game-tying home run. Unfortunately the Notre Dame rally was nullified by a UAB grand slam in the bottom half of the inning. The Irish had no more magic left in them, managing just a solo blast from sophomore pinch-hitter Jack Zyska to account for the final score of 10-7. The Irish doubled up the Blazers in hits, 14-7, but the two big home runs from UAB did too much damage.

Notre Dame used a strong bullpen effort to secure the series win Sunday. Tied 3-3 after three innings, the Irish pulled their starter and got six scoreless frames from their relief corps. Notre Dame punished the UAB relievers to the tune of six runs in five innings. The Blazers had just two hits in the game, their three-run third inning being their only source of offense.

Junior catcher David LaManna gave the Irish the early lead in the second inning, fouling off a few tough pitches in a long at-bat with two strikes, two outs and two runners on base; eventually, LaManna rocketed a double all the way to the wall to score two runs. A third-inning sacrifice fly from Kavadas extended the lead to 3-0, but UAB tied it up in the bottom half of the inning, recording its only two hits of the game in the frame.

The Irish got back in front in the fifth inning, and this time they didn’t surrender the lead.

Kavadas sparked the Irish once more, coming up with a man on and nobody out. The first baseman turned on an inside pitch and lost it over the right field wall for a two-run blast.

It was enough of a cushion for sophomore right-hander Mitch Megias who saved the bullpen with a gutsy three-inning effort, walking one and striking out three to earn the victory. Notre Dame got four more runs to put the game and series away for good.

Sophomore designated hitter Carter Putz headlined the Irish’s prolific offensive attack, notching three hits and two RBIs while scoring three runs for Notre Dame. Kavadas and LaManna combined for five RBIs, while junior southpaw Tommy Vail and Boyle tossed three perfect frames with four strikeouts to end the game.

Notre Dame heads to San Antonio for the Alamo Classic on Thursday, Friday and Saturday where they’ll play four games against Incarnate Word, Toledo and the University of Texas at San Antonio.

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