Who: No. 2 Miami (43-14) vs. No. 3 Notre Dame (36-20)
What: ACC Tournament
Where: Durham Bulls Athletic Park; Durham, N.C.
When: Thursday, May 23, 3:00 p.m. ET
Notre Dame (36-20) took advantage of some shoddy Virginia defense and erratic pitching Friday to notch its first-ever ACC championship victory, an 8-2 conquest of the Cavaliers to keep hopes alive for a spot in Sunday’s conference title game.
Needing a three-step process to play for the title – a Miami win over N.C. State Friday night, an Irish victory over the Hurricanes Saturday afternoon, and a Virginia win over N.C. State Saturday night – Notre Dame’s hopes were dashed when the Wolfpack claimed a 5-4, 12-inning victory over Miami.
Saturday’s clash with the Hurricanes still carries significance as the Irish jockey for a spot in the NCAA tournament. As the third-place finisher in the ACC, Notre Dame has an entry sewed up. A win over Miami, however, could play a favorable role in landing a Midwest location in the NCAA tournament.
The Irish stayed in contention for a championship berth behind Cavan Biggio’s two-run triple in the sixth and a pair of RBI by Kyle Fiala.
Sophomore righthander Ryan Smoyer became the third Notre Dame pitcher since 1998 to open the season 9-0. Freshman righthander Brandon Bielak, making just his second relief appearance after starting 13 games this season, notched his first career save. Of Bielak’s 26 pitches, 21 were strikes. He allowed two hits and no runs over the final three frames.
The win was particularly gratifying for the Irish since the Cavaliers swept Notre Dame in a three-game series at Frank Eck Stadium during the regular season.
“Our guys did a great job, staying focused one pitch at a time and taking advantage of some opportunities that we created, and also some that were given to us,” said Irish head coach Mik Aoki.
“We were able to do a really good job with situational hitting and came out with a win against a very good Virginia team after they did a good job of handling us back in South Bend. It’s a good win for us.”
• Miami scouting report: The Hurricanes (43-14) – ranked sixth nationally and winners of 13 straight until Friday night’s extra-inning loss to N.C. State – are a complete team, hitting .317 with 57 home runs while fashioning a 3.03 earned run average on the mound.
Miami is paced offensively by third baseman David Thompson, who leads the nation with 80 RBI. He’s hit 19 home runs and sports a .335 batting average.
Four other players in the starting lineup are hitting above .300: second baseman George Iskenderia (.389, 48 RBI, 22-of-23 SBs), designated hitter Garrett Kennedy (.359, 7 HRs, 49 RBI), first baseman Christopher Barr (.317, 25 RBI, 10-of-10 SBs), and catcher Zack Collins (.310, 14 HRs, 61 RBI).
• Pitching match-up: The Hurricanes have two options – sophomore lefthander Danny Garcia (5-1, 3.21) or junior righthander Enrique Sosa (7-3, 4.01).
Following Notre Dame’s victory over Virginia Friday, the projected starter was freshman lefthander Sean Guenther (1-3, 2.70), who has made 26 appearances for the Irish but no starts. Other possibilities include junior righthander Nick McCarty (6-3, 3.93, 12 starts) or junior righthander Connor Hale (2-0, 0.96, 8 appearances, 2 starts).
• Season series: The Hurricanes were one of three teams – along with Duke and Virginia Tech -- that did not square off against the Irish in ACC competition. Each of the 14 teams in the conference is scheduled to play 10 ACC opponents three times each. Notre Dame is 6-16 all-time versus Miami.
• Notre Dame notes: Irish second baseman Kyle Fiala reached base for the 45th consecutive game Friday. Fiala, who knocked in two of Notre Dame’s eight runs against Virginia, is 16-for-31 (.516) in his last eight games…Notre Dame turned its Division I-leading 73rd double play of the season…By raising his record to 9-0, sophomore righthander Ryan Smoyer became the third Irish pitcher since the turn of the century to open the season with at least nine victories. Smoyer joined some pretty good company. Former MLB pitcher Aaron Heilman was 15-0 in 2001 and current MBL closer John Axford won his first nine games in 2003 before finishing with a 9-3 mark…Notre Dame’s 36 victories are the most by an Irish squad since 2009. One more victory would be the most by a Notre Dame team since the 2006 squad – coached by Paul Mainieri and the last one to make the NCAA tournament – won 45 games.