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Photo by John Brice | ISD
Notre Dame Baseball

Cole-blooded: Ryan Cole, No. 14 Irish walk off No. 7 Cards

March 27, 2021

Mr. Walk-Off.

Ryan Cole quickly is burnishing a reputation worthy of the nickname.

Cole's one-out, two-strike, bottom-of-the-ninth blast Saturday afternoon lifted the No. 12 Fighting Irish to a thrilling, 5-3 come-from-behind win against sixth-ranked Louisville at Eck Stadium.

It came eight days after Cole's walk-off blast carried the Irish (11-4, 10-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) to an 6-4 win in their home opener versus Duke, the first-ever home game of the Link Jarrett era.

This win stands tall among the considerable early success for Jarrett and for Notre Dame baseball in the past decade.

Notre Dame had yet to defeat the perennial power Cardinals (16-6, 8-3 ACC) since it joined the ACC in 2014. This victory snapped an overall 20-game losing skid to Louisville, which prior to Saturday had last lost a baseball game to Notre Dame in 2011 – when both programs resided in the Big East Conference.

In its eighth season since that marriage, the Irish broke through behind the gritty starting pitching of John Michael Bertrand, the tandem relief work of Alex Rao and third baseman-turned-shutdown-artist Jack Brannigan, as well as a fiercely opportunistic offense.

"Bertrand got us deep into the game and was in control of his outing, as we have seen before,” Jarrett said. “Our defense played very well and there were very nice plays at essentially every  position on the field. Brannigan had a great day at the plate, at third, and to come in and help close out the 9th.

“Baseball is such a great game and to think you would see the same guy hit his second walk-off home run in six home games (five ACC) is simply amazing. Louisville is a very good team and (it) will be another exciting Sunday."

Bertrand, now entrenched as the Irish's Saturday starter and a key bridge from Friday to Sunday games for bullpen purposes, did not allow a hit until the fifth. The Furman transfer yielded only two earned runs on five hits and a walk. He struck out four and exited after seven-plus innings of work, when the Cardinals got the lead-off man on in the eighth but Rao retired the guests to keep Notre Dame ahead into the ninth.

The Irish had taken the lead in most improbable fashion in the seventh. Jared Miller poked a single to right and scored their first run on Brooks Coetzee's single that followed Cole's walk.

Brannigan, the everyday third baseman, faced two different Louisville pitchers in his at bat. Kokomo, Indiana, native Jack Perkins was erratic in his short appearance in relief of Luke Seed, facing three-plus batters and not recording an out. Cole scored on Perkins' wild pitch to draw the Irish even at 2.

Brannigan then greeted Tate Kuehner with a double to straight-away center that scored the go-ahead run.

But Louisville, ranked seventh or better in every national poll entering this weekend at Notre Dame, did not quietly go. The Cardinals got an absolute gob-smacked tying home run from Alex Binelas deep into the netting and trees in right-center field to tie the game at 3 in the ninth.

Rao got an out before back-to-back Louisville batters reached base. Brannigan whiffed Levi Usher and induced a ground-out from Christian Knapczyk to close out the ninth without further damage.

That set the stage for Notre Dame's walk-off dramatics.

After the Cardinals retired Irish All-America slugger Niko Kavadas, David LaManna singled sharply to right field and brought up Cole in position for his second walk-off hit in the first five home games of the season.

Staring down a 2-1 pitch from Kuehner, Cole delivered and set off a wild celebration.

Notre Dame seeks the series win Sunday afternoon at 1. Neither team has announced a starter. The Irish are going for their fifth ACC series victory in as many tries in their 2021 season and what would be their sixth in a row, dating to last season's sweep at North Carolina before the season was halted due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

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