Notre Dame baseball starts ACC tournament with shutout of Virginia Tech

Tyler James
ND Insider
Starting pitcher Will Mercer threw five scorless innings in Notre Dame's 8-0 victory over Virginia Tech on Wednesday, May, 26, 2021, at Truist Field in Charlotte, N.C.

Notre Dame’s pitching staff didn’t need much run support Wednesday.

The first-seeded Irish blanked 12-seed Virginia Tech, 8-0, at Truist Field in Charlotte, N.C., in their first game of pool play for the ACC Baseball Championship tournament.

Lefty Will Mercer started the game with five scoreless innings for the Irish (30-10, 26-10 ACC). He allowed three hits and struck out three. Righty Alex Rao kept the zeros coming with three more scoreless innings. Righty Liam Simon pitched the final frame to close out the Notre Dame shutout.

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Notre Dame’s offense was held scoreless through the first four innings by Virginia Tech’s Anthony Simonelli and Jaison Heard. The Irish needed a wild pitch from Jonah Hurney to score the first run of the game in the fifth inning. Shortstop Zack Prajzner, who started the inning with a single, came home following Hurney’s off-target pitch to designated hitter Carter Putz.

That one run was enough to secure Mercer’s third victory of the season in his ninth start. He entered the game with a 5.36 ERA in 43.2 innings pitched.

“We obviously could have let him continue, but this is a very unusual dynamic with today’s game in the tournament,” Notre Dame coach Link Jarrett said. “We need to win more than the game today. … We need him to pitch like he’s pitched lately. We really do.”

The Irish lead grew by three runs in the sixth inning. Second baseman Jared Miller led off the inning with a solo home run to center field. Center fielder Spencer Myers knocked in another run on a fielder’s choice. Left fielder Ryan Cole hit Myers home with an RBI single.

“It took us a few innings to get adjusted to the surroundings and the field, but we found our stride there,” Miller said. “It’s good to get us going for the rest of the tournament.”

Notre Dame scored a pair of runs in both the seventh and ninth innings. Miller, who finished 2-4 in the sixth spot in the lineup, hit an RBI triple in the seventh. Right fielder Brooks Coetzee knocked in one run in the seventh with an RBI single to left field and another in the ninth with a sacrifice fly to center field. Prajzner, who hit 4-4 from the No. 9 spot, rounded out the scoring with an RBI single in the ninth.

A victory against eight-seed Virginia on Friday at 11 a.m. EDT will earn the Irish a spot in Saturday’s semifinals. Virginia (28-22) beat Virginia Tech (27-25) by a 3-2 margin Tuesday.

Notre Dame, ranked No. 3 in the country by Baseball America, reached 30 wins for the first time since 2015.

Notre Dame second baseman Jared Miller celebrates a solo home run in the 8-0 Irish victory over Virginia Tech on Wednesday, May, 26, 2021, at Truist Field in Charlotte, N.C.