Irish open baseball season with surprise series win over LSU
By STEVE MEGARGEE
Feb. 20, 2018
Notre Dame produced one of the most surprising results of the season's opening weekend by going to LSU and winning two of three games against the runner-up from last season's College World Series.
That's a stunning reversal of fortune for a team that lost eight of its first nine games last year and finished 26-32.
Perhaps the Fighting Irish benefited from a good-luck charm in their dugout. That's where Notre Dame kept its new shillelagh, a thick stick in Irish culture that can be used for walking or as a weapon.
"One night, late at night, when I probably should have been doing more productive things like sleeping, I decided that I would go online and research about shillelaghs and try to buy them," Notre Dame coach Mik Aoki said.
Aoki ended up ordering one from a website based in Ireland and Notre Dame's players used it during dugout celebrations.
While sideline props garnered plenty of attention during the most recent college football season with everything from Miami's turnover chain to Georgia's spiked shoulder pads, Aoki said he instead took inspiration from a recent Clemson baseball tradition in which a player who hits a home run receives a sledgehammer from a teammate or staff member.
"Initially I intended it to be for when guys hit home runs, but I think (pitcher) Jack Sheehan took it upon himself to just do it every time we scored a run," Aoki said. "So the shillelagh made a lot of appearances, which is good."
The Irish recovered to win the series after blowing a six-run lead in a 7-6 loss to LSU on Friday. Notre Dame bounced back with a 10-5 victory on Saturday and an 11-3 triumph Sunday. Eric Gilgenbach hit a grand slam and three-run homer in the final game of the series.
Notre Dame's series victory at LSU came just six weeks after the Fighting Irish football team won a Citrus Bowl matchup between these two schools. Freshman Cole Kmet played a role for both Notre Dame teams.
Kmet, a tight end on Notre Dame's football team, made his college baseball debut Saturday and threw four innings of shutout relief to earn a save.
"He showed tremendous mental toughness," Aoki said. "He's a kid who's obviously a winner. I think he got himself into like three 3-0 counts and retired the guy on each and every one of them."
BRODT'S BIG INNING
Santa Clara's Jake Brodt could tell during batting practice Saturday that he was feeling pretty comfortable with his swing. Little did he know what he'd end up accomplishing in the seventh inning of Santa Clara's game with Boston College.
Brodt belted two grand slams in that inning and finished the day with three homers and 10 RBIs in Santa Clara's 20-9 victory.
"It's definitely pretty cool to experience that," said the senior from Huntington Beach, California.
Brodt was just the seventh Division I player to hit two grand slams in an inning since at least 1957, which is as far back as the NCAA baseball records go. He was the first person to accomplish that feat since 2000, when Louisiana Tech's T.J. Soto did it against Western Kentucky.
"Everyone (in the dugout) was pretty fired up after the first one," Brodt said. "After the second one, there were a lot of people kind of speechless, some dumbfounded faces."
Although Santa Clara won big Saturday, Boston College took the other two games in the series.
MEASURES OF REVENGE
Stanford and Southern Mississippi both delivered impressive opening-weekend performances by sweeping the teams that knocked them out of NCAA regionals last season.
Southern Mississippi never trailed in its three-game series with Mississippi State and outscored the Bulldogs 23-6 over the weekend.
Stanford won three straight games from Cal State Fullerton for its first season-opening sweep since 2012.
SCORING IN BUNCHES
Arkansas put up one of the most eye-popping scores of the weekend with its 32-4 victory over Bucknell on Saturday as part of a three-game sweep.
The Razorbacks were one run away from their single-game scoring record, set in a 1984 game against Southwest Baptist. Arkansas capitalized on 22 hits — including six homers — and 15 walks.
UC Irvine coach Mike Gillespie has announced that he will be retiring at the end of the season, with associate head coach Ben Orloff taking over for him.
Gillespie owns a career record of 1,124-696-2, including a 2-1 mark so far this season. He won a national title at Southern California in 1998.
Gillespie isn't the only notable coach entering his final season. Miami's Jim Morris announced in June 2014 that 2018 would be his last season.
SUSPENSION AT UTAH
Utah began its season without coach Bill Kinneberg. The school's athletic department suspended Kinneberg for the first 14 games of the season because of an NCAA rules violation involving a former staff member.
Associate head coach Mike Crawford will coach the team until Kinneberg is eligible to return March 12 against UNLV.
Follow Steve Megargee at https://twitter.com/stevemegargee