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Notre Dame Baseball

Irish left in defensive position, season on the line

June 12, 2021

In a season of remarkable consistency, Notre Dame had leaned most of all on its defense.

Saturday in the opening game of the NCAA Starkville Super Regional, the Fighting Irish's defense betrayed them.

Plagued by four errors, as well as eight men left on base, No. 10-seed Notre Dame fell to host, seventh-seed Mississippi State, 9-8, before 14,385 at Dudy Noble Field – an all-time NCAA Super Regional record crowd.

“Our guys were ready to play. Our guys engaged in the game. We just didn't play solid, sound defense,” said ND skipper Link Jarret. “The one double play we turned up the middle there was phenomenal (in the fifth inning).

“We just had too many mistakes. When you're in collect-out mode, it's hard. You can overcome it but it's extremely challenging in this setting to sort of overcome those non-collected outs.”

Notre Dame will play to keep alive its season Sunday evening at 6. The game will be broadcast on either ESPN2 or ESPNU.

The Irish (33-12) had tallied a lead in their very first half-inning and consistently maintained an edge through the first five innings.

After leads of 1-0 in the first, 2-1 in the second on Brooks Coetzee's solo blast and 3-1 in the third off a Jack Brannigan single, the Bulldogs (44-15) began to take advantage of Notre Dame's rattled defense in the bottom of the third.

Kamren James singled in a run and advanced on an error before State evened it again at 3 when Luke Hancock reached on Brannigan's error at third.

Brannigan, Coetzee and Zack Prazjner – who sustained his incredible postseason run at the plate with a 3-for-4, four-RBI game that included a homer – combined to commit the Irish's four defensive miscues.

“I don't want to attribute it to one thing in particular,” Prazjner said. “Errors happened. Obviously they're magnified in a place like this and a time like this.

“I think it's just an error in an unfortunate time.”

Still, Notre Dame temporarily steadied itself. The Irish got Spencer Myers' RBI-single in the fourth to reclaim the lead and a clean inning from starter John Michael Bertrand – his last full frame – in the bottom of the inning.

It was then Prazjner's three-run blast that vaulted Notre Dame on top, 7-3, and seemingly had the upstart guests in command.

The unraveling came in the bottom of the frame, though temporarily steadied by Prazjner's and Jared Miller's sensational double play.

Two of State's three runs in the inning were unearned and an inning later, Bulldogs slugger Rowdey Jordan rocked a two-run blast that gave the hosts their first lead of the game, 8-7.

“It was 7-3, I think the dugout, we knew the game wasn't over,” Jordan said. “We knew we had a chance to put up some runs. The mind set was, 'Hey, let's put some runs up on the board and have good at-bats.' That's what we did and as a result of that, we put up some runs.”

Again clutch, Prajzner's RBI-double in the seventh knotted the score at 8-all before State scored what proved to be the game-winning run on Tanner's solo shot.

“Obviously this one hurts, but I think we showed these fans and the world we're not a joke or anything like that,” Prazjner said. “We're definitely as good or better than this team and the teams that we're up against. I think we're super-confident that we're going to come back and win these next two. We've done it many times in the past, lost the first (game of a series) and won the next two to win the series.

“We're excited about it. We're going to come in and play confident and loose like we always have been and hope that turns out in our favor.”

Indeed, the Irish lost their very first game of the season at Wake Forest but then rallied to take the series. They did the same thing two more times – both on the road – at Clemson and Boston College.

“It's a three-game series for a reason; they have to beat us twice,” Jarrett said. “We have to win two games in a row. Fact. As far as trying to relax them at this point, I never sense any frustration to an inability to perform. I'm not worried about that.

“On this stage, mistakes are very humbling and hard to learn from but that's what they have to do. They have to learn from some of the things that happened in this game and in this atmosphere and apply that next time.”

Jarrett, who saw Bertrand and versatile, flame-throwing reliever Tanner Kohlhepp combine to throw 143 pitches, said all options are on the table for the Irish's pitching plan in Sunday's Game 2. He acknowledged Kohlhepp likely was done for the weekend after he threw 78 pitches in four innings and giving up four runs, three earned, as he was saddled with the loss.

“This was a national championship-caliber game, point-blank,” Jarrett, who noted his team has yet to lose consecutive contests in his 58-game run atop the program, said. “The atmosphere, personnel, strategy. That is what it's about at the amateur levels and everybody saw it.

“Make no mistake, it doesn't get any more intense or exciting than that. It's tough to be on the wrong side of it, everybody that was here, that's why they show up. They made this. These fans are great and that adds to the excitement and energy and intensity of this game and it was great.”

Preston Johnson got the win in relief for the Bulldogs after he worked 2.2 innings of one-run ball. Landon Sims notched his 10th save for his perfect final two innings on the mound that included three strikeouts.

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