NOTRE DAME, Indiana — The University of Notre Dame baseball team has their sights set for the 2020 season as they hit the road for the first time this weekend under first year head coach Link Jarrett.
The Irish open the season in Birmingham for a three-game series against UAB. A number of familiar faces will take the field for the opener on Friday as the Irish lost just six players from the 2019 squad. On the offense alone, the Irish return 100% of their home runs, 98% of their RBI and 97% of their runs from last season.
Junior Niko Kavadas led the Irish in home runs (12) and RBI (43) while finishing second on the team in runs (33) and batting average (.274) last season. He continued his strong 2019 with a great summer on the Cape with the Harwich Mariners. He led the Cape Cod League in home runs with 10 and was selected to the All-Star Game. Prior to the season, Kavadas was named a third team Preseason All-American by Baseball America.
Graduate student Eric Gilgenbach returns this season after finishing last year second on the team in home runs (9) and RBI (40). Daniel Jung had a strong season in his junior year, setting career-best marks in runs (31), home runs (5), runs (31) and RBI (40). Lead-off man Spencer Myers had team-best marks in batting average (.294) and stolen bases (22). His 22 steals were the most in a single season since A.J. Pollock tallied 28 in 2008.
On the mound, the Irish return their Friday starter along with a number of key relievers that pitched big innings in 2019. Tommy Sheehan is back for his junior campaign and he was the workhorse for the staff last season. He led the Irish with 92.1 innings pitched and tossed two complete games, both in ACC play against No. 12 Clemson and Virginia. The 92.1 innings were the most since Adam Norton tossed 116.1 innings in 2013. Sheehan was the first Irish pitcher since Michael Hearne in 2016 to have multiple complete games in a single season.
In the bullpen, Tommy Vail, Andrew Belcik and Joe Boyle headline the returners after all playing key roles in 2019. Vail was a do-it-all lefty out of the pen for the Irish as he started a few games, picked up some saves and tossed middle to long relief throughout the season. He led the bullpen with 61 strikeouts in just 44 innings and led the team with a .157 opponent batting average. Vail was named to the National Baseball Writers Association Stopper of the Year Preseason Watch List.
Boyle routinely tossed triple digits and set career highs in strikeouts (39) and innings pitched (25.2). Both Boyle and Vail spent the summer in the Cape with Kavadas and the Harwich Mariners. Boyle was also tabbed a third team All-American by Baseball America. The Irish were just one of two ACC teams to have multiple players selected.
Belcik led the Irish in appearances (27) for the second straight season and held the best ERA among relievers that pitched at least 20 innings last season.
Following the opening series against UAB, Notre Dame will head to San Antonio for the annual Alamo Irish Classic. The Irish will open the Classic with two games against Incarnate Word (Feb. 20-21) and finish with a doubleheader against Toledo and UTSA on Feb. 22. All four games will be played at Nelson Wolff Stadium in San Antonio.