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Bullpen collapse dooms Irish in ACC home opener, rest of series cancelled

| Monday, March 28, 2022

There exists a certain risk to playing baseball in South Bend in March. After Friday’s 10-5 defeat, the remaining two games of Notre Dame’s first home ACC series against Virginia Tech were canceled due to weather conditions. Amidst rain and snow, temperatures dropped into the 20s. 

Friday’s loss to the Hokies was the Irish’s fourth consecutive defeat, after dropping all three games to Louisville the previous weekend. As has been a theme so far in conference play for Notre Dame, a late bullpen collapse doomed the team. The Irish led 5-4 heading into the final frame, but the Hokies pushed six runs across in the ninth inning.

Long ball boosts Irish early

Graduate student left-hander John Michael Bertrand was slotted into the Game 1 starter. Senior Aidan Tyrell struggled in that spot through the first two conference series, leading to the change. Bertrand put together a solid performance, striking out six batters over 5.2 innings while allowing three runs. 

Bertrand delivered a sparkling first inning. He needed just nine pitches to dispatch the first three Virginia Tech batters, striking out two. However, he allowed a leadoff home run in the second inning to Hokies cleanup hitter Jack Hurley, giving Virginia Tech the early 1-0 lead. Hurley leads the nation with a .494 batting average and challenged Irish pitchers the entire game. He went 3-4 with two home runs and a double, driving in three runs in the process. 

Hurley drove in the second Hokies run of the game in the fourth inning after a one-out triple with an RBI groundout. But the Virginia Tech lead didn’t last much longer. In the bottom half of the inning, junior third baseman Jack Brannigan tied the game with a two-run blast to left-center field. Brannigan’s blast marked his third homer of the season, good for second on the team. 

The Hokies retook the lead in the next inning, after laying down a bunt with runners on the corners. However senior right fielder Brooks Coetzee answered immediately. He gave the Irish their first lead of the contest with a two-run long ball of his own. Coetzee leads the team with six home runs and 18 RBIs. 

Irish head coach Link Jarrett pulled Bertrand from the contest with two outs in the sixth inning after putting runners on the corners, but graduate student reliever Ryan McLinskey was able to escape the jam by striking out the first batter he faced. In the bottom half of the inning, the Irish loaded the bases with one out and extended the lead thanks to an RBI single from senior shortstop Zack Prajzner. 

Bullpen collapses, Irish lose again

Notre Dame took a 5-3 lead into the eighth inning, but Hurley smashed his second solo home run of the game to bring the lead to within one. Senior reliever Alex Rao replaced McLinskey and proceeded to load the bases. Tyrell came on to preserve the lead for the Irish and induced a ground out to escape the jam. This allowed Notre Dame to head to the final inning with the lead intact. Notre Dame put runners on second and third with no outs in the bottom of the eighth, but they weren’t able to bring them home.

In the ninth inning, Brannigan came on to try and close out the contest with one out and one man on base. However, a one-out double from the first batter he faced tied the game. Two straight walks and a single gave Virginia Tech a one-run lead. Graduate student Matt Lazzaro replaced Brannigan to try and limit the damage. But, with the bases loaded, he hit the first batter he faced. Then, on the subsequent play, he committed a crucial throwing error. It allowed all three runs to score and broke the game open. 

The Irish were able to get two runners on in the bottom half of the ninth, but the Hokies slammed the door, dooming the Irish to a disappointing start to conference play. The Irish are now just 2-4 in conference play after the previous four defeats. 

The team will look to get back on track Tuesday as they host Northern Illinois in a midweek contest. The Huskies have struggled mightily this season, earning just 4 wins in 19 games thus far. It will be a good opportunity for the Irish to regain some momentum heading into another tough road ACC series next weekend against Florida State.

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