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Notre Dame Baseball

Jarrett looks at Notre Dame's path from upstart to No. 9

April 29, 2021
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Everything has changed since Notre Dame and North Carolina last met on the baseball diamond – and that's hardly limited to the COVID-19 pandemic that has engulfed the globe since early-March 2020.

That series marked Fighting Irish coach Link Jarrett's first Atlantic Coast Conference foray in his soon-to-be abbreviated first campaign.

Notre Dame swept that series and closed the halted year 11-2. The Irish did not lose a series.

They have not since that time, and now Notre Dame is ninth in the USA Today Coaches Poll and sports a 21-8 overall record, including an 18-8 ACC ledger that paces the notoriously high-level league in most wins.

“I think it's different because we're so much further into the season and the magnitude of what's going on at this point is a little different than at the beginning of the season and in your first ACC series,” Jarrett said in assessing the state of his program Thursday. “They knew North Carolina was a good team going in last year, and we played well. We got a lot of breaks. Some of that we created. You still have to take advantage of the opportunities, and they did that.

“They know North Carolina is another good team coming in here. Just a different point in the season and just a different overall landscape for where we are right now versus heading in last year to play them the first series of the year there.”

The Fighting Irish are in contention to host a postseason regional and continue to be one of the biggest surprise teams in all of college baseball.

Here's a look at the probable pitchers, as well as some areas the Fighting Irish are capitalizing to keep producing success after success navigating the ACC.

PROBABLE PITCHERS:

GAME 1 FRIDAY, 5 p.m.: UNC RHP AUSTIN LOVE (5-3, 4.23 ERA) vs. ND LHP WILL MERCER (1-1, 6.90 ERA) ACC NETWORK EXTRA

GAME 2 SATURDAY, 2 p.m.: UNC LHP SHAWN RAPP (1-0, 3.71 ERA) vs. ND LHP JOHN MICHAEL BERTRAND (4-1, 3.55 ERA), ACC NETWORK EXTRA

GAME 3 SUNDAY, 1 p.m.: TBD vs. TBD, 12 p.m., ACC NETWORK EXTRA

GOING DEEP … ALL THE WAY THROUGH THE LINEUP

It's hard to see a scenario where Niko Kavadas isn't both first-team All-ACC and an All-America selection for the Fighting Irish; he continues to rank second nationally and second in the ACC with 15 home runs through 29 games.

Kavadas is the only player in the NCAA's top-10 home run rankings to have 13 or more home runs in less than 34 games.

Yet as noted, the Irish offense is much more than Kavadas crushing or Spencer Myers stealing bases.

It's a complete effort.

Take Notre Dame's last two games – both fairly dramatic come-from-behind wins. Gander at the Irish's bottom-of-the-lineup production:

Four runs, four hits and three RBIs in the comeback-win against Valpo from the 5-9 hitters.

Five runs, six hits, seven RBIS in the dramatic, doubleheader Game 2 rally to defeat Boston College, 13-9.

“It's really critical if you want to score in bunches. At some point, to have a longer inning, you're going to have to have quality at-bats. You're not going to start at the top of the lineup every inning,” Jarrett said. “It's important that the 5-6-7-8 guys can find ways on base and generate some offense so that when we do flip that lineup over it gives the top of the lineup an opportunity to have some runners on base.”

Jarrett said there's a direct correlation between not just winning but transitioning to an elite team and how a lineup produces 1-9.

“If you want to win at a high level, it's extremely important,” he said. “It's critical to do that. Because you have to force people into big-inning type situations, because most of the games are won when one team scores more runs in one inning than the other team scores in the game.

“Statistically, it's an interesting part of baseball, but that's a big way games are won. So to lengthen the lineup and pressure people top to bottom is instrumental in having a chance to blow some games open and win some tough games against good teams.”

ACE RETURNS TO FORM

After a shaky outing in his first start back from arm/shoulder soreness, John Michael Bertrand returned to post a controlling effort in his start in the middle game of last week's three-game set at Boston College.

The Furman transfer limited the Eagles, less than 24 hours after they had taxed the Irish for 10 runs, to just two earned runs in 6 1/3 innings.

“I think it's the first time he's ever had something not feel right, and that's a strange feeling for anybody that pitches,” Jarrett said. “And getting over the hurdle, physically and mentally, knowing that you're OK.

“As you're throwing, I think that first outing back, you're still wondering, what is tomorrow going to feel like. I think in each of his outings since, he's gotten a little bit better throughout the course of the outing, and I hope we get him back where from Pitch 1, the velocity's there, the command's there, the secondary pitches are there. Because when he does that, it's exceptionally difficult to square up and that's what we need him to do.”

 
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