Notre Dame overcame an early 2-0 deficit to beat NC State, 3-2, in the series opener for the two teams. The win moves the 1st place Irish to 15-6 in ACC play and 17-6 overall. The loss drops NC State to 8-11 in conference play and 15-12 overall. It’s only the third loss for NC State in their last 14 games.
NC State jumped on top early thanks to a two-out, two RBI 2nd inning double by Devonte Brown. Jonny Butler singled to open the inning, Terrell Tatum walked with one out, and both runners advanced on a groundout before being driven in by Brown.
Unfortunately for the Wolfpack, that was the last of their scoring for the day. Notre Dame starter Will Mercer proceeded to toss a career high 5.0 innings, keeping the Pack to just the two runs (both earned) on six hits and one walk. He struck out three. The Irish followed Mercer with top reliever Tanner Kohlhepp, who allowed just two baserunners (via a hit and a HBP) over the final four frames while striking out two.
Notre Dame finally got to NC State starter Reid Johnston in the 4th inning, tying the game on a two out, two RBI single by Jack Brannigan. The score may have never happened if not for a borderline 1-2 pitch that was called a ball prior to the base knock by Brannigan.
The Irish scored the game winning run in the bottom of the 8th. With Johnston well over 100 pitches, the coaching staff tried to ride him out, a decision that ultimately backfired. Johnston retired Ryan Cole looking on a full count, but you could tell he was laboring a bit. Niko Kavadas reached on a full count walk, which should have been the indicator to go to the bullpen. Instead Johnston stayed in for five more pitches, which resulted in back-to-back singles to load the bases.
Evan Justice was brought in to try and work out of the jam, and he quickly got ahead of Brannigan 0-2, despite missing Luca Tresh’s outside set up on both pitches. Tresh moved inside for the 0-2 to try and pressure Brannigan with an inside fastball, but the pitch ran up and in, hitting Brannigan on the elbow to push across the go-ahead run. Justice induced a 5-2-3 double play by the next batter to end the inning.
State went down 1-2-3 in the 9th to end the game.
Butler (2-4, R), Brown (2-4, 2B, 2 RBI), and Tatum (1-3, R, BB) each reached base multiple times. Johnston’s final line: 7.1 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 10 K, 1 BHP, 117 pitches.
The good news is that Notre Dame likely burned Kohlhepp for the remainder of the weekend after throwing 48 pitches. For a team without a plethora of dependable bullpen options, that could bode well for NC State.
Sam Highfill will be on the mound for the Pack as they look to even the series at 2:00pm Saturday.