Notre Dame is home one of the most storied football programs in the country, one of the most historic campuses in the country, and a greatly overlooked baseball team. Notre Dame is an NCAA Division I college baseball team competing in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), in the Atlantic Division, with the likes of Louisville, Florida State and Wake Forest. With baseball programs as talented and rich in culture as these, it’s sometimes easy to overlook some of the less prominent teams. Notre Dame is here to change that. When asked about this year’s expectations, Junior pitcher Cameron Junker said, “I expect this team to go out, compete, have fun and win games. We have both experienced, and deep pitching staff that is back, while also a lot of speed and action at the plate and in the field….If we do our best and focus on getting a little better every single day, then we will have the season that we all expect to have in the Notre Dame Clubhouse.”
After finishing last year with a total record of 24-30 (.444) and an in-conference record of 12-18, the Fighting Irish are looking to get back to on track after an early exit in the ACC Tournament last season, as well as finishing near the bottom of the Atlantic Division. After going 13-9 at home and 7-13 on the road, it’s clear the Fighting Irish are more comfortable playing at Frank Eck Stadium, “It’s a huge advantage not traveling, sleeping in your own bed and playing at home where you practice every single day in the fall, preseason and season.” Junker said. “Additionally, some of the teams we play in conference gather large crowds which helps them out and makes them more difficult to play. It’s not so much that we change the way in how well we play, it’s just different factors we don’t control. We just try and be the best team we can be every single day, and let the rest take care of itself”. Since the ACC is an extremely tough conference, Notre Dame is going to have their work cut out for them. With a young team last year, they were considered one of the “underdog or under the radar teams” in the ACC. According to D1baseball.com, when facing Top 25 schools as ranked by RPI, they finished with a record of 3-13 (.188) in 2018 and winning more of these games is going to be a major source of their success.
That being said, the Fighting Irish will need their pitching staff to show up and come out this season firing on all cylinders. Scott Tully, starting pitcher, will be a huge loss for the Notre Dame baseball team going into the start of the 2018-2019 season as he was their workhorse a year ago. Tully lead the team with a 5-1 record in 14 starts while striking out a team high 53 hitters to go along with his 4.20 ERA, according to D1baseball.com. In his last start as a member of the Fighting Irish, Tully went 6 innings allowing 5 hits, 1 run, and 4 strikeouts on 115 pitches. It was a valiant effort from the veteran in a must win game. Unfortunately, after Tully turned the ballgame over to his bullpen they let 5 runs cross the dish in a brutal 8th inning against the Miami Hurricanes which ultimately eliminated their chances to advance.
As important as the loss of Tully could be to this squad, the coaching staff and scouts across the nation are excited about the 6’7”, 220 lb. Joe Boyle out of Goshen, Kentucky. Boyle struggled last year in 8 appearances dishing out a disastrous .400 OBA, with 8 walks in only 2 innings pitched before an injury ended his spring. Boyle is an intriguing prospect as the velocity on his fastball is top tier with some recordings known to have hit triple digits. Clearly, this is something to look forward to as a fan of the Fighting Irish, but Boyle must prove he can locate pitches better than last season to fully help this team compete. According to D1 Baseball’s article “2018 Summer Breakout Stars”, Boyle “showed glimpses of what could be at the Northwoods League this summer with 14 strikeouts in 7.1 innings of work”.
Another prospect to watch out for is, Cameron Junker, rising junior and Notre Dame pitcher, who played in the NECBL this summer for the Plymouth Pilgrims. He finished with a record of 6-1 with a 2.34 ERA which earned him a spot as the starting pitcher for the South squad in the NECBL All-Star game. Junker finished the season and earned a spot on the All-NECBL First Team.When asked about what he learned this summer, Junker said, “I learned a lot about my body awareness. Feeling my delivery and truly understanding the positions I need to get into allowed me to be able to pitch effectively in the strike zone. This summer also gave me the confidence that I can compete with anyone. I look forward to taking this summer into the fall, and into the season to just go out there and compete to my fullest. I trust myself now to the point in which if I compete, I think I will give our team a really good chance to win games.”
As for their starting lineup, the Fighting Irish look to build off the success many showed last season. Eric Gilgenbach is a proven hitter and is poised to have a huge 2018-2019 season. Gilgenbach hit .270/.867/.506, leading the team with 10 HR’s during the 2017-2018 season. After slugging last year for the Irish, Gilgenbach had a short stint with the Wareham Gateman. Similarly, his teammates, first baseman Niko Kavadas and catcher David LaManna had strong showings in their respective summer leagues this season. According to Pointstreak.com, Kavadas played in the Northwoods League for the Kalamazoo Growlers, where he posted a .308 average with 5 HR’s and 30 RBI’s, which was enough to earn him a spot in the All-Star game. If this lineup can continue their success from last year and this summer, scoring runs will not be an issue for the Irish in the spring.
The future is bright for this Notre Dame baseball team and when they are firing on all cylinders, they will be a team to watch out for in this upcoming season.