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Irish come away with series win over Wolfpack

| Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Yet again, Notre Dame baseball (18-7, 16-7 ACC) concluded its weekend by clinching a series victory, wrapping up its second win in three games against North Carolina State (16-13, 9-12 ACC) Sunday afternoon at Frank Eck Stadium.

While the Irish’s struggles at the plate Saturday meant the series came down to a decisive rubber match on Sunday, a timely offensive explosion and a solid pitching performance helped the Irish stave off their first series defeat of the season by securing an 11-2 victory over the Wolfpack.

Sunday’s victory has been part of a pattern for the Irish — who have not dropped back-to-back games this season. Notre Dame head coach Link Jarrett encapsulated the simple formula that the Irish have been able to execute time and time again during their steady rise through the college baseball landscape this season.

“You keep winning the two of the three, you’re going to be okay,” he said.

Jarrett brought up his team’s “toughness” is his post-game presser, and attributed their consistent wins to the way the team has trained and responded to adversity.

“[I’m] proud of our guys today,” he said. “Yesterday was not a good performance, but to watch the way they rebounded today was impressive.”

Jarrett would continue to laud the Irish team’s mental fortitude.

“[They] are tough baseball guys,” he said. “They know now what it feels like to win these high-level games and they came out today so prepared.”

This weekend’s series was a testimony to the way the Irish have been able to continue winning series even when they haven’t been playing perfect baseball.

Coming off last weekend’s series, in which the Irish felt they let a sweep get away from them after dropping a Sunday matchup against Georgia Tech, the Irish took care of business against Central Michigan in their midweek home matchup, putting them in good form for this weekend’s matchups with a surging North Carolina State team.

The Wolf Pack — who had won their past five games before arriving at Frank Eck Stadium — struck first on Friday night, clawing across two runs in the top of a second. Though the bats never fully got off the ground — sophomore third baseman Jack Brannigan drove in all three of Notre Dame’s runs — a masterful performance from sophomore right-handed reliever Tanner Kohlhepp shut down NC State at the plate, giving the Irish the 3-2 win in the series opener.

Kohlhepp gave up only one hit while walking none and allowing no runs in his four innings of relief. Kohlhepp also picked up his fourth win with his Friday night performance and improved his staff-best ERA, but he would not be done for the weekend. Other statistical standouts on Friday night were senior right fielder Ryan Cole, who went 1-3, stole a base and scored a run, and junior designated hitter Carter Putz, who added two base hits and a run.

The Irish offense sputtered on Saturday afternoon, and the pitching staff failed to perform to the same level as the previous night, resulting in the Wolfpack’s only win of the series. Starting left-handed graduate transfer John Michael Bertrand — who has been one of the most valuable members of the Irish rotation thus far this season — struggled from the beginning in Irish’s 5-2 loss, surrendering four runs in 4.2 innings pitched.

Though relievers sophomore Liam Simon and junior Alex Rao righted the ship on the mound for the Irish — only giving up one more run the rest of the game — the team remained stagnant from the plate, only getting across two runs in the bottom of the sixth amid effective outings from NC State’s freshman starter Sam Highfill and junior reliever Evan Justice.

An exception to the general performance of the lineup, Putz once again was effective from the plate, driving in a pair of Irish runs with a drive to right-center. The Wolfpack conversely received ample production from the bottom of their lineup, with six NC State batters managing hits. NC State junior right-fielder Devonte Brown helped seal the team’s victory with a home run in the top of the eighth. Brown had also driven in both of the Wolfpack’s runs the night before.

In stark contrast to the first two games, the Irish bats exploded early in the rubber game Sunday. The Irish racked up 11 runs and 15 hits in a flex of their offensive prowess against a hapless performance from NC State’s pitching staff. Aided by an impressive afternoon from Notre Dame’s pitching staff, the Irish cruised to an 11-2 win and another series victory.

The Irish got started early by putting up three runs in the bottom of the first. Putz continued his stellar weekend with an RBI single and junior right-fielder Brooks Coetzee — who returned this weekend after an absence due to injury — brought in another two runs with a double. The Irish scored one more run against NC State starter Matt Willadsen but really erupted against Wolfpack reliever Chris Villaman, who let in six runs in 1.1 innings.

Nine different Irish players recorded a hit and seven scored a run before the offensive onslaught was over. Some of the notable performances in the Irish lineup came from senior first-baseman and national standout Niko Kavadas, who went 3-4 and smashed his 13th home run of the year (good for third nationally), and Brannigan, who pelted out a three-run home run and had the defensive play of the game on the hot corner.

While not as dominant as the offense, Notre Dame’s pitching staff was effective Sunday afternoon. Junior left-hander Aidan Tyrell put in a solid performance as the starter, giving up just one run in four innings pitched. But even more impressive was Kohlhepp and then graduate transfer Joe Sheridan in relief.

Kohlhepp added to his decisive Friday night performance with two scoreless innings, earning himself his team-high fifth win and lowering his staff-best ERA to 2.05. Sheridan recorded his team-high third save as well after giving up just one run while pitching the game’s final three innings.

Sunday’s performance Notre Dame’s ability to bounce back after the occasional disappointing performance and show up in big games. The Irish are 4-0 in rubber matches this season.

The Irish will be ranked in the top 10 and sit near the top of the ACC standings heading into next weekend’s three-game series at Boston College. First-pitch Friday in Chestnut Hill is scheduled for 5:30 p.m., and the entire series will be broadcast on ACC Network Extra.

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