For the third time this season, the Valparaiso University baseball team held the lead against nationally-ranked Notre Dame as late as the sixth inning. On Tuesday, Valpo had the No. 8 Fighting Irish on the ropes by taking a 3-0 edge into the eighth, but Notre Dame rallied for a seven-run eighth inning and garnered a 7-4 victory.
Valpo has gone toe-to-toe in all three meetings with the Fighting Irish, who are ranked as high as fourth in the latest Baseball America poll and eighth by D1Baseball.com. Freshman Griffin McCluskey (Normal, Ill. / Normal Community) pitched like a senior on Tuesday, holding an elite offense to just one hit over six scoreless innings while walking one and striking out four. The rookie’s effort provided yet another reason for Valpo fans to be optimistic about the future of head coach Brian Schmack’s young team.
How It Happened
- McCluskey faced the minimum over the first five innings, as the only two base runners he permitted were erased on double plays. The righty retired the first seven men he faced before a throwing error by the shortstop caused the first Notre Dame base runner. However, the rookie quickly worked out of it by inducing a line-drive double play.
- Valpo pushed across the first runs of the game by posting a three spot in the third. The Brown & Gold were aided by three walks before Kyle Schmack (Wanatah, Ind. / South Central) delivered a clutch, two-out single to right to drive in a pair. Valpo added another on a wild pitch to widen the lead to 3-0.
- The Fighting Irish (26-10) went down in order again in the fourth, then finally mustered up their first hit against McCluskey, a seeing-eye single through the left side of the infield with one away in the fifth. The freshman put another zero on the board in that frame, then did it again in the sixth while working around a leadoff walk.
- Sophomore Nolan Lebamoff (Fort Wayne, Ind. / Carroll [Kankakee CC]) picked up right where his teammate left off when he came on for the seventh, sending down Notre Dame in order including a pair of swinging strikeouts.
- Notre Dame scored seven in the eighth.
- Valpo got a run back in the bottom of the eighth as Matt Olive (Minneapolis, Minn. / Blake School) rammed a single to right to make it 7-4. The Brown & Gold had a chance for more with the bases full and only one away, but Notre Dame wiggled out of it with the three-run edge intact, and that held up as the final score. Alex Rodriguez (Bourbonnais, Ill. / Bradley Bourbonnais) worked a scoreless top of the ninth for Valpo.
Inside the Game
- This marked the first home game against Notre Dame since 1988. The last 35 matchups between the two teams had all taken place at Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish extended their head-to-head winning streak to 11, but many of the recent meetings – including all three this season – have been close contests.
- Schmack and Angel DiFederico (New Haven, Ind. / New Haven) lashed two hits apiece in a game where each team had six hits. The wind was blowing in on a chilly afternoon in Northwest Indiana.
- McCluskey became just the third pitcher to hold Notre Dame scoreless while pitching six or more innings this season, joining Duke’s Jack Carey and Boston College’s Emmett Sheehan. McCluskey and Carey are the only two pitchers to hold Notre Dame to one hit in six or more innings this year.
- The Valpo pitching staff held highly respected Notre Dame slugger Niko Kavadas to 0-for-4 with four strikeouts. A Midseason All-American according to D1Baseball.com and Perfect Game, Kavadas is sixth nationally in slugging percentage, 10th in home runs and fourth in home runs per game.
- Notre Dame entered the game ranked fourth by Baseball America, 10th in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll, 15th by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper, eighth by D1Baseball.com and sixth by Perfect Game.
Valpo (13-26) will return to Missouri Valley Conference play on Friday by hosting Evansville at 3 p.m. to start a four-game series. Links to live coverage will be available on ValpoAthletics.com.