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Notre Dame Baseball

Resilient Notre Dame Finds Home On The Road

June 17, 2022

OMAHA, Neb. -- Way back in mid-February, the team bus trudging through wintry conditions along Interstate 80 as Notre Dame embarked on the first of its five-straight weekends away from home to open the 2022 college baseball season, it was hard to think about Omaha, the College World Series and triple-digit temperatures here in America’s heartland.

Link Jarrett was laughing before the question was completed.

“We better [be comfortable away from home],” said Jarrett, minted Friday morning as National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association National Coach of the Year.

“You try to create what it's like to do it the right way on the road. Then you try to create the right way to do it at home. So, again, you have to be really good in both instances to have a chance to be in the discussion for any sort of postseason stuff.

“So we have to be really comfortable. And the thing about it is early, when it's all road, road, road, road, it allows you to come up with a rhythm and things you want to do on the road.”

Here in Omaha, where Notre Dame plays its CWS opener tonight at 7 against perennial powerhouse Texas (47-20) inside Charles Schwab Field, no team is more tested away from home.

Officially the 13th trip this season for the Fighting Irish (40-15), who also had one-off games at Elon, at Northwestern and in Detroit against Michigan State, this is just one more at-home-away-from-home test.

“We've been through so many experiences that everyone has confidence in the person next to us and our coaching staff,” said All-ACC outfielder Ryan Cole. “And everyone goes out there and just plays with energy, passion for the person next to you, knowing that the next guy is going to back you up.”

The Irish’s path to program history this year began rather inauspiciously; Jarrett easily recalled the logistical quagmire that preceded Notre Dame’s 2-1 opening weekend in Stetson’s Hatter Classic. A snowstorm that hit both Chicago and South Bend, Indiana, nearly precluded the Irish from even being able to depart.

“I’ll just start from the top, we didn’t get to our hotel rooms till about 2:45 in the morning Friday (February 18), and it takes a while to get that many people settled in,” Jarrett earlier told Irish Sports Daily. “That’s about as grueling out of the gate travel situation as you could draw up.

“The toughness of those guys to kind of rebound from a 14-hour travel experience the day before, to play the way we played Friday was remarkable. These kids, they’re special kids, exceptional; their transition from classes to practice, to leave here and be up and at-em, ready to go, and I give a lot of credit to Rich (Wallace) and Chuck (Ristano) for their work on our scouting reports. They do such a good job.”

Notre Dame’s first road trip of ’22 set a two-fold tone for this team: the Irish would be forced to weather myriad travel components to be left standing as the ACC’s lone CWS representative, a year after claiming the outright conference crown, and they also would have to repeatedly discharge the resilience for which Jarrett had so widely praised them.

“They have to focus on like the details of the game, because all of the things going on around you and how the place plays and the people and the noise, you have to essentially whittle that down to the details of the competition,” Jarrett said.

“And that's really what matters the most. So, the sooner they can get to that point in the first game on Friday, like they did in Knoxville -- and it doesn't matter records, crowd, noise, can't hear, can't think -- what matters is what's going on the field.”

In the first month of this season, Notre Dame – with its rigorous academic demands that at times had players in study hall in hotel ballrooms, set for mid-term exams – logged 60 hours’ travel time. Due to a variety of reasons, from plane availabilities to school funding and policy, the team very rarely flies charter.

By season’s end, the data-driven Irish tabulated “176 hours of travel and associated packing/unpacking for those trips.”

“You have to really be good at figuring it out on the road,” Jarrett said. “Then we had some series in a row at home late, not a ton, but you do. It just eases the burden of them, sitting in O'Hare or sitting in Midway, and sitting in Charlotte waiting for a flight.

“And then Sunday packing up the hotel and scrambling, and playing the game and jumping and bussing somewhere, and flying and getting to O'Hare at 11:00 o'clock, and busing two-and-a-half hours back to the field and you roll into the locker room at 1 or 2 in the morning. Sometimes it's four, five weeks in a row. Got to be good at both.”

The Irish have 23 wins this season away from home; they have 17 from within Frank Eck Stadium.

For context, consider those 40 victories are just six more games than what Game 1 opponent Texas hosted at home, where it posted a 27-7 mark. The other members of the Irish’s CWS pool, Texas A&M and Oklahoma, played 36 and 27 home games, respectively.

Jarrett, his 85-30 mark through two full seasons and his truncated, COVID-abbreviated 2020 debut campaign, has nonetheless won at a record clip for the Notre Dame program; his program likewise sports the nation’s second-best overall winning percentage since the ’20 season – that .739 clip second only to the top-ranked Tennessee team it tumbled from the tournament in last weekend’s Knoxville Super Regional.

As Jarrett prepares for his 116th game at the helm of Notre Dame, it also marks the 74th game away from home in his three seasons.

Imagine a major-college football program playing seven to eight games away from its home stadium every season.

Yet, these Fighting Irish embrace the path.

“I think that that goes back to even my freshman year, we’ve been traveling since I’ve been a freshman all the time,” said fifth-year catcher David LaManna. “So, when you get out there, the bases are still 90 feet (apart), 60 feet, 6 inches away [pitcher’s mound to home plate], you just try to kind of play your game.

“It doesn’t really matter where you are.”

No, perhaps it does not. Especially when the road leads to Omaha.

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