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Notre Dame Baseball

Notre Dame Prepping For Big Week at Wrigley and Fenway

May 15, 2023
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The 2023 baseball season has been a success for Shawn Stiffler, but it’s not done yet. 

Notre Dame (29-19, 14,13) enters the final week of the regular season with postseason dreams on the line and will play in two cathedrals of baseball as the Irish have games at Wrigley Field and Fenway Park set. 

Northwestern (8-38) will host Notre Dame at Wrigley on Tuesday evening looking to avenge a 12-0 loss to the Irish on April 4th, while game two of a massive ACC series against Boston College (32-16, 14-13) will be at Fenway on Saturday. 

”It’s unbelievable, but at the same time, games count,” Stiffler stated. “That’s the tough part of it. I know Marcus (Freeman) has to deal with it. The only difference is when they play in the big arenas, it’s selling out. You’re going to have a lot of empty seats. 

“It’s a Notre Dame thing. Northwestern could have called anybody. They wanted the game vs. Notre Dame. We have such a big alumni base in Chicago and I hope they come out. I hope it becomes a Notre Dame home game. I’m excited and I definitely want to try to get in there and leave a note for Trey (Mancini) and maybe slip some swag to him.” 

The clash with Boston College will have postseason seeding on the line as the Eagles are projected to host a regional, but it will also have a bigger meaning than baseball. It will be Boston College’s annual ALS Awareness game in honor of former Eagles captain Pete Frakes, who passed away in 2012. 

“If that doesn’t get your juices going - the Fenway thing is so special,” said Stiffler. “I remember when they called us about it, the only thing I said about it was I hope we’re not trying to qualify for a tournament or trying to make a NCAA push and somebody hits the ball towards Pesky’s Pole down the right field line.” 

As for the postseason, Notre Dame likely needs to avoid a sweep against Boston College this weekend as the .500 mark in conference play has been kind to ACC.

In 2022, Florida State (34-25, 15-15), North Carolina (42-22, 15-15) and Georgia Tech (36-24, 15-15) made the tourney, while the year before, Duke (33-22 16-17), North Carolina (28-27, 18-18) and Virginia (36-26, 18-18) made the Field of 64, but it’s worth noting Louisville (28-22, 16-16) did not make the cut in 2021. 

Final ACC Weekend 
Notre Dame (29-19, 14-13) at Boston College (32-16, 14-13)
Pitt (10-15, 22-27) at NC State (31-18, 10-16)
North Carolina (33-17, 14-11) at Clemson (35-17, 17-10)
Virginia Tech (29-19, 11-15) at Wake Forest (42-8, 20-6)
Virginia (41-11, 16-11) at Georgia Tech (12-15, 30-21)
Florida State (20-30, 7-20) at Louisville (29-22, 9-18)
Duke (34-16, 15-11) at Miami (34-21, 16-11) 

ACC STANDINGS
ATLANTIC

SCHOOL CONFERENCE OVERALL
Wake Forest 20-6 42-8
Clemson 17-10 35-17
Boston College 14-13 32-16
Notre Dame 14-13 29-19
NC State 10-16 31-18
Louisville 9-18 29-22
Florida State 7-20 20-30

COASTAL

SCHOOL CONFERENCE OVERALL
Virginia 16-11 41-11
Miami 16-11 34-21
Duke 15-11 34-16
North Carolina 14-11 33-17
Georgia Tech 12-15 30-21
Virginia Tech 11-15 29-19
Pitt 10-15 22-27

Notre Dame’s RPI took a hit this weekend despite sweeping Akron as the Irish fell four spots to 46. That’s the perk of playing a MAC school that is now 17-32 on the year, but it was also exam week so the Irish were smart in scheduling around the toughest portion of the academic year. 

A series win over Boston College would be a boost to likely make Notre Dame a lock into the NCAA Tournament. The good news for Notre Dame is Louisville and NC State have played themselves out of the NCAA Tourney with poor ACC records, so key series to keep tabs on this weekend will be Virginia at Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech at Wake Forest and North Carolina at Clemson. 

ACC RPI STANDINGS

RPI SCHOOL
2 Wake Forest
8 Clemson
9 Virginia
12 Duke
13 Boston College
18 Miami
24 North Carolina
26 NC State
34 Louisville
43 Georgia Tech
46 Notre Dame
55 Virginia Tech
64 Florida State
70  Pitt

PITCHING
Heading into the week, Notre Dame is about as healthy as they will get on the mound as RHP Jackson Dennies pitched the last two weekends with no issues. The goal was 50 pitches on Sunday, but Stiffler decided to pull him after two innings as Dennies sat at 39 pitches. 

“We were hoping he’d get us into the fourth and then unlimited next weekend, which he’s still on schedule to be unlimited,” stated Stiffler. “I just don’t know if he’ll be ready for that type of pitch count. If I can get 50-60 pitches out of him next weekend that are competitive, I’ll be pretty happy.” 

Sophomore RHP Radek Birkholz also seems to be turning a corner at the end of the year. The last four outings (8.2 innings) Birkholz has given up just one run while striking out seven with just three walks. On Sunday, Birkholz struck out four Akron batters in three innings and didn’t give up a hit. 

”He was dealing with some lower half mechanical issues early on in the season,” explained Stiffler. “He wasn’t sharp and it happened quickly. He fought hard to get it back and you create other problems.

“That’s as electric as I’ve seen him. He was electric today (Sunday). What a great shot in the arm. It was nice to see him pitch Friday and today.” 

Freshman RHP Caden Spivey has continued his strong season on Saturday as he picked up his fourth win of the year after pitching 3.2 innings of three-hit baseball. For the year, Spivey sits at a 2.78 ERA with 23 strikeouts in 32.1 innings of work. 

”What a shot in the arm or whatever you want to call it,” Stiffler said. “What a stud. He’s been so consistent. Maybe our most consistent arm at times. He’s good for 12 outs every weekend that are really competitive. He’s very confident. He deserves to be and should be. We’re not sitting here without him and having the opportunity without him.”

Spivey isn’t the only freshman arm Stiffler is high on as RHP David Lally Jr. has been the midweek starter, but the schedule hasn’t shaped up to let him throw since April 15th as the Irish had to cancel its game against Bowling Green on May 2nd due to weather. 

Lally will start on Tuesday at Wrigley, which seems like a decent consolation prize for the Michigan native. 

“We really believe in David. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to find him rhythm like we really wanted to. He’ll start Tuesday at Wrigley. Those two guys and (Estevan) Moreno, we like those guys. They’re going to be good for us.” 

LINEUP
Leftfield has been the revolving door for most of the season as the Irish have played Jack Zyska, Casey Kmet, DM Jefferson and Brady Gumpf at the position throughout the year. Over the last month, Jefferson seemed to pull ahead as the sophomore was productive at the plate (.267), which the Irish offense desperately needed. However, the last two weeks, Gumpf (.233) has seen time there and Stiffler isn’t committing to either - for now. 

“It’s platooned a little bit with the catching scenario and how that kind of matches up,” Stiffler explained. “I started DM vs. a left-hander today because I needed him to get at-bats. He’s got to get at-bats. We like them both. I’m trying to figure out how to get them both in. We also really like (Danny) Neri behind the plate and what he does defensively and what he does from the pitching analytics side in framing and stealing strikes. 

Stiffler admits its been tough for him to decide who to play and realizes it makes life difficult for Jefferson and Gumpf, but that’s the way the lineup has to be heading into the final week. 

“It’s not easy on them now to be playing one day and not the next,” said Stiffler. “I can’t really say, ‘Hey, you’re going to play vs. this guy and you’re going to play vs. this guy.’ It’s not really that scenario. You come in and see what the wind is doing and seeing what the matchup is.” 

On the opposite end, Notre Dame grad student Zack Prajzner has been consistently in the lineup since 2019 when he made 30 starts as a true freshman. He’s played in 186 games during his career and his final at-bat at Frank Eck Stadium was a solo home run to tie the game on Sunday afternoon. 

“I’m proud he’s allowing himself to play,” stated Stiffler. “He’s such a fiery competitor. Early on when I met him, I felt he could get in his own way. He’s really hard on himself. I’m really proud of him. He’s let himself really relax and let himself play. I have so much respect for him.” 

INJURY
Sophomore third baseman Jack Penney left game one with what appeared to be a shoulder injury and was seen in a sling on Saturday and Sunday. Kmet and Nick DeMarco filled in for Penney the rest of the series, but Stiffler was hoping to get positive news on Monday as his infielder was set to have tests done. 

”He gets evaluated Monday,” Stiffler explained. “You saw him dive and the shoulder doesn’t feel good. He’s sleeping well which makes me happy and he’s comfortable. He’s not sore sitting there, but when that thing gets jammed or twisted, they’re going to evaluate him on Monday for an MRI.

“It is his glove side. It’s not his throwing arm and it’s his back arm on hitting, so we’re hoping that’s a little bit of a help. We’re going to have to take that day-by-day and we’ll go from there. He was in there moving it this morning in the training room. He’s already rehabbing. The fact that he’s sleeping fine gives me comfort that hopefully it’s going to be something that might be a week or two. Until they get the imaging, I worry about the labrum.” 

Almost a year ago to date, Notre Dame second baseman Jared Miller suffered a shoulder injury, which thrust Penney into the starting lineup. Miller was injured on May 14th and returned to the lineup for game one of the Super Regional at Tennessee on June 10th. 

“I was literally looking at the box score of Pitt on Saturday and Penney came in during the third inning,” said Stiffler. “That’s when Jared Miller went out. Literally, we’re one day earlier.” 

2023 has been a ride, but Notre Dame is 10 games over .500 and has a chance to make a statement this weekend. 

Stiffler admits he hasn’t had too much time to think about as the Irish have gone a bumpy road every time the program has some momentum. 

”I don’t even know what to say about it,” said Stiffler. “This season has had so many chapters in it. We have to get the Stiffler Era going, then you have the conference, finally get to play at home and then (Jack) Findlay gets hurt and the pitching gets shuffled around and we’re dealing with that. Now, we’re going to deal with the Penney scenario. 

“I’ve just been dealing with those things each time. I haven’t focused a ton on the record because we’ve had to manage so many things. It’s a good season coming off a lot of change. I’m very proud of them.” 

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