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Notre Dame Baseball

No. 3 Notre Dame set to begin ACC title defense

March 11, 2022
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Last weekend, third-ranked Notre Dame had a two-hit performance from its offense in a game it nonetheless won, and it likewise saw relievers earn back-to-back saves in games against Michigan State and Minnesota.

Tense, tight games after mostly blowouts through the season’s first two weekends likely provide the Fighting Irish (9-1) with valuable lessons in high-anxiety, heartburn-moments as they venture into Atlantic Coast Conference play this weekend at No. 25 North Carolina State.

For third-year ND skipper Link Jarrett, it’s an early glimpse as much at the mental composition of his team – especially his pitching staff – as the physical ability to deliver in the clutch.

“I mean, it puts a lot (of pressure), when you’re in those games, there are tying runs at the plate the whole time, there’s a lot of labor that goes into pitching at that point,” Jarrett told Irish Sports Daily. “The field (last weekend in Minnesota’s Cambria Classic at U.S. Bank Field) played a little bigger and slower than I thought, and I think that vanilla’d down some of the explosiveness of the offenses. Ours, and some we faced.

“But I thought we had incredible poise, demeanor, and tempo on the mound.”

A significant part of that equation continues to be the Irish staff’s ability to strike out batters in a variety of settings, from the trio of weekend starters John Michael Bertrand, Austin Temple and Aidan Tyrell owning a combined 61 whiffs in 53 innings to newcomer Ryan McLinskey asserting himself out of the bullpen with 14 Ks in a mere 6.2 frames.

The Irish also have just three errors and a dazzling .992 fielding percentage through the season’s first quarter.

“I like, defensively, the capabilities that we’ve shown on the field,” Jarrett said. “It stifles people. Our outfield can run balls down, infielders handle routine plays and have the athleticism to make non-routine plays at times.

“We’ve got a better ability to strike people out, and those things are a good recipe for keeping the team in every single game. We faced some solid starting pitching [in Minnesota]. Unfortunately, we just never got to that level of consistency. We got up 6-1 against Illinois, and it felt like a bigger lead than that, but it really still is one swing from being a close game. A lot more stress on each pitch than you would like it, but our guys handled it.”

Notre Dame in its brief history under Jarrett has been an especially formidable squad in its ACC-opening series. The Irish are a combined 5-1 on opening weekend in their previous two seasons under Jarrett, sweeping nationally ranked North Carolina on the road in 2020 and taking two of three from Wake Forest, then No. 16, a year ago in launching its ACC title campaign.

WEEKEND ROTATION

Game 1, 4 p.m., Doak Field: ND LHP Aidan Tyrell (3-0, .56 ERA) vs. NCST RHP Sam Highfill (1-1, 5.02) TV: ACC Network Extra

Game 2, 2 p.m., Doak Field: ND LHP John Michael Bertrand (3-0, .90 ERA) vs. NCST RHP MATT WILLADSEN (0-0, 5.02) TV: ACCN Extra

Game 3, 1 p.m., Doak Field: ND RHP Austin Temple (2-0, 1.59 ERA) vs. NCST LHP David Harrison (2-1, 2.81) TV: ACCN Extra

SCOUTING THE WOLFPACK

NC State entered the season as a trendy pick as a top challenger to unseat the defending ACC champion Irish and with the potential to uncork another enduring postseason, with the Pack last year halted amidst COVID-19 controversy rather than actually losing their final contest.

But after an 8-0 start, State last weekend was humbled a bit in four-straight losses – three to Northeastern and one to Campbell.

It didn’t help that the Pack were without J.T. Jarrett, the team’s leading hitter with a more-than-.500 average and also among its steadiest infielders. Jarrett, son of the Irish coach, has been nursing a sore hamstring and his considered a 50-50 possibility to return in full this weekend.

Elsewhere, Highfill has gotten off to a bit of surprisingly tough start after a breakthrough 2021 freshman campaign in which he led the team in starts, wins and performed his best at year’s end as State toppled heavily favored Arkansas in the NCAA Super Regional and advanced to the College World Series, where the aforementioned and much-debated COVID-19 protocols eliminated the Pack.

Rookie Tommy White has burst onto the collegiate baseball landscape for State after a decorated career at IMG Academy. White has hit at a .456 clip in his debut campaign, and his nine home runs not only lead the team but are just one fewer than Notre Dame has collectively hit with its new lineup that has been more capable of manufacturing scoring opportunities and much less reliant on long balls after the departure of record-setting Irish slugger Niko Kavadas.

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No. 3 Notre Dame set to begin ACC title defense

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