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Notre Dame Baseball

Q/A with Notre Dame Baseball Coach Shawn Stiffler | Part I

February 2, 2023

Shawn Stiffler spoke one-on-one with ISD as he prepares for his first season as the head baseball coach at Notre Dame. 

ISD: How do you manage your team’s expectations coming off a run to Omaha and a new coaching staff while having patience as it’s a long season? 

Stiffler: There is a lot on Notre Dame baseball's plate right now. I think the biggest thing for me is we have talked from the beginning that this current group did not go to Omaha. Last year's group did. We have no right to Omaha this year and no one is going to give us anything. We don't even have the right to win one game this year. We have to go earn everything we do and we have to have a mindset of getting better every day.

I've been very open about this team should not compare itself to last year's team. This coaching staff should not compare itself to the last coaching staff. We are here to establish a great culture and come up with a brand that is sustainable for Notre Dame baseball for years to come. 

I think my focus has to be on that. Are there expectations? I don't know. I think there is an expectation within this group to perform the best we can. They're very hard on themselves and very demanding of themselves. We're aware of how well we've done over the last couple years, but that being said, I'm the third head coach these seniors have had. We can't look past that. There is still a need here for stability, culture and sustainability. 

You look at Coach (Link) Jarrett, what a wonderful job he did. But because of COVID and the fact he left, I'm sure he looks back at his time here as it went by very quick because of those two things. We can't get caught up in that. We have a lot of work to do just to win one game.

ISD: Leadership. The returning core is experienced, has been there, done that and knows Notre Dame. Have they taken grasp of the team, or is that something you're leading them into? 

Stiffler: I think they've taken grasp from the word go. They've been such a huge help to me and getting me adapted. For me, I've had to put a hard stop on that in myself and be like, 'OK, we have to let them be themselves, catch up and let them focus on their teammates and not worry about making me feel comfortable.' They're such wonderful kids and they care so much. 

Those seniors, (Aidan) Tyrell, (Jack) Zyska, (Zack) Prajzner, (Carter) Putz and (Brooks) Coetzee, I don't know if I've ever coached a group as selfless, committed and as genuine as those guys. They're unbelievable human beings. I'm blessed to be with them and try to remember that every day. I will miss them dearly next year.

ISD: Did the level of commitment to the process and program from those guys surprise you? 

Stiffler: I knew that coming in. When you're going through the process of looking at a new position, you ask a lot of questions. Those names kept coming up - the type of leaders they were, how genuine and awesome those kids were, even in conversations with Coach Jarrett. 

Every time Coach Jarrett and I would speak throughout the fall and at different times, it would always start with them. It doesn't shock me and it doesn't shock me because of this place. I'm running into those types of student-athletes every time I turn the corner.

ISD: The freshmen class was highly ranked when they signed. Have they been able to push the upperclassmen and vice versa?

Stiffler: There is an expectation that you will have to keep up when you get here. I certainly have high expectations. I said last night, watching us play, we really have brought our floor up from the fall. I'm really proud of our assistant coaches and the development that we've done. Watching our younger guys, they're playing a little bit more like older guys. 

They've done a good job with those guys. Kids have to learn how to be patient. Nobody in college athletics wants to be patient right now. You gotta learn how to be patient. Certainly, the leadership has been outstanding.

ISD: What did you like about your team coming out of the fall and were there areas you wanted to see them ascend over the last few months? 

Stiffler: The first thing I love is our ability to play defense, especially in the infield. We have the ability to make some moves defensviely throughout the infield and we have some versatility there. We have guys who can play several positions. We have experience in the outfield and we're able to defend the outfield. Catching was probably the one position that was a little up in the air. We're still working through that piece, but in a good way. 

I thought the pitching staff threw strikes. The biggest strength was that they accepted our coaching and bought into our coaching and they were ready to get after it. 

The thing I felt we needed to work on the most coming out of the fall was offensive identity. We have a lot of guys who have been in the program for two or three years, but they don't have a ton of experience because Notre Dame has been so good the last couple of years. You have guys who showed up as freshmen in 2020 or 2021 and are in their third year and have six at-bats in their career. That's not typical for a junior. Now they're in the lineup or pitching rotation, so you wonder what you're going to get out of this guy - he's not proven. It doesn't mean they aren't talented, but he's unproven. There's a lot more question marks than maybe it looks like on paper. 

ISD: The infield is pretty experienced outside of third base. Freshman Estevan Moreno worked there in the fall. What have you seen out of him after going through some freshman moments this fall? 

Stiffler: Those moments aren't going to stop. That's college athletics. You have to remember Estevan just turned 19 years old and we're at a point right now where I'm pretty sure the guy we're facing Lipscomb on opening day is pushing 24 years old. That gap is even bigger than it's ever been. 

There's going to be growing pains for him, but we have to push through that because, on the flip side, last night during the intrasquad scrimmage, he took it over. We have the ability to track how far balls are hit indoors with technology. He's already homered once in three intrasquads. He has the ability to do things that are really, really special. 

He has to be patient. We have to be patient. That's the toughest piece. He has the ability to stay on the left side of the infield. We're working him in at third right now and he's probably the backup shortstop as well.

That third base rotation is still very much a piece I have to get sorted out in my head.

ISD: Have you nailed down those three or four guys you want as your weekend starters at this point?

Stiffler: Not fully just yet. I think we all feel between (Blake) Hely and (Jack) Findlay, we have to kind of figure that piece out. Early on, we're looking at how we get our top eight guys because we don't play midweek for the first couple of weeks. Our pitch counts aren't high enough to throw nine innings in the first weekend. How do we pair guys up with the best combinations of getting nine innings on those days? How do we match those up? 

I think eventually, a guy like Healy and Findlay and that Sunday thing is still up in the air yet. We still have some competition. The Sudnay guy may end up being the closer and the closer may end up being the Sunday guy. We gotta figure that piece out. 

The strength of the staff is the whole of the staff. It's not necessarily a staff where last year they were very top-end. They had a really high ceiling on the top. Four guys were electric, right? There was a little bit of a drop. Those four guys pitched 80 percent of their innings. 

We're a little more balance, but I don't know if we have that John Michael Bertrand that has been All-ACC. Maybe Findlay emerges into that, but that's a difficult thing to throw on somebody because they had success last year. 

ISD: I wanted to ask about two freshmen pitchers in David Lally and Caden Spivey. Lally came in with the hype, while Spivey was low-key. 

Stiffler: David is electric. I think he had a fall game where he struck out six. He's got an electric arm. It's very much the same case with Estevan. There are days where he goes out and strikes out the side in intrasquad. The next inning, he might walk a guy and there are freshmen ups and downs. It's the stuff that freshmen have to learn - holding runners, pitching with guys on base, planning the breaking ball when you're behind the count. It's stuff you don't have to do when you're in Michigan throwing 97 mph. He's going to have to learn that. 

Caden Spivey gets one percent better - if you don't watch him for two weeks or don't see him for two weeks, I'm like, whoa. He's getting better every week. He's going to push a lot of people this year. He has to have the confidence he can do it at this level.

Rory Fox is another guy that I think the sky is the limit for with his ability to pitch. These guys are going to go through tough days where they get hit and days where they dominate. 

In a young freshman mind, he doesn't understand how he strikes out every guy he faced yesterday and now he can't get out of the inning. It blows their mind. It's the consistency of the reps. We're working on it with those guys. They're all going to play a factor for sure. 

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Q/A with Notre Dame Baseball Coach Shawn Stiffler | Part I

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