Who’s the Pack playing?
Opponent: Notre Dame
Mascot: Stereotypes | School Location: Rudyville, IN | Conference: ACC
2023 Record: 25-17 (13-11, T-2nd Atlantic) | 2023 RPI Rank: 43
2022 Record: 41-17 (16-11, 2nd Atlantic) | 2022 RPI Rank: 3
2021 Record: 34-13 (25-10, 1st Atlantic) | 2021 RPI Rank: 5
When? Where? How do I watch?
Location: Frank Eck Stadium (South Bend, IN)
Game Time(s): Thur, May 4 @ 7:00pm | Fri, May 5 @ 5:00pm | Sat, May 6 @ 2:00pm
Live Stats: Stat Broadcast
Tell me about this team
If there’s one good thing about the NC State vs Notre Dame series this year, it’s that the announcers shouldn’t beat us over the head with the Link/J.T. Jarrett family connection... but I’m going to talk about Link Jarrett for a quick minute, so apologies y’all.
Notre Dame was a pretty average baseball program (aside from a run to the 1957 College World Series) until Pat Murphy (perfect name for a Fighting Irish coach, by the way) showed up in 1988 and started laying waste to the Mid-Western Conference. Murphy led Notre Dame to five regular season conference titles, three conference tournament titles, and four NCAA Regional appearances in a seven year run before heading off to Arizona State and leading the Sun Devils to four CWS appearances over a 15-year span.
Quick aside: Murphy is an amazing coach. He’s currently the bench coach for the Milwaukee Brewers, and it’s no surprise that the Brewers surge under Craig Counsell (who played for Murphy at Notre Dame) has occurred with Murphy on the staff.
Notre Dame made an amazing hire after Murphy left in bringing Paul Mainieri over from Air Force. Mainieri led the Irish for 12 seasons, taking the program to nine NCAA Regionals and a CWS appearance in 2002, winning seven regular season conference titles and five conference tournament titles. He left for LSU in 2007, leading the Tigers to five CWS appearances and one national title in 15 years.
The Irish immediately went back to a mediocre program after Mainieri’s departure and remained that way for 13 seasons until Jarrett showed up from UNCG. Jarrett pulled the program out of the doldrums and led them to an ACC regular season title in 2021 and then to the CWS in 2022. He now is taking on a tougher-than-expected rebuild at Florida State, as you are likely well aware.
The Notre Dame program is now being led by Shawn Stiffler, who spent the last ten years leading the VCU program to three regular season A10 titles, three A10 tournament titles, three NCAA Regionals, and one NCAA Super Regional. Stiffler is a well-regarded coach in the college ranks, but he took over what was expected to be a rebuild after Notre Dame lost a lot of experience and production from last year’s CWS squad. That expectations looked like it was going to hold true as the Irish started the season a 8-8, and then started ACC play at 5-7, but Stiffler has the team on a roll of late.
Since dropping the last two games of their series at Clemson in mid April, the Golden Domers are 7-2 overall and have ACC series wins over Virginia (via a sweep) and Florida State (sticking it to their former coach).
As expected, this team is built on the backs of a deep pitching staff. Don’t get me wrong, the offense is still plenty capable - especially with some of the players mentioned below - but it’s not quite to the level it was under Jarrett. The bats have improved as the season has progressed, hitting a combined .265/.353/.454 in ACC play versus a .247/.353/.414 overall mark on the year.
They are a little more patient this year under Stiffler, taking a few more pitches and working more walks (although that has also worked against them on occasion, resulting in disadvantaged counts and more strikeouts). Notably, the team is less aggressive on the bases and more willing to play small ball, i.e. lay down the awful sacrifice bunt.
The pitching staff is really where this team differentiates itself. The pitchers can’t quite claim the same in-conference improvement that the hitters can (which is expected for ACC teams), but they’ve been very good all year especially at pounding the zone and challenging hitters. Aidan Tyrell’s move back to a starting role as the Friday night guy over the last two weeks has been a boon for this group, especially after it lost sophomore stud Jack Findlay (4-2, 3.79 ERA, 40.1 IP, 6.5 BB%, 31.8 K%) two weeks ago to an elbow injury that required Tommy John Surgery.
Who’s on the mound for these guys?
Thursday: LHP Aidan Tyrell (SR)
Friday: RHP Blake Hely (SR)
DH Vinny Martinez (SR) - .281/.400/.625, 13.8 BB%, 27.6 K%, 0-0 SB. Graduate transfer from Stanford who is on a tear right now. The stocky right-handed hitter did not play against NC State in the 2021 CWS.
1B Carter Putz (SR) - .291/.379/.500, 11.0 BB%, 14.3 K%, 3-5 SB. Five-year starter for the Irish. Just a good all-around hitter.
SS Zack Prajzner (SR) - .280/.374/.429, 9.7 BB%, 17.4 K%, 3-4 SB. Like Putz, is a five-year starter in the middle infield.
RF Brooks Coetzee (SR) - .277/.449/.412, 6.9 BB%, 15.7 K%, 8-11 SB. The power struggles this year have been surprising since the four-year starter hit 12 homers a year ago. He’s a very good hitter and has good wheels.
3B Jack Penney (SO) - .253/.357/.481, 12.8 BB%, 20.7 K%, 8-8 SB. Has stepped into a full-time starting gig this year and has played the role well with just four errors on the year at the hot corner while hitting cleanup. Tied with Coetzee for the team lead in stolen bases.
LHP Aidan Tyrell (SR) - 7-2, 1 SV, 3.65 ERA, 49.1 IP, 8.5 BB%, 20.5 K%. One of the most frustrating pitchers to face because you feel like you should hit him. Slender built contact pitcher is just really good at getting outs. Opponents are hitting just .195 against him.
RHP Blake Hely (SR) - 2-1, 0 SV, 4.68 ERA, 42.1 IP, 10.4 BB%, 23.0 K%. Transfer from Davidson (seriously, they are getting screwed by the extra COVID year of eligibility) who was an ace for the Wildcats. Will work deep into games.
LHP Will Mercer (SR) - 2-0, 2 SV, 3.79 ERA, 19.0 IP, 10.8 BB%, 25.8 K%. Seemingly in his 11th season, Mercer has been a highly used arm dating back to the 2020 season. He has 18 career starts, but none this year as he’s morphed into a high-leverage arm.
RHP Radek Birkholz (SO) - 0-2, 1 SV, 5.65 ERA, 28.2 IP, 8.8 BB%, 17.6 K%. Along with Mercer, has become one of the top go-to relief arms since Tyrell moved back into the rotation. Has the ability to be stretched out for long relief.
RHP Caden Spivey (FR) - 3-0, 0 SV, 2.13 ERA, 25.1 IP, 7.5 BB%, 17.8 K%. Settling in to a long-relief role as each of his last two outings have been over 4.0 innings. Pretty easy to see the talented freshman is a future rotation arm for the Irish.
RHP Jackson Dennies (JR) - 0-2, 3.06 ERA, 35.1 IP, 8.5 BB%, 24.8 K%. Appears to be hurt because he hasn’t pitched over the last two weeks after starting ten straight games, but it’s worth calling him out here in case he’s not injured or is about to return. The 6’4, 240 pounder was the Friday night guy having a breakout year.
Quick! Fun Facts!
NC State is 13-12 all-time versus Notre Dame, including a 11-12 mark in ACC regular season games and 1-0 in ACC tournament games.
Notre Dame has won the last three series between these two.
Twenty-two states are represented on the Notre Dame roster, but North Carolina is not one of them.
Both teams really need this series. Notre Dame is trying to boost their RPI, but the overall resume looks great: winning ACC record, playing their best baseball of late, .500 record over 18 games (and counting) against Top 50 RPI teams. They’re in good shape.
NC State, meanwhile, needs this series for the reasons Steven outlined earlier. Margins are thin for State.
The Pack have been erratic all year and Notre Dame is hot right now. Gotta go with the Fighting Irish, but I hope I’m proven wrong.
Outcome: Golden Domers take two of three.