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Irish bats go cold, drop first series of season

| Monday, May 10, 2021

After reaching their highest national ranking since 2001, reaching No. 2 by Baseball America’s rankings, Notre Dame finally stumbled, losing their first series of the season in the penultimate ACC regular-season weekend, as the Irish dropped two of three at home to Florida State. 

Due to Sunday’s weather concerns, the series was played in just two days with a Saturday doubleheader, and after dropping the opener on Friday night, the Irish were faced with the daunting task of sweeping the 13th-ranked Seminoles on Saturday to grab a series win. The Irish had successfully completed the Friday loss, Saturday sweep tandem two weeks earlier against Boston College, but the magic was not to be this past weekend, as after nabbing the opener of the twin bill, 5-3, Notre Dame simply never found a rhythm in the nightcap, dropping a 7-1 decision and their first series of the year. 

Against a tough Florida State pitching staff, the offense struggled for Notre Dame and that started Friday, despite a first-inning run, as sophomore third baseman Jack Brannigan skied a sacrifice fly for the initial 1-0 lead. The Irish missed a golden opportunity to extend the lead in the third, as senior left fielder Ryan Cole smashed a double to put runners on second and third with nobody out and the heart of the order coming up. However, a hit by pitch was the only thing Notre Dame gained after that, leaving the bases loaded, as FSU’s Parker Messick notched a pair of strikeouts to wiggle out of the jam. 

“You have to tip your cap to Messick. You can see why he has about a 2 ERA — he wiggled off the hook,” Notre Dame head coach Link Jarrett said. “We weren’t able to really capitalize the first three innings; we had him on the ropes. We never were able to mount a consistent set of at-bats against him.”

FSU immediately capitalized on the momentum, as the Seminoles struck twice against Irish starter Will Mercer in the fourth, executing a two-out rally to perfection. A single sandwiched by a pair of walks loaded the bases, and designated hitter Davis Hare sliced a single through the right side, scoring two for the Seminoles. 

The game remained 2-1 into the ninth inning, as both pitching staffs dominated, with neither team recording another hit until the 7th inning. Messick went six innings, while Mercer went five, before being replaced by sophomore Tanner Kohlhepp, who fired three brilliant innings before running into some ninth-inning trouble. Some wildness cost him big time, as a walk and hit batter put a pair on for Elijah Cabell, who iced the game with a three-run blast and a 5-1 Florida State lead. The Irish scraped one run across in the ninth, but that was it in the 5-2 loss. 

In Saturday’s opener, the Irish received a dazzling pitching performance from grad student John Michael Bertrand, who twirled seven scoreless frames scattering five hits and a walk, while striking out nine. It was plenty for the Irish offense, who scrapped out single runs in the first and seventh innings, surrounding a three-spot in the sixth to give their bullpen some insurance. Junior designated hitter Carter Putz notched a sacrifice fly in the first inning for a 1-0 lead, which remained the score for five innings. 

Bertrand had to avoid only minor trouble, with a runner reaching third just once in those six innings of work, despite working with the slimmest of advantages. However, Brannigan broke it open in the sixth, blasting an opposite-field home run with two runners on, as Notre Dame staked out a 4-0 lead. Senior first baseman Niko Kavadas brought home Notre Dame’s final run in the seventh with an RBI single. The Irish made things a little dicey, as the bullpen surrendered three runs in the eighth and ninth innings, but then Brannigan demonstrated his two-way ability, trotting over from third base to close out the game, with one out and a runner on first, and Notre Dame holding a 5-3 advantage. Brannigan worked around a walk to secure his second save of the year with minimal drama. 

However, the Irish couldn’t secure the series win in Saturday’s finale, as they went with a bullpen game, trotting out four different pitchers, all of whom gave up runs, and it was death by paper cut for the Irish, as Florida State scored in five different innings, while utilizing four pitchers to suffocate the Notre Dame bats in a 7-1 victory. The normally trustworthy Irish defense made two errors, while the offense scraped out just seven hits, with Kavadas picking up the lone RBI in the seventh inning. 

“Florida State is a very good team, very good on the mound, tough to play, and they beat us today,” Jarrett said. 

For Notre Dame, they’re still in a great spot to secure the No. 1 seed in the ACC Tournament, with a three-game lead over Louisville and Georgia Tech with three conference games to play. The Irish have a midweek game against Valparaiso, but they do get next weekend off from conference play, and when they return in two weekends against Virginia Tech, the Irish will need at most a series win to secure the top seed.

About Aidan Thomas

A junior marketing and ACMS major at Notre Dame, I've countered the success I've enjoyed as a New England sports fan with the painful existence of a Notre Dame football fan.

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