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Notre Dame Baseball

Bertrand, Kavadas lead dominant Notre Dame win in NCAAs

June 4, 2021
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Niko Kavadas finished his swing and kept his right arm extended; he simply knew.

So, too, did all of a sold-out Eck Stadium Friday afternoon in the opening game of the South Bend Regional.

Still Kavadas, Notre Dame's home-grown slugger from nearby Penn High School, had waited years for this moment.

He waited a tad longer for his trips to the plate on this day, as Irish head man Link Jarrett had opted to shift Kavadas down to the No. 6 spot in the lineup to get more speed up top and alleviate some of the pressure on his team's home run leader.

Too, Kavadas had plenty of support on hand as Notre Dame leaders and public health officials agreed to open up the home of the Fighting Irish to full capacity.

Not once but twice Kavadas blasted prodigious home runs, part of the Irish's 14-hit, four-blast barrage, as No. 10 seed Notre Dame battered Central Michigan, 10-0.

“I had a bunch of my buddies from high school that I played high school baseball with and that I played with growing up sitting down the right-field line,” Kavadas said. “It was really cool to have them there for a day like today.”

The day became the first NCAA postseason win at home for the Irish (31-11) in some 15 years and set up the hosts to be in a commanding position the remainder of the weekend. Notre Dame plays the winner of this evening's UConn-Michigan contest Saturday at 6 p.m.

The Irish can do so after having seen their offense explode and ace pitcher John Michael Bertrand twirl a five-hit, complete-game shutout.

“Well, you can't ask for more than that,” ND skipper Link Jarrett said. “The decision we were breaking down in the sixth inning as we were going through that, 'Do you try to get him out of there if you end up in a Monday situation, do you save some pitches?' The way it was going, we just felt like it was probably better for the group to just let him go.

“Now you have everybody back. … But you can't ask for any more than to go through Game 1 using only one pitcher. We didn't even have to get anybody up, hot, nothing. So can't be better off and you get the afternoon off to rest. Bertrand was great.”

It was Bertrand for the Irish and Central Michigan's Andrew Taylor locked in a tense pitchers' duel into the bottom of the fourth.

That's when Notre Dame pounced in its second at-bats against the ace of the Chippewas (40-17).

Jared Miller, in the No. 3 spot in the lineup, tripled to open the bottom of the fourth and scored easily on Carter Putz's RBI-groundout to second base.

After Jack Brannigan hustled out an infield single to shortstop, Kavadas broke through.

He pummeled Taylor's 0-2 pitch deep into the right-center field netting and trees.

Just like that, the Irish led 3-0 – and the home run barrage was initiated.

After Ryan Cole singled in Spencer Myers in the fifth, Notre Dame chased Miller – the nation's No. 2 pitcher in wins entering the game with 11 victories – in the sixth with a six-run, three-homer eruption.

Kavadas blasted another two-run shot, scoring Jack Brannigan, and David LaManna and Cole each added two-run homers.

“I just wanted him to be able to just have a different feel and look and let the game develop a little bit before he got his first at-bat,” Jarrett said of the lineup switch for Kavadas. “You know, it worked. Those balls were just annihilated.

“I'll be interested to see on the TrackMan … I guess we don't have it; we won't know the exit-velocities. But that was really good.”

Bertrand took care of the rest. The first-year Irish player, a Furman transfer after the Paladins' program was disbanded, bounced back from his rough outing last Friday in the ACC Championship to stymie the CMU lineup.

Bertrand faced the minimum over the final four frames – just 12 batters, getting a key double-play to end the sixth – and whiffed the Chippewas' last three batters in the ninth.

The left-hander finished six strikeouts and walked just one.

“He's a resilient kid,” Kavadas said of Bertrand. “He's in Year 5 (as a college athlete).

“We believe in him. He believes in himself. Never a doubt he was going to go out and dominate today.”

Similarly, despite a pair of 30-loss seasons in 2018-19, Kavadas never doubted the Irish's ability to not only reach the NCAA's Road to Omaha but likewise to earn the right to kick-start that journey at home.

“This is something we've known we were capable of since my first day on campus,” Kavadas said. “For whatever reason, we just couldn't string wins together. It was something we knew were capable of.

“I think Coach Jarrett came in and just changed our whole mentality. Every time we step between the lines, we're 100% confident we're going to win and leave the day 1-0. I think that's something we knew was a possibility and we had in our sights from Day 1 since Coach Jarrett stepped on campus.”

The Irish now are two wins from advancing to a Super Regional. If they win Saturday evening’s contest, they need just one win on Sunday or Monday to advance to NCAA’s Round of 16.

 
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