Notre Dame baseball falls 7-5 to Wake Forest, hopes for NCAA Tournament reprieve

Mike Berardino
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame baseball's Zack Prajzner didn’t flinch when asked Friday night if his team belongs in the NCAA Tournament.

“Absolutely,” the senior shortstop said after a 7-5 loss to top-ranked Wake Forest at the ACC Tournament in Durham, N.C. “I refuse to believe this is the last game that will be played here. Wake Forest had nine losses all year. I think we made them battle as much as anyone, I would assume.”

After threatening to split the four-game season series with the Deacons (47-9 overall, 24-7 in the ACC), Prajzner amplified first-year coach Shawn Stiffler’s closing argument for a spot in the Field of 64.

“I know — I know — that nobody wants us in a regional,” Prajzner said. “I firmly believe we should get in and we’re ready to go wherever, to play whoever — whenever. We believe we can do some damage.”

Notre Dame (30-24, 15-17) won’t learn its fate until Monday at noon, when the NCAA Tournament selection committee will reveal this year’s bracket. Including a 9-5 loss to 12th-seeded Pittsburgh on Wednesday, the Irish have dropped five of their past six, dating to an 11-inning loss to Northwestern at Wrigley Field on May 16.

Against Power Five competition, Notre Dame has dropped seven of its last eight. Stiffler, who inherited a team coming off just the third College World Series appearance in program history, believes his club’s .500 mark in the ACC’s regular season should be enough.

“You go 15-15 in this league, if you’re not one of the top 64 teams in the country, I don’t know what else would make you,” Stiffler said. “I think our résumé was good enough at the end of the regular season. … That’s my opinion, but I’m not on the committee. We’ve left it in their hands and we’ll see what they have to say.”

Kansas State, which entered the day one spot ahead of No. 54 Notre Dame in RPI, will face TCU on Saturday in a Big 12 Tournament semifinal. According to’s projections, the Wildcats opened Friday’s play with the 64th and final spot in this year’s NCAA field.

The Irish would be the first team left out, according to D1Baseball, followed by Xavier, Arizona and Louisiana. Joining Kansas State in the “last four in” grouping were N.C. State, Oklahoma and Arizona State.

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Notre Dame claimed a 3-1 road win at Wake Forest in the series finale on March 19. Left-hander Jack Findlay struck out 10 Deacons, but Findlay underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery in late April.

Wake Forest drilled 12th-seeded Pittsburgh 10-2 on Thursday to render Friday’s nightcap meaningless in terms of this event. Deacons ace right-hander Rhett Lowder worked seven dominant frames against the Panthers, who homered five times in a 9-5 upset of the Irish on Wednesday.

Wake Forest, which homered three times on Friday, had the luxury of saving lefty starter Josh Hartle for No. 4 seed Miami in Saturday’s semifinal.

Notre Dame was outhomered 7-1 in four games against Wake Forest this season, with first baseman Nick Kurtz (two solo homers Friday) bashing four of his 23 homers on the year. Third baseman Brock Wilken also homered Friday, his 27th, as the Irish were outhomered 8-0 in two ACC Tournament losses.

Earlier Friday, third-seeded Clemson clinched the last semifinal spot with a 4-1 win over Boston College. The Tigers will face No. 7 seed North Carolina, weather permitting.

Virginia, seeded second, was the only top-four seed not to reach the semifinals. The Cavaliers, No. 11 in the RPI, suffered Notre Dame’s only three-game series sweep in 10 league sets this season.

This is the first time since the ACC Tournament went to its current format in 2017 that at least three of the top four seeds survived pool play.

Wake Forest, the first No. 1 seed to reach the semifinals under the current format, is trying to become the first top seed to win the ACC Tournament since UNC in 2013.

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