ACC Preview: Virginia vs. Notre Dame

To keep their hopes alive for a shot at an ACC championship Sunday, the Irish will need another strong pitching performance from Ryan Smoyer, air-tight defense, and an opportunistic offense, which has had difficulty scoring runs against quality pitching.

Who: No. 7 Virginia (34-20) vs. No. 3 Notre Dame (35-20)
What: ACC Tournament
Where: Durham Bulls Athletic Park; Durham, N.C.
When: Friday, May 22, 11:00 a.m. ET

N.C. State lefthander Brian Brown and righthander Curt Britt combined for 14 strikeouts while allowing just three singles as the No. 6-seeded (32-20) Wolfpack defeated No. 3 seed Notre Dame, 3-0, in Thursday afternoon ACC tournament action at Durham Bulls Athletic Park in Durham, N.C.

Brown struck out a career-high 10 while allowing two singles in six innings of work. Britt followed with three innings of one-hit ball and four strikeouts.

“I thought Brian Brown pitched great against us and did a nice job of mixing in the fastball, changeup and breaking ball,” said Notre Dame head coach Mik Aoki.

“He had us out on our front foot a lot over the course of the game. They took advantage of the opportunities they had, and unfortunately, we couldn’t come up with a timely hit when we needed to.”

Run-scoring singles by Wolfpack third baseman Joe Dunard and second baseman Ryne Willard in the first, and another RBI single by catcher Andrew Knizner in the second, were the only runs N.C. State needed in handing the Irish (35-20) the setback.

It was just Notre Dame’s fifth loss in its last 19 games against ACC competition.

Irish third baseman Kyle Fiala led off the bottom of the ninth with an infield single. But designated hitter Ryan Bull struck out and catcher Ryan Lidge hit into a 6-4-3 game-ending double play.

Notre Dame’s best scoring opportunity came in the second inning when Lidge reached on an error, Robert Youngdahl singled, and Zak Kutsulis loaded the bases with a one-out bunt single. But Ricky Sanchez and Kyle Richardson both struck out swinging to end the threat.

Senior righthander Scott Kerrigan (3-5) allowed four hits in the first inning and another in the second in falling behind 3-0. He settled down to retire seven straight Wolfpack, but couldn’t avoid being tagged with the loss. He allowed eight hits in 5 1/3 innings. Scott Tully struck out six in 3 2/3 innings of relief.

• Friday schedule: Notre Dame takes on No. 7 seed Virginia (34-20), which advanced to pool play Tuesday with an 11-0 play-in victory over Georgia Tech. The Cavaliers fell to No. 2 seed Miami Wednesday, 9-5, after allowing seven runs in the bottom of the eighth to the Hurricanes. The Irish take on the Hurricanes Saturday at 3:00 ET in the final day of pool play.

Through two days of pool play, here are the records: Pool A – Florida State 2-0, Louisville 1-1, Clemson 1-1, North Carolina 0-2; Pool B – Miami 1-0, N.C. State 1-0, Virginia 0-1, Notre Dame 0-1.

The loser of Virginia-Notre Dame is out of the running for the ACC tournament championship. Other Friday games include North Carolina-Clemson and N.C. State-Miami. The Tar Heels are out of the running to advance to the championship game Sunday. The winner of N.C. State-Miami will have the upper hand in Pool B.

• Pitching match-up: The Irish send sophomore righthander Ryan Smoyer (8-0) to the mound against Cavalier lefthander Brandon Waddell. Waddell (3-4, 4.39) was credited with a 5-4 victory in the finale of a three-game series against the Irish the last weekend of March when he scattered five hits over 5 1/3 innings while allowing two earned runs. Notre Dame shortstop Lane Richards launched his first career home run off reliever Josh Sborz in that game.

• Season series: The Cavaliers extended Notre Dame’s conference losing streak to six games at the end of March with 9-1, 4-2 and 5-4 victories over the Irish, who dropped three in a row to Louisville the previous weekend. The Irish hit just .202 (20-for-99) in that series against Virginia.

Virginia scored three runs in the seventh and eighth innings of the first game to pull away for the victory. Centerfielder Adam Haseley homered for the Cavs. Notre Dame limited Virginia to six singles and a double in the second game of a doubleheader, but the Irish to just six hits themselves. Notre Dame scored single runs in the eighth and ninth inning in the third game of the series, but fell a run short.

• Virginia standouts: The Cavaliers are hitting .277 as a team with 31 home runs. Five players in Friday’s starting lineup are hitting better than .300: 1B-Matt Thaiss (.327, 9 HRs, 52 RBI), 3B-Kenny Towns (.315, 5 HRs, 55 RBI), SS-Daniel Pinero (.309, 6 HRs, 28 RBI), C-Robbie Coman (.308) and LF-Pavin Smith (.306, 6 HRs, 37 RBI).

• Family ties: Virginia head coach Brian O’Connor spent nine seasons as Notre Dame’s pitching coach (1995-2003) under Paul Mainieri, the final three as associate head coach before landing the head-coaching position in Charlottesville. O’Connor helped lead Notre Dame to the 2002 College World Series.

O’Connor will be taking the Cavaliers to the NCAA tournament for the 12th straight season. Under his guidance, Virginia has been to three College World Series (2009, 2001, 2014). Last season, the Cavs finished runner-up. His career record entering Friday’s game is 548-197-2.

• Keys to Notre Dame victory: Entering the ACC tournament with the lowest batting average in the conference (.252), it’s no secret that the Irish are going to have to generate some offense in order to defeat No. 7 seed Virginia and No. 2 seed Miami to give themselves a shot at an ACC championship Sunday.

Against N.C. State southpaw Brian Brown in two outings, Notre Dame managed just four hits in 12 innings with Brown registering 14 of 36 outs via the strikeout, including 10 out of 18 Thursday.

Notre Dame has the right pitcher on the mound to keep things close in sophomore righthander Ryan Smoyer, who has been the squad’s most consistent hurler from start to finish, and particularly since he entered the rotation when Scott Kerrigan and Nick McCarty both experienced shoulder issues.

Notre Dame scored just seven runs in 27 innings against the Cavaliers in late-March. Two of those runs were scored against Virginia lefthander Brandon Waddell, who will be on the hill Friday morning.

The Irish entered the week leading the nation in double plays. Notre Dame needs to remain air-tight defensively, create and take advantage of a couple scoring opportunities, and win a close, low-scoring contest. The Cavaliers likely have too much pop in their lineup for the Irish to win a high-scoring affair, although their 3.45 ERA is nearly a half-run higher than Notre Dame’s. Top Stories