Irish look to bounce back, host Hokies
Aidan Thomas | Friday, March 25, 2022
A week ago, the vibe was quite different surrounding the Notre Dame baseball team. The Irish were ranked No. 1 and riding a ten-game winning streak into an ACC series with Louisville. There, however, the Cardinals put the Irish on notice. A 12-1 record, which included seven wins against non-Power-5 competition didn’t win them any awards. Louisville slapped Notre Dame in Game 1, 16-11, and tormented the Irish bullpen throughout the weekend. An 8-1 Saturday loss followed and on Sunday, the Irish surrendered an eighth-inning lead, losing 7-5.
Suddenly, the Irish are now 12-4, 2-3 in ACC play. In the national rankings, Notre Dame plummeted outside the top 10. They sit at No. 11 in Baseball America, and No. 12 by DI Baseball Rankings. Now, it’s time to move past an ugly series for the Irish. The first chance to do some comes in their first home series, a three-game set with Virginia Tech.
The Irish lost a chance to rebound this week versus Northwestern, as the non-conference clash was canceled twice. The contest was initially moved to Wednesday due to weather, and then postponed further due to bus driver availability with Northwestern. However, that means Notre Dame jumps back into conference play with a chance to pick up some big conference wins. The Hokies enter at 13-6 overall and 2-4 in ACC play. No. 16 Georgia Tech swept them in their opening ACC series, but the Hokies responded to take two of three from Pitt.
Bats seeking consistency
While the pitching was the main culprit last weekend, the Irish bats went silent at the wrong times. After 11 runs weren’t enough for victory on Friday, the Irish couldn’t take advantage of a sparkling start by graduate student left-hander John Michael Bertrand on Saturday, scoring just one run. The bats were relatively average on Sunday, and the late bullpen collapse was enough to spell another defeat.
On the season, the Irish are hitting .299 with a .846 OPS (on-base percentage + slugging percentage). Graduate student catcher David LaManna leads everyone, hitting .375, while senior right fielder Brooks Coetzee has been the big bat for the Irish. He’s hitting .350 with four doubles and five home runs. He’s one of five players to start every game this season. Sophomore outfielder T.J. Williams, senior first baseman Carter Putz and junior third baseman Jack Brannigan all boast averages over the .300 mark as well. Senior designated hitter Jack Zyska is 9-21 after working his way into the starting lineup this past weekend. He also has four home runs.
The Irish have scored 10+ runs in seven games, but they’ve also scored four or less on four occasions. The Hokies gave up 28 runs in three games to Georgia Tech, but then just 11 over the three-game set with Pitt. So how Notre Dame’s inconsistent yet lethal bats show up will be a huge storyline in this series.
Pitching must bounce back
This is an absolute must. Louisville diced the Irish — particularly the bullpen. They surrendered 21 earned runs in just 11.2 innings of relief work last weekend, good for a 16.19 ERA. No Irish reliever could find a rhythm against the dangerous Cardinal bats.
Freshman Radek Birkholz, graduate student Ryan McKlinskey and senior Alex Rao have been the most consistent for the Irish, but all three gave up runs last weekend. However, look for them to right the ship this weekend, as all three still feature ERAs under 3.00. Two other arms that the Irish could use to bounce back is the two-way player Brannigan and then freshman Caden Aoki. Both have electrifying stuff and have dominated, but they struggled in Louisville. Strong efforts from those two go a long way to preserving the Irish arms.
However, the bullpen will do a lot better if they don’t have to go seven innings in the first game of the series. That’s what happened last weekend, as senior Aidan Tyrell was bounced after just one inning. That makes two rough ACC starts for the Irish’s Friday night starter, and he needs to re-establish himself atop the rotation. If he does that, that sets the tone for what the Irish hope is a much better weekend on the bump. Graduate students Bertrand and Austin Temple also figure to start this weekend.
Game 1’s first pitch is at 4 p.m. on Friday.