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Notre Dame Baseball

Notre Dame blasts its way into Super Regionals

June 6, 2021
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Keep the torch lit.

It's Notre Dame's home run celebration, one perfected across 15 dingers in this record-setting, South Bend Regional Championship weekend for the Fighting Irish that was punctuated with Sunday's 14-2 finale against Central Michigan.

Now? The flame of Notre Dame's season burns for another week and all the way into the NCAA Super Regionals for the first time since 2002 – or when Regional MVP Niko Kavadas had yet to even start kindergarten and coach Link Jarrett had just transitioned from a pro playing career into coaching.

“The Torch. We light the torch,” said Kavadas, who belted five homers, scored nine runs and drove in 13. “I think it started when we had a lot of frustration with not being a top-eight national seed.

“That's something that kind of lit a fire under us, so ergo the torch.”

If that lit the Irish fire, their performance was scorched earth for their victims this weekend. They opened the NCAA postseason Friday with John Michael Bertrand's complete-game shutout in a 10-win. They added a 26-3 walloping of UConn Saturday and wrapped up the region crown with Sunday's 14-2 dismantling of the Chippewas (42-18).

Notre Dame's three starting pitchers – Bertrand, Will Mercer and Aidan Tyrell – combined to throw 24 innings and allowed just five earned runs. Tyrell worked Sunday’s clincher, when he allowed just two earned runs and eight hits through eight innings with three strikeouts.

“Phenomenal starting pitching,” Jarrett said. “And those guys have pitched against some tough, tough teams. I felt like it was a Super Regional setting all year [with an ACC-only schedule on the weekends]. We're playing grinder weekends. It's hard to get those guys out.

“They pitched great and the depth of it, when you turn five double plays (as Notre Dame did Sunday), that helps keep the pitch counts down and allow your starting pitchers to extend. The pitching and the defense works together and when you do it at the level we did it this weekend, those starts can dial out a little longer.”

Central Michigan did gain one measure of distinction – it was the only team to lead the Irish this weekend after Griffin Lockwood-Powell blasted a solo shot to left field.

It lasted all of one out. Kavadas answered with his fifth bomb of the weekend – he was intentionally walked in his first at-bat Sunday – and the Irish added an unearned run for a 2-1 lead.

Then Carter Putz again wholly opened the floodgates – this time with a no-doubt grand slam to left-center field.

Ryan Cole would later homer, Putz added another one and Brooks Coetzee delivered a two-run shot for a 12-2 lead.

Yet Notre Dame never relented – and Kavadas pointed to his expectation of a similar approach moving forward.

“We're still frustrated; we feel like this next weekend should be at home, too,” he said. “So I think that's something we're going to play with that's going to light a fire underneath us.

“We're going to go into Mississippi State and find a way to go 2-0.”

Seeded No. 7 nationally, the Bulldogs on Sunday saw their quest to host the 10th-seeded Irish delayed at least a day. Inclement weather extended the Starkville Regional, with MSU needing a single win Monday to maintain its right to host Notre Dame.

Jarrett knows duplicating the 50-run, 49-hit outburst of this weekend is unlikely, but the ACC's reigning coach of the year appreciates his team's rugged approach.

“I don't know if you guys notice, but I really feel like our team gets mad when people get a hit,” Jarrett said. “The defense, they study the tendencies and the spray and we move guys a little bit. They get frustrated, they've gotten to that level. Some of the foul balls that fall in, the right fielder, the second baseman, are wanting.

“So I think they're good when they're frustrated or intense with the game, like every day. … It's good to be frustrated. Now you can be frustrated all you want and you're going to deal with 10,000 people in Starkville that eat, sleep, breathe this. And they're going to be hanging over, every spot in the outfield they're going to be hanging over with grills and yelling and screaming and that's what it's about.”

Like his players, Jarrett believes his ACC champion Irish should have one more encore at home.

“They love their baseball at Mississippi State and so do our folks; we should be here,” Jarrett said. “The hand we're dealt is you go there … they haven't finished their series. They're the favorite and you think you could end up there with the caliber arms they have.

“I hope (his players are) mad, because I see them get mad about stuff throughout the game when they're winning a game 6-2. They're mad that somebody didn't make a play or a quality pitch. That's a pretty good trait to have.”

 
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