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Notre Dame Baseball

Notre Dame battered, faces season-defining Sunday finale

June 11, 2022

KNOXVILLE --  Tennessee’s bats awakened. Notre Dame’s continued to slumber.

Now? Well, a winner-take-all Game 3 is set Sunday between the Fighting Irish and Vols after Tennessee annihilated Notre Dame pitching with a four-home run fifth inning that served as catalyst in a 12-4 win.

First pitch inside Lindsey Nelson Stadium is 1 p.m. Sunday (ESPN) for the win-or-season-ends Knoxville Super Regional championship affair.

“We couldn’t evade the fifth inning, that was clearly the difference in the game,” said Irish coach Link Jarrett. “We trust JM (Bertrand). We couldn’t get out of that.

“I feel for (Bertrand). That guy’s pitched so many big games for us. You just don’t like to see a guy that’s worked that hard go through that. They were clearly better than us today.”

It’s perhaps same song, second verse for the Irish (39-15), who found themselves 1-1 at Mississippi State in last year’s Starkville Super Regional before the Bulldogs pulled away to win Game 3 and eventually the nationally championship.

If any silver lining existed Saturday for Notre Dame, it was that Jarrett acknowledged he pivoted early to the decisive Game 3 as the Irish bats did little to ever threaten Vols ace Chase Dollander.

“Too early,” Jarrett said of when he had to shift focus to the next game. “As this game evolved in their favor, we were very conscious of you handle the rest of the game on the mound. You don’t ever want to present that this is out of reach, but the way he was pitching … it wasn’t like it was 14-8.

“That’s when the decision had to be made on how to navigate the back-end of that game. So yes, Liam (Simon) will start tomorrow. I’m happy for him. He’s had some good outings, one of them was a true start and one of them was a pseudo-start after the seven-hour delay (in Statesboro).

“But yes I was thinking about that game when we were in the fifth inning. You have to start thinking about the pitching and we’ve got some guys banged up and we need to get them out of there.”

The Vols (57-8), after making John Michael Bertrand labor through the first four innings but managing just one run, alternated bludgeoning solo blasts with three-run homers in the decisive fifth.

Jordan Beck’s three-run bomb made it 5-0 Vols, and Luc Lipcius’ shot pushed it to 9-0 – the second blast of just that inning for Lipcius. The team ace and Atlantic Coast Conference’s ERA leader this season, Bertrand lasted just 4.2 innings as he was charged with six earned runs on eight hits allowed. He fanned four and walked one.

Tennessee now has taxed the Irish pitching for seven homers in the first two games, and its eight-run fifth was the most runs in a frame this season against the Irish, who had allowed seven-inning explosions on the road at Duke, Louisville and Miami. The Vols did all that damage Saturday despite the absence of suspended slugger Drew Gilbert, who could not watch the game from the stadium but has been set for return in the finale.

The host and top-seeded Vols’ outburst coincided with Notre Dame’s continued plate struggles. The Irish were held scoreless from the fifth inning of Friday’s opener until Spencer Myers’ second-out grounder in the fifth inning Saturday delivered Danny Neri, a drought that covered 9.2 innings.

After Notre Dame belted four home runs in the first four innings Friday night, it mustered just six total hits. SEC Pitcher of the Year Dollander nabbed the win with seven innings of five-hit, two-run work. He fanned five across 112 pitches as Tennessee’s Tony Vitello likewise sought to preserve his bullpen arms for Sunday’s decisive finale.

Jack Zyska accounted for three of the Irish’s five hits off Dollander and capped off his strong work at the plate with a belted, two-run home run off Mark McLaughlin in the eighth.

“He had a good mix of stuff,” Zyska said of Dollander. “We had our game plan this morning, his stuff was live, obviously you guys saw it. He had his fastball working both sides, his changeup when he wanted it. It was tough.”

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