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Photo by Stephen Kenney
Notre Dame Baseball

Cool, calm Notre Dame stuns No. 1 Vols, wins Super opener

June 10, 2022

KNOXVILLE – The “Classless vs. Catholics” T-shirts, replete with orange and green lettering, dotted the concourse throughout sold-out Lindsey Nelson Stadium, where 4,583 fans packed the stands and hundreds more joined the festival-like atmosphere for the block party just beyond stadium walls.

But a funny thing happened Friday night, as top-ranked and indomitable Tennessee, the NCAA Tournament’s overwhelming No. 1 seed, hosted upstart Notre Dame, like the Vols one of just seven teams to make consecutive Super Regional appearances but yet to host one.

The Irish struck early; eight runs in four innings.

Tennessee exploded – first star slugger Drew Gilbert, and then pitching coach Frank Anderson. Both were ejected; both will serve suspensions.

And Notre Dame? Well, the unflappable Irish now rest one game away from the program’s first College World Series appearance in two decades after hanging on for an 8-6 win against Tennessee (56-8), which had not lost since May 14.

“Huge. Takes em out of it, and they don’t want to be out of it,” ND coach Link Jarrett said of his Irish striking in each of its first four at-bats en route to the 7-1 lead. “And they didn’t stay out of it. It does settle things a bit.

“And Carter (Putz’s) at-bat in the first inning, two strikes, they’re almost about to wiggle off the hook. That was huge. That quieted things down a little bit, 8-1 or whatever it was, you knew in this park that’s not the lead you might see at our park with the wind blowing in and across.”

Light-hitting Notre Dame (39-14) scored its first five runs via home runs – Carter Putz and Jack Zyska sandwiched two-run blasts around Jared Miller’s solo shot – saw the host Vols answer with a single tally in the third and then the Irish capped their scoring with Jack Brannigan’s three-run homer in the fourth.

“It’s huge; offensively, we have video of all the pitchers,” said Putz, whose two-run blast off the massive scoreboard in right field set the tone with a lead the Irish never relinquished. “(The coaches’ scouting reports and game plans) break all of it down and categorize it by facing righties and lefties. We’ve seen so many pitches from these guys and what their tendencies are. It just gives you a better idea of how you want to attack.”

From there, the game became a battle that pitted Notre Dame’s deep, versatile bullpen against Tennessee’s college baseball record-setting offense. Alex Rao relieved starter Austin Temple and earned the win; Jack Findlay got his third save in the past week – all the first of the freshman’s career.

“I don’t have anything profound to say,” said UT coach Tony Vitello. “Anytime you step into this environment, you’ve got the crazies as in the students and everybody else packing the house, you feel disappointed you didn’t do better for them. This is the way it works.

“They played well, and we didn’t. That’s part of the deal. You’ve got to take the good with the bad. I think we’re fortunate the score is the way it was [and not worse than 8-6].”

Temple went three-plus, charged with two earned runs. Rao worked 3.2, allowed just two hits, struck out three and was charged with three runs after Matt Bedford relieved. The Vols struck for both their seventh-inning runs with two outs.

Jarrett then opened the bottom of the 8th with Findlay, hero of last weekend’s Statesboro Regional crown when he twice wriggled loose from high-traffic situations on the bases. Findlay yielded one solo blast but that was the only hit in his two frames; he struck out three.

Now, the Irish rest one game from Omaha – and a repeat of the program’s last trip to the CWS, when Notre Dame’s team 20 years ago won a Super Regional at top-ranked Florida State to push into the World Series.

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