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Notre Dame Baseball

In the cards: Notre Dame stifles Tech, wins NCAA Tourney opener

June 4, 2022

A 2-0 lead held up some nine hours for Notre Dame – six of them due to the rain and weather delays that wreaked havoc Friday on the Statesboro Regional hosted by Georgia Southern.

When that lead briefly disappeared in the bottom of the eighth inning, the No. 2-seeded Fighting Irish got a stolen base from pinch runner Jared Miller and saw Miller score on a wild pitch.

That run, even after getting only an inning from ace John Michael Bertrand and then eight breathtaking innings of work from a cadre of relievers, downed No. 3 seed Texas Tech, 3-2, late Friday night inside Clements Stadium to advance into the winner’s bracket.

Seven Notre Dame pitchers combined to strike out 19 Tech batters.

“I can’t say enough about what our guys did,” said Irish coach Link Jarrett, who’s guided the program to back-to-back regionals for the first time in 15 years. “As the home team, we were here at stretch at 11:15 (a.m.) and it’s 11:50. I’ve said since I’ve been at Notre Dame how tough these guys are, and today was great example of that.”

Notre Dame (36-14) will face the winner of the Georgia Southern-UNC-Greensboro game, which was pushed to Saturday morning because the Irish’s contest spanned almost 9.5 hours – with an official game time of four hours, 26 minutes. Notre Dame’s projected start time Saturday night is 7.

The Irish whiled away time during the delay with a variety of card tricks while they were housed in a classroom on the Georgia Southern campus.

“They were doing card tricks,” Jarrett said, noting the players learned to use the classroom’s overhead projector and thus illustrated their tricks on a large screen, “and every once in a while you would hear someone screaming and yelling (in celebration of a trick).”

Georgia Southern and UNCG are set to open the day’s action at a projected 10 a.m. time, weather permitting, and the elimination game between the Red Raiders (37-21) and the loser of Saturday’s first game is scheduled for a 1 p.m. start.

In this game, it was the Irish’s early offense that immediately backed Bertrand, who wriggled free from a one-out, bases-loaded jam against the hard-hitting Raiders.

Ryan Cole and Brooks Coetzee III opened the home half of the first with back-to-back singles and stood on second and third when David LaManna lined a first-pitch shot into the right-field corner.

While that clutch double scored both Cole and Coetzee, it stranded Jack Zyska, who earlier had walked, at third. One out later, the game entered into what officially was a five-hour, 57-minute delay.

“Our first inning was difference-making,” Jarrett said. “The hit-and-run (when Coetzee’s single delivered Cole to third) and Dave’s big double, if that thing stays in, I think we clear the bases on that.”

Still, the Irish hurlers – Will Mercer got the win for his work in the eighth, Aiden Tyrell his second save in the past week-plus with the game’s final out – made it stand till the Red Raiders scratched across two runs on a two-out single in the bottom of the eighth. Liam Simon and Alex Rao worked a combined six innings and notched 15 of their 18 outs via strikeout.

“I think it’s just characteristic of our staff,” Rao said. “We kind of train to come into any situation. It doesn’t matter if we’ve been there before or not, we’re just expected to come in and have our best pitches. No one’s scared coming into a big spot; everyone wants that. A lot of guys did that (against Tech) and executed pitches when they needed to.”

Added Jarrett, “Without Rao and Liam and our bullpen executing the way they did, we would not have ever held them to two runs. To strike them out like that, that’s tough. Chuck (Ristano) called a great game, and these guys went out and delivered.”

It was Mercer’s ability to avoid further damage in the top of the eighth that set the stage for the Irish to score what proved to be the game-winning run in their half of the frame.

LaManna was awarded first base on a catcher’s interference call that negated an 0-2 count; TV replays showed clearly that Tech catcher Hudson White’s mitt made clear contact with the bat as LaManna swung at the second pitch.

He then advanced to second on Jack Penney’s sacrifice-bunt up the third-base line, and that’s when Jarrett subbed in the veteran Miller – who had not played since he dislocated his collarbone in a mid-May series at home against Pittsburgh.

“Miller likes to do things like that, and he’s a gifted, intuitive player,” Jarrett said. “I gave [the steal sign] to him, but he still has to execute it. He had the green light to run, which we normally do in that situation. He’s got enough sense and poise to make sure in that situation that it lines up and works.

“He’s playing with a shoulder (injury), he usually would dive, he’s not really able to dive right now. But the way that game was going, it was going to take something supplemental, it felt like, to score.”

Chase Hampton, who worked six-plus innings in relief for the Red Raiders, suffered the loss after he was charged with Miller’s unearned runs. Hampton struck out 12 Irish batters, part of that staff’s total of 15.

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