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Notre Dame Baseball

Big Ten bullies: Notre Dame shreds Sparty, eyes ACC hardware

May 10, 2022
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Notre Dame’s final home midweek game Tuesday night saw a little bit of everything: dominant pitching, at times; clutch hitting, especially at the top of the lineup; and, with just two Atlantic Coast Conference series left in the regular season, some more guys working into potentially larger roles for the postseason.

It all added up to a dominant, 15-6 Notre Dame win against visiting Michigan State inside Eck Stadium. 

Freshman hurler Jack Findlay got the win; he worked four hitless, scoreless innings and fanned eight Spartans as the eighth-ranked Fighting Irish (29-10) improved to 15-2 this season at home.

Now 5-0 with a miniscule .62 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 29 innings, Findlay again showed he could Notre Dame’s Sunday starter down the stretch – or a potential late-inning bullpen weapon.

“The fastball movement today, like he had it cutting to one side of the plate and running to the other, he commands that, and you could tell the swing comfort level was so minimal for them,” said Irish skipper Link Jarrett, who improved to 74-25 in his 99th game atop the program. “And he’s repeating it. So when you’re running guys out that you’re not familiar with, freshmen or otherwise, it’s the repeatability of what you see, and he continues to do what we were hoping he would do when we recruited him. And that’s really command the fastball and he’s got two breaking pitches that he uses, he used both of them today. But I still felt it was just the pure fastball movement and command of it that allowed him to pitch the way he did.

“So you just gain more confidence. We were not going to let anybody go out there today and overdo it, because we’re at a time where we need everybody for these weekends.”

Enough to make Findlay the bookend to the John Michael Bertrand-Austin Temple weekend rotation? It’s possible, as Notre Dame hosts Pittsburgh this weekend in its final regular-season home series (Friday, 6 p.m.; Saturday, 4 p.m., Sunday, 12 p.m.) and then visits No. 6 Miami next week for a Thursday-Saturday set that completes the regular season.

“Yeah, it makes sense. I have to process a little bit of where we are and what Pitt seems to be adept at,” Jarrett said, “and we’ll figure it out. If he makes sense to use in some sort of other role, other than starting Sunday, we have him. I wanted to be sure we had that option and if you don’t, I think it was last weekend (we played), I think we used him on Sunday. He’s just gaining experience and confidence. We played these guys last time in Detroit and he came in in relief.

“We’re trying to, as we position these young guys for the stretch, to give them experience at both of the situations at both the situations they could experience; what it’s like to start a game of this magnitude, and what it’s like to come into a game of this magnitude in the sixth inning, seventh inning, whatever.”

The game also marked the first appearance this season for reliever Matt Bedford, who worked two innings and allowed one earned run, three hits and fanned two. Jarrett praised Bedford’s return, as he cited the value in his two-inning work to show greater depth of Bedford’s skills – and areas to target for improvement – after Bedford had been limited this season to only practice work.

At the plate, the Irish’s 2 through 5 hitters combined for 11 hits and 10 RBIs; Ryan Cole and Brooks Coetzee III each homered while Jack Zyska added two doubles. Coetzee and David LaManna each closed with three RBIs.

BIG PICTURE

The Irish victory elevated them to 5-1 this season against Big Ten foes, and they still have a scheduled visit next week to Northwestern.

It’s a key ledger for Notre Dame as it remains in striking distance for the ACC’s Atlantic Division crown, if not a repeat of the league’s overall championship.

“We put our emphasis on trying to win regular-season championships,” Jarrett said. “I always have gone into, whether it was the Southern Conference, whether it was the SEC, whether it was my first stint in the ACC, Conference-USA, you do all this to try to come out on the top of the league.

“You can’t just hope and wait for the postseason or have a mind-set that’s not trying to win the long, grind haul that you’re in. Our assistant coaches, I mean Rich (Wallace) and Chuck (Ristano) and Brad (Vanderglas), the preparation they do for the alignment of the team, showing the hitters what they can expect out of the arms with video, our own breaking down the video of our own players and the developmental piece, when you’re talking about a 14-week schedule, that tells you when the program is in working order.”

Jarrett doesn’t devalue a league’s end-of-year tournament and obviously has national title aspirations, but he’s found in two decades of coaching that the barometer of a program’s health that has most resonated with him has been regular-season conference effectiveness.

“You can win a conference tournament and get to a regional, you can play great for three games,” he said. “That is awesome. But you don’t want to hang your hat on that. The championship of the regular season, division or overall, that says more to me than anything else that can happen. You know national champions, sure; there are big trophies that can be had.

“But that for me as a coach tells me a lot about how you’re doing the day-in and day-out things, when the first pitch of the season till the end, you’ve played consistent, good baseball. Whether we won last year or win it this year, when you’re in the conversation, you know the guys are doing a lot of different things well.”

POSTSEASON RETURN HOME?

After it hosted and won the South Bend Regional a year ago en route to a near College World Series berth, Notre Dame has positioned itself to again be in consideration to host an opening weekend in next month’s NCAA Tournament.

And should the Irish get hot enough here down the stretch to perhaps win an ACC divisional or overall crown and be positioned as a national seed, they also would bid to host a Super Regional with a berth to CWS in Omaha, Nebraska on the line.

The bidding process will unfold soon – it was done earlier than ever a year ago, coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic – but Irish officials strongly indicated they will bid to host as much postseason play as possible at Eck Stadium.

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