April 1, 2017
NOTRE DAME, Indiana - On a beautiful Saturday afternoon at Frank Eck stadium, Jake Shepski's two-out single in the ninth gave Notre Dame baseball a walk-off win over North Carolina State, 2-1. In doing so, the Irish secured a series victory over a fellow ACC Atlantic Division member.
Notre Dame's starter, lefty Michael Hearne, dazzled on Saturday. The senior yielded only one run in seven innings of impressive work, combining with Peter Solomon to give the Irish an opportunity to win the game. The resilient Irish are now 10-15 on the season and 4-7 in conference play. The win is the third straight for Notre Dame, which won its second of four ACC series this season.
Hearne repeatedly forced soft contact, keeping the NC State bats quiet. The Notre Dame defense aided Hearne's cause, with several players making athletic plays to keep the Wolfpack down. By the conclusion of his outing, Hearne had surrendered just five hits to a tough NC State lineup and lowered his ERA to 2.72. Solomon hurled two innings of scoreless baseball, striking out two in the process. His efforts were rewarded with his second win of the season.
Patrick McDonald aided the Irish at the plate on Saturday, going 2-4 with one run. The outing boosted the freshman's average to .294 for the year. Cole Daily also stood out on a tough day for hitters, tallying two hits and a crucial walk late in the game.
Notre Dame struck first on Saturday afternoon but missed an opportunity for a big inning. With one out, Patrick McDonald grounded a hard-hit ball that eluded the Wolfpack second baseman for a single. Following a Ryan Lidge walk, Cole Daily laid down a perfectly placed bunt single to load the bases for the Irish. Jake Shepski's loud sacrifice fly to right field scored McDonald and gave the Irish a 1-0 lead. A groundout in the next at-bat, however, would stop the team's rally.
NC State almost retaliated in the next inning. A throwing error by Hearne allowed Wolfpack hitter, Brock Deatherage, to reach second base with no outs. After the NC State runner moved over to third on a groundout, Hearne forced a pop fly to record the second out. An exceptional defensive play on a chopper to third baseman Kyle Fiala would ultimately allow the Irish to escape the inning unscathed.
Not a team to go down easily, NC State broke through in the seventh. Wolfpack shortstop, Joe Dunand, ripped a single to left field to start the inning. After a bunt and a groundout, Dunand stood on third base with two outs. With Deatherage at the plate, Hearne fired a well-placed pitch that the batter just managed to squirt over the Irish pitcher's head. The softly-hit single scored Dunand, tying up the game, 1-1.
With one out, freshman Daniel Jung hit a grounder right in front of homeplate. Fortunately, for the Irish, the NC State catcher's throw sailed into right field. Jung reached second on the throwing error, putting the winning run in scoring position. Two straight walks by Ryan Lidge and Cole Daily loaded the bases for Jake Shepski. The junior battled the full at-bat, eventually working a full count. On the payoff pitch, Shepski turned on an inside fastball, lining it to right field and giving the Irish a 2-1 walk-off win.
On his game-winning at-bat...
"I got to see the at-bats from Lidge and Daily. Two great at-bats from those guys. I knew going into the inning that the only way I'd be coming up would be with the bases loaded and two outs. I stayed with my approach to hit something hard toward the middle of the field. Once it got to 3-2, I felt the crowd and tried to lock-in as much as I could. The pitcher threw it right over the plate and I put my best swing on it."
On clinching the series...
"This weekend is huge for us. We have had a lot of talks with the team, trying to figure things out. I feel like we are really getting there. The energy this weekend has been better than I've seen it all year. Guys are all moving in the same direction, looking out for each other the whole time. The whole atmosphere has totally changed for this team. I think we are going to take this and run with it."
On fan support at Frank Eck Stadium...
"That was awesome. I really appreciate all of the fans coming out. The support shows how loyal these fans are. It definitely helps us to have them behind our backs. We are feeling really good now and ready to go get some more wins."
The Irish will seek the series sweep on Sunday versus NC State. First pitch is slated for 1:05 p.m. ET at Frank Eck Stadium. The game can be seen on WatchND and heard live on 103.1 FM in South Bend.
-- ND --
Fighting Irish Media student worker Ben Auwaerter is a sophomore at Notre Dame and is from Lutherville, Maryland. He previously worked during the summer of 2014 with the Baltimore Orioles public relations office.