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Notre Dame Baseball

Semi-nal Triumph: Notre Dame thwarts FSU, secures ACC semifinals bid

May 26, 2022
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Bases loaded, nobody out and his team clinging to a narrow lead, John Michael Bertrand had just one thought in mind: Time to be a relief pitcher.

It’s the mindset that Notre Dame’s resident staff-ace and the remainder of the Fighting Irish starting pitchers have had instilled from the coaching staff of Link Jarrett, Chuck Ristano and Rich Wallace.

Never, ever has Bertrand been more brilliant in mid-game, starting-pitcher relief work.

He wriggled out of Florida State’s bases-loaded-no-outs threat without any damage and worked eight dazzling innings of one-run, eight-strikeout excellence as No. 14 Notre Dame powered past Florida State, 5-3, in pool play Thursday of the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament at Charlotte’s Truist Field.

“Coach always talks about starting pitchers need to be a self-contained reliever,” said Bertrand, a two-time first-team All-ACC selection in each of his two seasons with the Irish. “So you’re going to get into situations throughout the game, any game, where you kind of have to be your own reliever. So that was the first thing going through my mind.

“You’ve got to lock it in, bring it up a notch. It was a pivotal moment. I hadn’t thrown my changeup for a strike yet and I was able to throw it three in a row, which was good. And that brings that fourth pitch back into the mix. Then at the end, it was just execute as well as you can, attack and, again, our defense [was key].”

Bertrand’s gem propelled the Fighting Irish (34-13) into Saturday’s semifinals round of the ACC Tournament – the first such foray in program history since it accepted invitation into the league in 2012.

It’s another break-through moment for Notre Dame, which a year ago came within a win of the program’s first College World Series appearance in two decades and captured the ACC’s regular-season crown.

“We made the cut, right? We’re playing on the weekend,” Jarrett said. “It means a lot. That’s tough. Those guys are good. That was a group of arms that are arguably as good as anybody in the country’s group of arms that they ran at us today, and JM matched it pitch-for-pitch. …

“I’m proud of these guys. … I think this is just a toughness reflection of how those guys showed up and went to work and battled and came out on the right end.”

The Irish were buoyed at the plate by a trio of home runs from Zack Prajzner, Jack Zyska and Brooks Coetzee III; Zyska’s blast lifted Notre Dame to a 3-1 edge in the fourth, and after Bertrand’s mound mastery in the bottom of that frame, Coetzee buried the Seminoles (33-23) in an insurmountable, 5-1 hole.

After being shut out by Parker Messick through six innings in the two teams’ April matchup, the Irish battered the FSU ace and Golden Spikes Award finalist for eight hits and five earned runs, chasing Messick after five frames.

“We spent a lot of time talking about how to attack this guy, and it’s very difficult,” Jarrett said. “Preparing to hit a fastball, and then being physically in a position that allows you to adjust to hit a good secondary pitch is, quite frankly, one of the most difficult things in athletics to do.

“Those pitches were good. They were in the bottom of the zone, if they were in the zone, their ability to get into a clean position and maintain a path through the zone and out in front of the zone to barrel up some difficult secondary pitches, those guys work tirelessly on that sort of thing. And that’s sort of the art of hitting.”

Now Notre Dame plays a game against Virginia at 11 a.m. Friday that, while it certainly could further burnish the team’s NCAA Tournament desires to host a regional for a second-straight year and outside hopes of hosting a Super Regional, doesn’t have great bearing on the team’s ACC Tournament path.

The Irish are headed into the ACC’s semifinals for the first time ever, another notch for the program that has won 79 games in little more than two full seasons under Jarrett.

The Notre Dame skipper circled it back around to Bertrand.

“When you have an individual who has two masters degrees from Notre Dame, I know who the smartest guy on this stage is, no offense,” Jarrett said from the ACC dais, where he was seated alongside Bertrand and a moderator. “When you have somebody like this who appreciates everything, it gives the whole team a kind of sense of purpose and life. He’s helped us kind of rewrite the modern-day record book of the program.”

WEEKEND NOTES

The Irish are undecided on Saturday’s starting pitcher, with Jarrett noting Temple could be available after throwing just 21 pitches in less than inning of relief of Bertrand. Alex Rao notched the save when he recorded the final out.

Ryan Cole, per Jarrett, could have played but Notre Dame preferred to continue to allow Cole to further rest the hamstring he tweaked last weekend at Miami.

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