At this point, LSU probably doesn’t want to see Notre Dame on their schedule in any sport. For the first time since 1999 LSU lost their opening series. That team was Texas, a perennial baseball power, not a team picked to finish last in their division as the Irish were.
The Irish didn’t just squeak two wins out of this three game set either. They won convincingly and damn near swept the series.
In game one, the Irish took a 6-0 lead into the bottom of the sixth. 5th year southpaw, Scott Tully, finally ran out of gas, loaded up the bases, and surrendered a grand slam. One more LSU swing of the bat, this time a three run blast, in the bottom of the eight put the Tigers up for good to complete the 7-6 comeback.
The LSU bullpen did masterful work as well. Matthew Beck and Austin Bain combined for 4.2 innings of shutout ball, surrendering only a single hit and striking out 9.
Game two appeared to follow the exact same script. The Irish again jumped on LSU starting pitching early, knocking starter Zack Hess out in the third inning which featured seven runs, staking the Irish to a 8-1 lead. Then, freshman starter, Tommy Sheehan, coughed up a three run fourth, but followed it up with a 1-2-3 fifth.
Shane Combs came in for a very rough relief performance, walking the only two batters he faced. A familiar face for Irish football fans, Cole Kmet, came in for four innings of shutout, one-hit ball, earning his first career save.
With a couple insurance runs in the ninth, another feature missing from game one, the Irish ended with a solid 10-5 win.
Sunday’s game three was just a flat out beating of LSU. Junior Eric Gilgenback had a 7 RBI day bolstered by a grand slam and three run homer. Notre Dame skipper, Mik Aoki, rotated through seven pitchers for a combined effort that saw LSU score put zero crooked numbers on the board in a single inning. In fact, only one Irish pitcher surrendered more than one hit–the only Irish pitching issues on the day were self-inflicted with walks.
Without two large swings of the bat and an other-worldly bullpen effort from LSU, the Irish could very well be looking at a 3-0 start to the season. But taking two games, on the road, from a top ten team is nothing to be disappointed about. Not only that, LSU hadn’t surrendered six or more runs in their first three games of the season until 1953.
Time will tell whether or not LSU is a top ten caliber team; in fact, in my opinion, if their starting pitching continues on down this path, I’d doubt it. Regardless, I saw this series as being a good measuring stick for what the Irish have this season.
What I saw was a team with incredibly solid fundamentals. At the plate, hitters were patient, didn’t press to do too much, and flat out destroyed any mistakes. They are a nightmare for opposing catchers with 10 stolen bases in the series. The defense played clean, having zero errors throughout the series, which is the longest stretch of errorless ball to open a season since 1994. Pitching was far from what I’d consider dominant, but did more than enough to win.
Notre Dame looks to be a rather fun team to watch that will give opponents fits. They will be more than happy to small-ball you to death, but still have the pop to make you pay if you get sloppy.
Color me surprised and optimistic. I’m excited to see what this team will do throughout the season.