The current baseball season didn’t begin like Notre Dame would have liked, but things have gotten better and the Fighting Irish seem to be on the right track.
The Irish started off by losing four of their first five games, but they evened things at 4-4 on Monday at Hunter Field with their third straight win, a well-played 5-3 victory over the Chattanooga Christian Chargers in a game where junior right-hander Jacob Eargle went the distance and improved to 3-1 with his effort.
“That’s a really good team win for us and that gets us back to .500,” said Notre Dame coach Gatlyn Simmons after the game ended.
“Jacob is a great kid who works as hard as anyone out here. He’s a fierce competitor who wants to win as bad as anyone. We have full confidence when he’s pitching for us, even in situations where things get tense,” the coach praised Eargle, who finished the day by allowing five hits and three runs while striking out 10 and walking two.
“We have a bunch of important games coming up and we just need to keep the momentum going. Our energy level is high and we have to keep it there,” the coach added.
Eargle wasn’t exactly overpowering, but he made great pitches in critical situations and got big outs in tight spots. For example, the Chargers had the potential tying run on second base when the game ended, but Eargle got a called third strike to end the game and prevent any further damage after CCS had scored once in its final at-bat to make things interesting.
“I just wanted to throw strikes and let my defense do the work behind me. That seemed to work out well for me today,” the 17-year-old junior said.
“There are no excuses for what we did today. Winners find a way to get the job done and we didn’t do that today,” said CCS coach Ben Wharton after a discussion with his team.
“We gave them too many free bases and Notre Dame was able to capitalize. We had our chances at the plate and even had who we wanted up at the end, but we just couldn’t get the big hit. I’m pleased in spots with how we played, but there are times when mental mistakes lead to physical errors.
“We have a lot of inexperienced players on this team, but we just have to find a way to win. We just didn’t do that today,” Wharton nodded.
Luke Tinholt was the only CCS player with two hits and he led off the third with a double before scoring on a groundout by J.T. Appel for a 1-0 lead.
Notre Dame responded in the bottom of the inning with two runs, Eargle scoring the first on a fielder’s choice by Abe Shull after receiving a one-out walk. Mitch Grannan picked up his second single of the game and later scored on a wild pitch to give Notre Dame a 2-1 lead.
Two more runs in the fourth extended Notre Dame’s lead.
Ryan Eiselstein reached on an error to lead off and scored on a single by Sam Smith. Eargle’s sacrifice fly to deep center plated the second run.
Then in the sixth, Smith singled again and his courtesy runner scored after CCS reliever Cole Headrick walked three straight hitters.
The difference was 5-2 starting the seventh and the Chargers weren’t ready to toss in the white towel just yet.
Tinholt reached on a one-out single and later scored on a double by Cooper Kay. Connor Tyler had a two-out pinch-hit single and raced to third on Kay’s double, but that’s where he stayed as Eargle finished the game with his 10th strikeout.
Tinholt had two hits for CCS while Grannan and Smith both had two hits for the Fighting Irish.
Chattanooga Christian will be on the road again on Tuesday for its next game at Marion County while Notre Dame will be back at home on Wednesday to host South Pittsburg. The Pirates are one of the teams that beat Notre Dame early after the Irish blew an 8-2 lead before losing 9-8 on the road. Might make for an interesting rematch on Wednesday.
CHATTANOOGA CHRISTIAN 001 100 1 – 3 5 2
NOTRE DAME 002 201 x – 5 6 0
Kay, Headrick (4) and Horne; Eargle and Smith.
(email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)