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Irish look to continue momentum at Clemson

| Friday, March 5, 2021

After making a big statement with a series win at then-No. 16 Wake Forest to begin the 2021 season, Notre Dame baseball (2-1, 2-1 ACC) now travels to Clemson (4-2, 0-0 ACC) for another three-game weekend series in conference play. 

After having three games in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, postponed due to positive COVID-19 tests, contact tracing and quarantining within the Irish program, Notre Dame split a Saturday doubleheader before shutting out the Demon Deacons 10-0 in the rubber game last Sunday to punctuate an impressive start to the 2021 season. 

The red-hot offense that fueled the Irish’s 11-2 start to the abbreviated 2020 season wasted no time putting up crooked numbers Sunday behind three-hit days from senior second-baseman Jared Miller and senior catcher David LaManna, as well as junior right fielder Brooks Coetzee’s two doubles and five RBIs. 

Graduate student right-hander Christian Scafidi, a transfer from Penn, and junior righty Alex Rao combined for a four-hit shutout to help the Irish leave Winston Salem, N.C., on a high note. 

Notre Dame second-year coach Link Jarrett was very happy with his team’s complete performance Sunday and with the adaptability of both his pitching and coaching staffs despite the absence of assistant coach Chuck Ristano. 

“Our staff adjusted with [assistant coach] Rich [Wallace] calling most of the pitches, [assistant coach] Chuck [Ristano] zooming in pre-and-post game with insight from his watching on TV,” he said to UND.com after the victory Sunday. “The toughness of our guys with some key two-out hits and timely defense showed itself in a big way today.”

Notre Dame’s offense, which put up 23 runs in the series against Wake, returned four of the five in the lineup who hit over .300 last season, including leadoff man and center fielder Spencer Myers. The senior from Tampa, Florida hit .435 in 2020 but only managed two hits last weekend. 

LaManna, who hit .303 in 2020, did have a good series at the plate and currently leads the Irish with an OBP of .583. 

First-baseman Niko Kavadas, a second and third-team preseason All-American according to Perfect Game and Baseball America, respectively, also picked up where he left off after leading the Irish with seven home runs in 2020. 

Kavadas hit a two-run shot to dead center in his first at-bat of 2021 before launching another homer over the center field fall in the fifth inning of game one vs. the Demon Deacons.  

It’s Miller, however, who leads the Irish with a .538 BA in the new season. All of the Marietta, Ga., native’s seven hits during the weekend were singles. 

The pitching staff presents some question marks, especially after the loss of closer Joe Boyle to the Cincinnati Reds organization. The Irish bullpen collapsed in a five-run eighth inning for the Demon Deacons as Notre Dame dropped their season opener 10-8, despite taking 7-2 and 8-5 leads into the bottom of the seventh and eighth innings, respectively. 

Irish relievers would not allow another run all series, however. Sophomore right-hander Liam Simon and junior lefty Aidan Tyrell combined for 5.1 shutout innings in Notre Dame’s 5-4 game two victory before Rao pitched a career-high 4.2 innings of one-hit ball in the rubber game. 

The Irish did struggle to strike batters out against Wake, however, only recording 28 strikeouts in 27 innings. In 2020, the Notre Dame pitching staff only averaged 3.4 K’s per 9IP. 

Much like the Irish, Clemson boasts significant offensive firepower while still facing skepticism about its pitching staff. 

First-team preseason All-American Davis Sharpe is considered one the most valuable players in college baseball for his production both at the plate and on the mound. The redshirt sophomore hit .311 and led Clemson with four home runs in 2020 in the four games he did not serve as the Tigers’ starting pitcher. 

However, Sharpe did not play in the Tigers’ last outing, a 7-3 home win over ETSU Tuesday, and appears to face competition for the designated hitter role. ACC freshman of the year contender Caden Grice, who hit two home runs against the Buccaneers while playing first base, is one of multiple teammates who have taken some at-bats from Clemson’s Friday starter. 

Sophomore shortstop James Parker and redshirt freshman outfielder Dylan Brewer currently lead Clemson with batting averages of .435 and .368, respectively. Redshirt sophomore Kier Meredith led the Tigers with a .364 BA last year but has only featured in one game thus far in 2021. 

Notre Dame last played and visited Clemson in March 2019. The Irish won two of a three-game weekend series against the then-No.12 Tigers. 

First-pitch Friday at the Doug Kingsmore Stadium is scheduled for 4 p.m. The entire series will be available to stream on ACC Network Extra. 

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