Sports are weird. There's really no other way to explain how Notre Dame hosts a baseball tournament, not in South Bend, but in Cary. The Irish Classic, held at the USA Baseball National Training Complex, with a few games up the road at Doak Field as well, got underway Friday with NC State bludgeoning Niagara 7-1.
Niagara is not one of those upstart mid-majors that has made up the Pack's schedule so far; the Purple Eagles entered the game at 2-8 with both their wins coming by a lone run.
Of particular interest in the series will be the Chance Shephard Home Run Watch. Interestingly, the two players that share the collegiate record for most consecutive games with a homer are ACC alums, Georgia Tech's Andy Bruce, who did it in eight straight games in 1991, and Duke's Ryan Jackson, who turned the same trick in 1994. Shepard's two-run bomb gave State (8-2) a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the first that they would only build on, and it gave the DH/C a long ball in six consecutive games, just two shy of matching the record.
Shephard's blast supported a strong effort on the mound from lefty Ryan Williamson, who struck out eight in 5.2 innings during which he surrendered just one run. Josh McLain put the game away with a grand slam in the bottom of the fifth. It was McLain's second round-tripper of the season. Converted pitcher Evan Mendoza continued to impress at the plate, going 2-for-5 with a stolen base. He entered the contest batting better than .600 in five games (four starts).
Austin Staley and Christian Demby closed out the win with a combined 3.1 shutout frames for NC State, which will take on Alabama, its lone power five conference opponent outside of ACC play, tomorrow at 4:30 at the USA Baseball Complex. The Pack end the event back at the Doak Sunday against Bucknell.
Notes: Demby became the 16th Pack pitcher to take the bump already this season... With two from Staley and four from Demby, the three Pack pitchers combined to strike out 14 Purple Eagles... Tommy DeJuneas, a two-way guy at times last year, made his first start of the season in the field, playing right and batting eighth. He had a hit and a walk in four plate appearances... Preston Palmeiro and Xavier LeGrant are both former Team USA members... The Pack have won eight of nine since losing their season opener.