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Irish look to stay hot, begin ACC gauntlet by visiting Louisville

| Friday, March 18, 2022

You couldn’t draw up a better start for the Notre Dame baseball team (12-1, 2-0 ACC) if you tried. OK, maybe you could’ve drawn up one that erased their only blemish, a 5-4 loss to Delaware in their third game against a different opponent in as many days. But other than that, the Irish haven’t been just perfect; they’ve dominated almost every game they’ve played in.

So far, the Irish have mostly played a variety of non-conference opponents. They aced their first conference test, sweeping a rain-shortened two-game series at then-No. 17 N.C. State, outscoring the Wolfpack 19-8. After their first home game of the season yielded another convincing win, a 12-1 final over Valparaiso, the Irish are back on the road to face the Louisville Cardinals (13-4, 0-0 ACC).

The strength of Notre Dame’s outstanding start has been its pitching and defense. The Delaware loss marks the only occasion the Irish have allowed more than four runs in a single game; in eight of those games, they’ve allowed two runs or fewer, including one shutout. Only one Notre Dame pitcher who has appeared in three games or more has an ERA over 2.50. All four of Notre Dame’s pitchers with starts have ERAs under two, allowing the offense to settle into games with ease.

Leading the way on the mound are graduate student left-hander John Michael Bertrand and senior left-hander Aidan Tyrell, who are a combined 7-0 with 45 strikeouts to just eight walks. Graduate student right-hander Ryan McLinskey has also been great out of the bullpen, tallying two saves without allowing a run in 10 innings pitched. The unit will undoubtedly be tested as the season progresses, but the early returns are incredibly strong. It helps when you have as stout a defense behind you as the Irish pitching staff does, as Notre Dame leads the ACC with a .994 fielding percentage.

The Cardinals certainly have enough to give the Irish a handful this weekend. They’ve already knocked off No. 15 TCU and their 13-4 record is fourth-best in a strong ACC Coastal Division. If there’s anyone who can challenge Notre Dame’s outstanding pitching staff, it’s the Cardinals. Louisville is second in the ACC with 175 runs scored and leads the conference with 81 extra base hits. Louisville’s Ben Metzinger leads the way with nine home runs, which gives him a top-3 in the ACC. But this is a Cardinals team with outstanding depth at the plate; all nine of Louisville’s starters have a slugging percentage over .500, including five over .600. The Cardinals can both get on base at a high level and drive the ball — a daunting combination for any opponent.

Louisville does have a couple of strong starters in Tate Kuehner and Riley Phillips, but pitching isn’t their strength. Only Boston College has allowed more earned runs than Louisville’s 84. Their 22 unearned runs allowed are also the most in the conference, as only N.C. State has a worse fielding percentage than the Cardinals. That bodes well for an Irish offense that loves to take the extra base and put pressure on opposing defenses. The numbers may not be there yet for Notre Dame at the plate, but the Irish certainly don’t lack confidence. Their seven double-digit scoring games show they have plenty of potential.

The Irish and Louisville take the diamond beginning on Friday night at 7 p.m. They’ll face off again on Saturday and Sunday with a pair of 1 p.m. starts, all at Louisville’s Cardinal Stadium. Friday’s game is broadcasted on the ACC Network; Saturday and Sunday’s games are on ACC Network Extra.

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About Andrew McGuinness

Andrew McGuinness is a sophomore in Siegfried Hall from Haddonfield, New Jersey, a short drive away from Philadelphia. Naturally, he loves all of his Philadelphia sports teams, even if they don't always love him back. Feel free to reach out to talk sports or TV shows, especially if they're Ted Lasso, Stranger Things, or/and Survivor.

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