The 2018 season was a disappointing one for Notre Dame baseball. The Irish finished 24-30 and 12-18 in conference play. They lost twice in the ACC tournament — 6-2 to Miami and 21-4 to Clemson. The close of the season also brought the departure of three seniors as well as juniors Cole Daily, Nick Podkul and Matt Vierling, who entered the MLB Draft.
2019 came as an opportunity for the Irish to reset and improve. With over 20 returning players, the Notre Dame roster and head coach Mik Aoki looked to learn from past shortcomings and be competitive in the ACC.
To begin the season, Notre Dame traveled to Tempe, Arizona to take on the Arizona State Sun Devils. Unfortunately, the team upheld 2018’s precedent when Arizona State swept Notre Dame in three games, winning by a combined score of 46-13. They sit at No. 9 in the country with a 22-1 record.
The Irish got a couple of non-conference wins in late February, splitting series with Eastern Michigan and Incarnate Word. In the 11-3 win over Eastern Michigan, sophomore pitcher Tommy Sheehan registered eight strikeouts and junior first baseman Daniel Jung had three hits and six RBI.
With March came more ups and downs. Sheehan and junior pitcher Cameron Junker each got a win against Charleston Southern, but the team also dropped two contests to Ball State, losing 6-2 and 2-0.
Notre Dame held a 4-7 record heading into conference play. With ranked opponents in Clemson, Florida State, Louisville and North Carolina on the docket, Aoki’s squad would be forced to find their footing or else struggle in the ACC.
The Irish not only found their footing, but competed well in their first three ACC series. The team’s 5-4 start to conference play was their best since joining the ACC in 2014.
In a back-and-forth contest against Wake Forest, sophomore infielder Niko Kavadas hit a three-run homer that helped the Irish to a 7-4 win. Notre Dame then split a double-header against the Demon Deacons the following day, earning them a series victory.
One week later, Notre Dame traveled to Clemson, South Carolina to take on the No. 12 Clemson Tigers. In game one, Sheehan pitched a complete game, allowing only two runs as the Irish won 9-2. After dropping game two, Junker pitched 7.1 innings in game three and struck out eight. Notre Dame won 4-2 in 10 innings, securing back-to-back series wins.
“I really just got ahead of hitters early, let the defense work ... I just wanted to get a win and a series win on the road,” Junker said in an interview following the game.
Coming home to Frank Eck Stadium, Notre Dame dropped their first ACC series to No. 19 Florida State, but the Irish won game two 12-3. In the rubber match on March 24, Notre Dame battled into extra innings but eventually lost 3-1.
While the start to conference play has shown promise for this year’s team, they have still suffered brutal defeats. Most notably, in a midweek game between the Wake Forest and Clemson series, Western Carolina beat the Irish 16-9. Six pitchers took the mound for Notre Dame, and they allowed nine earned runs while walking 11.
For a team whose first 20 games have been filled with highs and lows, they hope to find some consistent success in the coming series and beyond.