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Notre Dame Baseball

ACC Champ Notre Dame get No. 10 seed; was it too low?

May 31, 2021
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For Tanner Kohlhepp, the challenge was part of the allure.

As the former University of Tennessee player surveyed his college options upon exiting Rocky Top and pressing reset on his baseball career, the University of Notre Dame – and Link Jarrett's vision for the baseball program – were beacons.

“I didn't see it coming this quickly, but it was honestly one of the big draws for me,” Kohlhepp said Monday via Zoom. “It was to be a part of the turnaround of a program. When I had my first initial conversation with Coach (Rich) Wallace and Link and Chuck (Ristano), I was really encouraged; I loved the things I heard from them. I felt like I connected really well there.

“I just thought being a part of the turnaround of something like that, having the season we've had this year, was definitely something that I had in mind. I didn't picture it to be this soon, but that was a big draw for me, to be a part of something like we've done this year.”

What the regular-season Atlantic Coast Conference champion Fighting Irish now have done is both formally secure their placement as a host site for this weekend's opening rounds on the Road to Omaha, as well as ultimately land a No. 10 national seed.

Notre Dame (30-11), which won the ACC's rugged regular season by posting an 10-1-1 record in league series, had a strong case to be a top-eight seed and thus in position to have its path to the College World Series lead only through Eck Stadium.

“I guess win the ACC Tournament?,” Link Jarrett said when asked what more his squad could have done to secure extended hosting rights. “I guess my first hint at this, that it could be unusual is when they did the regional submissions so early in the season. When those 20 sites came out and when us and Pitt were the only two that had a chance to be one of the 16, I knew at moment something was really abnormal [in the selection process] with what we were looking at.

“There are some really good team teams in this league. We beat each other up. For us and Pitt to be the only two, it just seemed like something was tricky in how they were ranking (teams).”

Regardless, the Irish are hosting for the first time since 2004 and in the NCAA postseason for the first time since 2015. The remainder of the team's in Notre Dame's regional quadrant are UConn (2), Michigan (3) and Central Michigan (4).

“It's been a nice turnaround,” said senior Jared Miller, who endured back-to-back 30-loss seasons early in his career, “and we're excited for what's ahead.”

The Fighting Irish posted an 8-4 win against Central on April 13; they did not face either the Huskies or Wolverines in a campaign in which 35 of their 39 regular-season games were opposite ACC foes.

Eight ACC teams advanced into the NCAA field – second-most to the Southeastern Conference. Yet, the SEC has four of the top eight seeds and six of the 16 hosting this weekend.

No ACC program aside from Notre Dame was selected to host, and Pittsburgh was among the last teams left out of the field.

“You win the league the way we won it, I think that really is a separator,” Jarrett said. “You play so many ACC games, I think that made your schedule harder. But you don't play outside teams. Overall, our conference RPI was a little skewed this year. Nobody was going to argue that couldn't happen. You're splitting hairs when you start trying to decide who's 5-6-7-8-9-10-11 (seeds). They're not easy to rank teams across the country, especially this year that haven't crossed over and played a lot of these games. It is what it is. We've probably played better on the road. It's neat to be in your city and stadium for your fans to easily access it.

“I thought we had a chance (to be top-eight). Especially with the way the league played out and how we separated. But that's water under the bridge.”

What the Irish do have in their favor is impending changes to their rigid attendance policy that thus far this season has allowed only students and players' families to attend the games in person. Notre Dame will have fans permitted to attend this weekend; the school has yet to make a formal announcement on whether or not Eck Stadium will be allowed to fill to its 7,800-seat capacity.

“It would be awesome; I think they're creeping up towards that,” Jarrett said, praising the impact of the students who packed many of Notre Dame's weekend ACC series. “The latest information I saw, we're creeping up towards a better crowd than we obviously had this year. I think we're trying to evolve and it would be awesome.

“I talked to Paul Mainieri a lot when I got this job, and he said, 'If you can win, these people love to come watch Notre Dame baseball. Especially when you're winning.'”

 
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