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Notre Dame Baseball

Irish ring up Huskies; 1 win from Super Regionals

June 5, 2021

The Notre Dame line score looked far more like a telephone number.

Suffice to say, the Fighting Irish again were dialed in at the plate.

Scoring 5, 3, 1, 1 and 4 runs in five of its first six trips to the plate Saturday in the winners' side of the South Bend Regional, Notre Dame roared within one win of a Super Regional berth in a 26-3 battering of region No. 2-seed Connecticut (34-18).

Again before a sold-out Eck Stadium crowd, the Fighting Irish (32-11) got another two-home run effort from senior slugger Niko Kavadas, including a tone-setting grand slam in the first inning, and watched Kavadas, with eight RBIs, and the entire team set postseason records for their offensive production.

It all left Notre Dame coach Link Jarrett searching the memory bank for something that wasn't there.

Specifically trying to recount having ever seen anything like Kavadas' first two NCAA Tournament games – which have seen him amass 12 RBIs and four home runs.

“No, I do not [ever recall a performance like that of Kavadas],” Jarrett said. “And you might be hard-pressed to find somebody that has.”

Kavadas' four dingers are just part of Notre Dame's team-wide home run derby; the Irish now have blasted 10 home runs in 17 postseason innings.

They debuted a celebratory new display after Kavadas' first-inning, two-strike grand slam.

“I don't really know what they're doing but it's just some of those things that organically develop and I think they're good,” Jarrett said of the oft-repeated display featured in Notre Dame's 21-hit barrage. “I don't think it's over the top. We've sat through far worse than that on the other side.

“They're engaged and they like to compete and the enthusiasm and energy that's created in this setting is good; they're having fun.”

Left-hander Will Mercer kept the Huskies off-balance throughout his seven innings of work, and Notre Dame again got an optimal performance from its starting pitcher to seize complete command in its quest for a Super Regional berth.

Mercer scattered eight hits in seven innings and allowed just two earned runs; his effort boosted Notre Dame's starting pitcher production in the regional to 16 innings pitched, two earned runs and just 13 hits.

“He was in command,” Jarrett said. “He was running fastball up there pretty good today, we don't have the technology to get the velos (pitch speeds) right now with the tournament, but he was good. Maybe as good as I've seen him. And that's a good, physical team.

“He was in total control of what he was doing and he got his longest start for us. There's not a better time for us.”

Mercer's work wasn't lost on the Irish lineup.

“It's huge, saving our pen; they gave us great performances,” said Ryan Cole, the Notre Dame left fielder who went 3-for-6 with a homer, double and drove in six runs. “Hell of a job by both of them. Went out there and gave us their best stuff.”

Cole and Kavadas combined for 14 RBIs and three of the six blasts; Brooks Coetzee, David LaManna and Carter Putz also each belted a dinger.

Notre Dame chased UConn starter Ben Casparius in 3.2 innings; he was charged with 11 earned runs and threw 94 pitches.

The Huskies' four pitchers threw a combined 142 pitches, allowed the 21 hits, walked eight batters and also hit two Irish players.

On a day in which almost everything went the way of the Irish, Jarrett still pointed to Kavadas' first-inning slam as perhaps the crucial moment.

“It got to two strikes and he hung in there; he crushed that,” Jarrett said. “We all have seen now the capabilities that he has. That blow, when you look back, you can say it won the game.

“But it changed obviously how the early part of that game was played on our end.”

The Irish need just one more win – their first crack will come Sunday evening at 6; if necessary, they would play Monday at 1 p.m. – to advance the Super Regionals as one of just 16 teams left standing next weekend.

Jarrett said he's unsure who will start Sunday's game against the Central Michigan-UConn winner, but he mentioned Alex Rao and Aiden Tyrell as possibilities.

Most importantly, Jarrett emphasized, the Irish are “in the driver's seat” and have great pitching flexibility at hand.

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