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Notre Dame Baseball

SUPER-B in Statesboro: Notre Dame wins Region, Super Region-bound

June 5, 2022
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No need to extend a stay in Statesboro, Georgia.

But Notre Dame’s never-say-day, steel-willed baseball team? Well, the Fighting Irish are extending their season once again.

Frankly, it’s Super.

Scratching across single runs in the third and fourth courtesy RBIs from star outfielder Ryan Cole and getting a brilliant start from ace John Michael Bertrand and the second save in as many nights from freshman Jack Findlay, the No. 2 seed Fighting Irish are Knoxville Super Regional-bound with a 2-1 triumph Sunday night against No. 3 seed Texas Tech.

“The story was the resilience of the pitching staff and defense behind them collecting outs,” said Notre Dame coach Link Jarrett, with the unprecedented accomplishment of leading his first two full-season Notre Dame squads to back-to-back Super Regional appearances. “We talked about how badly you want those last nine, six, three outs. …

“To experience that I know is something I’ll always remember. Something I’ll walk out of there knowing how hard they fought to wrap these things up.”

The Irish (38-14) posted their second-straight NCAA Baseball Tournament Regional crown – last year at home in South Bend, Indiana; this one at Georgia Southern – and completed both tour de forces with identical 3-0 slates.

Cole rapped out four hits, and Spencer Myers doubled to score on Cole’s first hit while Zack Prajzner, super at the plate all weekend, was delivered on Cole’s other run-ushering knock.

Up next is a trip to Rocky Top to face-off against NCAA Tournament overall No. 1 seed Tennessee, which rallied past Georgia Tech Sunday night moments after the Irish’s win to set up the ND-Tennessee best-of-three Super Regional.

“I haven’t played in Knoxville in a while; I’ve heard that the ball carries there,” Jarrett, the former Auburn assistant and UNC-Greensboro head coach, said, “and you think about it, there were three or four balls hit today that looked like off the bat those might go and none of them did.

“The game changes because of how things play (in different venues). We’ll see. We have to be better offensively. It is what it is right now. Jared Miller, poor guy, dove for a ball (mid-May against Pittsburgh), his shoulder popped out and back in, and we’re trying to ease him back into that. This week will help.”

ND advanced through the weekend despite its offense stranding 29 men on base, thanks in large part to a dominant pitching staff that allowed just seven runs across 27 innings.

The Red Raiders twice were victimized by the Irish staff; they entered the weekend having been among the nation’s top home-run hitting and scoring teams, at nearly nine runs per game, but managed just three total runs in 18 innings against Notre Dame.

“Congrats to Notre Dame,” said Tech coach Tim Tadlock. “Their team played great. Bertrand was really great today. We had a couple shots to get to him, … I want to tell you the guys they threw in Game 1 need to be commended, too, because that really allowed them (to chart their course). The whole rain deal worked out for both of us, both got to bring a guy back after throwing a good side session basically.”

Bertrand showed his “in-game relief” methodology almost from the outset. Just as had happened in his one-inning cameo in Friday’s Tournament opener against the Red Raiders (39-22), Bertrand had to escape almost immediate jeopardy. Tech left three of the 11 runners it stranded for the game in its first two Sunday at-bats against Bertrand, the Atlantic Coast Conference’s ERA leader in 2022 and recent All-America selection.

“You kind of have to bring everything up a notch, and turn it up a notch,” said the double-degreed Bertrand, a Mendoza master’s recipient who worked 8.2 innings of one-run split between Friday to Sunday. “It’s testament to (Jarrett) and our whole coaching staff preparing us the entire fall and spring and being able to put us in pressure situations and training us to get out of them.”

The unflappable Findlay delivered with his second save in basically 24 hours to secure the Irish’s Regional crown. A night after recording the final six outs to put down Georgia Southern, Findlay preserved Bertrand’s gem with the final four outs against the Red Raiders.

“I think we just talked about coming in and executing pitches right away,” said Findlay, who had five strikeouts in 3.1 total innings of work in the two saves. “Focus on that and execute good pitches, good things happen.”

Jarrett also pointed to the work of his support staff, specifically praising pitching coach Chuck Ristano, as well as assistant coach and recruiting guru Rich Wallace and Brad Vanderglas.

“I will say Rich Wallace and Chuck Ristano prepare the team with details as well as anybody I’ve been around; and first-year coach Brad Vanderglas,” Jarrett said. “It’s hard to gauge it when you watch as an observer, but the preparation of those guys and what they put into how to prepare, calling a game, weaknesses of opposition, strengths of opposing hitters. Those guys do the hard, detailed work to prepare the team and take it and try to push the right buttons in competition, and clearly it’s worked well.”

After enduring and nearly silencing the raucous denizens of Dudy Noble Field in last season’s 2-1 Super Regional loss to eventual national champion Mississippi State, Notre Dame is prepared, Jarrett believes, for the equally outrageous atmosphere that awaits on Rocky Top inside Lindsey Nelson Stadium.

“We have to play in all phases of the game. It’s gonna be Starkville-esque,” Jarrett said. “We dealt with 16,000 fans there. All parts of your game have to be on point.

“I’m thrilled for our guys. I feel like our team is prepared, and we’ll be prepared for that. It doesn’t always mean you win, but preparation [is paramount].”

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