Boston College Eagles vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Friday: 6:05 PM
Saturday: 3:05 PM
Sunday: 1:05 PM
Boston College and Notre Dame have always been indelibly linked in college sports. From Boston's Irish culture to Notre Dame's roots in American sport, there's always something about when they meet up in any sport. As former members of the Big East, they forged an all-sports rivalry, the Holy War, that once again came alive when the Fighting Irish joined the ACC.
Perhaps more than any other sport, Boston College and Notre Dame remained linked in baseball. Arguably the two biggest Catholic schools in Division I, members once more of the same conference, they share the same struggles in a southern league. Culturally different from the ACC's core footprint, BC and ND stand with Pittsburgh as the two outliers from the Tobacco Road and Florida frontrunners. But unlike Pittsburgh, BC and ND share a common link that makes their games against one another always worth watching.
The links between the two schools run deep. Boston College head coach Mike Gambino sat on the same bench next to Notre Dame head coach Mik Aoki under the direction of former Eagles head coach Pete Hughes. Both were ultimately responsible for building the program up to the heights of 2009, heights Aoki enjoyed as the head coach at BC after Gambino left with Hughes for Virginia Tech.
Aoki ultimately left after 2010 to take over the Notre Dame program, and Gambino returned to help steward the BC program from what would be a downturn back into brighter days.
This weekend, Mike Gambino and Mik Aoki will return to the diamond to face one another. Boston College takes on Notre Dame. The Holy War is back.
Record: 18-12 (6-7 ACC)
Last Time Out: Notre Dame drew a rough matchup last weekend when then-#2 Miami came north from South Florida to take on the Fighting Irish in South Bend. After Friday's game was postponed, Saturday's doubleheader was cancelled thanks to inclement weather, resulting in one-game series on Sunday with the Hurricanes. Miami promptly defeated ND, 10-2.
In their midweek games, Notre Dame took out Chicago State, 6-3, before beating Valparaiso, 3-1.
Around The Horn
Notre Dame is a very good hitting team, entering this weekend at .279 as a unit. They're led by a trio of guys over .300, including a couple of players who are likely to hear their name called pretty early in the MLB Entry Draft.
Most notable is Cavan Biggio, the son of MLB Hall of Famer Craig Biggio. Not draft eligible as a junior, Biggio enters this weekend with a .306 batting average, third best among the players to be noted. But he has a .493 on-base percentage and has drawn 36 walks throughout the season. He's a run machine, having scored 27 of his own and driven in 21 more. Drafted out of high school in 2013 by the Philadelphia Phillies in 2013, he's likely to go very, very high this summer.
Along with Biggio is Zak Kutsulis, the team leader in hits with 40. Kutsulis has a .374 on-base percentage and 55 total bases, having recorded a team-high eight doubles.
And here's the thing; neither Biggio nor Kutsulis is the best hitter on the roster right now. Ricky Sanchez holds that honor, entering the weekend with a .342 average. Sanchez only has 14 RBI though, even though he as 17 runs scored and seven doubles, but he's striking out considerably more than he's walking. It's over a 3:1 margin with 23 strikeouts to just seven walks.
An interesting note for the Fighting Irish is their connections to Major League Baseball. Biggio obviously has the largest pedigree, but the team features Torii Hunter, Jr. coming off the bench (son of recently-retired Torii Hunter) and Ryan Lidge (cousin of former MLB closer Brad Lidge).
On The Bump
The Irish lineup is good, but the pitching staff is beatable, entering the weekend with a 4.04 ERA. Even though that's still better than some teams in the league, they still enter rated 10th, and they'll face a Boston College lineup that's raised its average to .263 over the past couple of weeks. BC is now 12th in hitting, which still isn't great but is improved considering where it was a couple of weeks ago after facing Pittsburgh.
Ryan Smoyer is 3-3 on the season with a 3.04 ERA, but an inning eater, averaging over six innings per start. He also is holding opponents to a .220 batting average, but he's dealt with control issues, having walked 21 batters compared to 26 K's.
Sean Guenther, the man who leads the team in innings with just under 50, is most likely to give up hits; opponents are batting .297 against him, including eight doubles. But he's just as likely to mow down an opponents' lineup, pointing at his 33 strikeouts, second best on the team, to just 13 walks.
Peter Solomon has started five games for the Fighting Irish with a 4.40 ERA, but he leads the team in strikeouts with 38 in 30.2 innings of work.
It's important to note that for their runs allowed, the Irish are only allowing opposing hitters to hit at .250 clip or so. BC is going to have their hands full, but that doesn't mean they can't score runs. For a team that makes the most of their opportunities, there's a chance BC can come out of this with a solid showing against pitchers who have good stuff.
Since BC started Justin Dunn last weekend, it'll be interesting to see if Mike Gambino is able to stretch him a little bit more this week. Last weekend, Dunn had a 65 pitch count that Gambino allowed him to pitch over for a last batter, heading up to around the 70-73 mark. If Dunn's pitch count is stretched this weekend, BC will have three starters now capable of going deep into games. Jacob Stevens remains among the best in the nation in ERA, and Mike King is old reliable, though now moved to Sunday with a chance to win or salvage a weekend.
Jesse Adams has now made three appearances out of the bullpen, going 2-0 with a save.
The best part about playing at Notre Dame is that the weather pattern is every bit as unpredictable as it is here in New England, only with the forecast hitting them a couple of days and with slight differentiation before it sweeps up this way.
You might've heard that Marathon Monday will feature a forecast of 70 degrees and sunny; if you roll back a couple of days into the weekend and check out South Bend, you'll see temperatures at about the mid-70s and sunny.
Night games this weekend will be cold as temperatures dip back down into the 40s, something that'll feel colder when it's 25-30 degrees than the daytime. But the mid-afternoon games will be warm and pleasant with seasonable temps in the high 60s through to the mid-70s. It's a perfect weekend for baseball.
If Boston College and Notre Dame are similar in genetic makeup, they're miles apart in one major facet - stadium. Frank Eck Stadium opened in 1994 and is considered one of the centerpiece arenas in Notre Dame athletics. Notre Dame's won over 75% of their games at the stadium, which is an absolute gem among even the rest of the ACC.
The stadium's origins date back to 1991 when Frank Eck, an alumnus, donated enough to build the stadium in South Bend. The stadium 2,500 seats with space for expansion, a state-of-the-art lighting system, a full press box, meeting areas, and locker rooms for both teams. In 2000, a 9,000-square foot indoor practice facility for hitting and pitching started in January and was done by the time preseason started.
The Irish locker room includes specifically-designed lockers for catchers with high-definition televisions and swing analysis computer software.
Originally natural grass, Notre Dame laid down FieldTurf in 2014, including on the pitching mound. They also updated their practice facility to have full synthetic turf, four full batting cages, two retractable half batting catches, a pitching machine with an automatic ball feeder, and hitting video analysis software. The systems installed can also pit batter against batter or pitcher against pitcher in controlled game systems.
That doesn't include the treadmills, stair masters, and stationary bicycles.
The press box has televisions for up-to-the-minute stats, video monitors, and a soundproof booth for broadcasts.
This is actually grossly unfair to talk about. For the love of God, I hope Boston College prospects this trip for their new baseball stadium.
Music to help you fight ALS on Saturday
U2 - All I Want Is You/Where The Streets Have No Name.
In honor of playing the Fighting Irish, I'm dipping into an old bag for an old favorite. If you've never seen U2 live, they put on a tremendous show if you like their music. Some people have told me that it's the same show regardless of when you see them, but I've always felt that's why you go see a show - to see your favorites and watch your favorite band tear the house down.
Bono himself has previously said that he can be in the middle of U2's worst set ever, and if they dive into Streets, the entire crowd comes alive. Watching all of these people go nuts at Slane Castle for the song, losing themselves in the music - it's awesome.
The song itself was written by Bono about elevating above a culture he experienced in Belfast. In Belfast, a person's religion and income used to be evident based on the street they lived on. He contrasted this with a trip to Ethiopia, where he began thinking about a world where that division doesn't happen, and a place where a street has no name. He talked about how a rock concert was like that, how there is just a common goal.
Despite the differences between BC and Notre Dame, we can elevate ourselves in honor of Pete Frates and in the fight of ALS. There are few teams I would like to see BC defeat more than ND, but I'll put that aside and recognize them for their fight against Lou Gehrig's Disease as well, something that is always a big part of Boston College baseball.
Random Fact(s) of the Week
Mik Aoki won 114 games as head coach of Boston College, having finished fifth in the ACC Atlantic Division twice before finishing third and fourth. In 2009, the team infamously went to the NCAA Tournament, where they beat Texas State, 8-7, before losing to Texas, 3-2, in the longest college baseball game ever played. After playing 25 innings against Texas, the Eagles had to play Army, where they fell, 4-3.
Mike Gambino recently passed Coach Aoki on the Boston College wins list. Now at 118 wins, Coach Gambino is four wins in front of his predecessor.
Notre Dame as a porgram is coming off of an NCAA Tournament appearance, their first since joining the ACC. They made the tournament eight years in a row as members of the Big East, winning the conference tournament every year from 2002 through 2006 and making it as an at large team in 1999, 2000, and 2001. Overall, the Fighting Irish have 22 national tournament appearances, including two trips to the College World Series.
They made the CWS in '02, where they went 1-2. After losing to Stanford in the first round, they eliminated fourth-ranked Rice before losing an elimination game to the Cardinal. Texas would go on to win their bracket and win the national title over South Carolina.
Last year, Notre Dame beat Wright State, 13-7, as the second seed in the Champaign Regional played at Illinois. They lost to Illinois in the second round, 3-0, before losing an elimination game rematch with Wright State, 4-0. Illinois went onto win the regional before losing two straight to Vanderbilt in the Super Regional.
In their two years in the ACC, Notre Dame is 77-66 overall but is only 32-41 in conference play. After struggling through their first season, in which they went 9-21 in league play, they improved to 17-13 last year. They went 37-23 overall in year two after going 22-31 in year one. Ranked 26th last season, they were a surprising second place finisher in the Atlantic Division, overcoming Florida State and Clemson in the process.
I don't necessarily think this is the easiest weekend Boston College will have, though I think that's a common trend in the entire ACC. This is one of the most competitive seasons in recent memory, and the difference between getting into the ACC Tournament and missing out.
This weekend is one of those series where wins and losses could come back to haunt either team. Heck, a rainout could've come back to haunt both teams, but at least the weather's looking clear in that regard.
I can't predict wins or losses, but I'll say this - this is going to be a great weekend of baseball between two teams that know each other very well from the coaching staff straight on down.