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Notre Dame Baseball

Shawn Stiffler Notebook | ACC Championship

May 23, 2023

Notre Dame baseball coach Shawn Stiffler spoke on Tuesday afternoon as the Irish prepare to begin ACC Championship play on Wednesday morning against Pitt. 

On the health of 3B Jack Penney: 
“Jack has taken ground balls. He’s started to hit some front toss. It doesn’t look like he’ll be available for this week. Our hope is to get him working through pregame this week and if we move on to NCAA play, hopefully get him back for that. 

“He’s progressing really well. He is very close, I think. He and our trainer, Phil, have a great plan put together and they’re working their tails off. Right now, it’s just about some endurance and strength.” 

On the health of RF Brooks Coetzee after breaking his hand against Clemson:
”Today was the best I’d seen him in probably over a month. His hand looks to be as strong as I’ve seen it. His round of BP today - his bat looked as fast as I’ve seen it in the last 6-8 weeks. He was in a lot of pain. He broke a small piece of his hand at Clemson diving into a bag - exactly how you’d think Brooks Coetzee would break his hand - a play he was going all out. 

“It was one of those fractures that just was in a place and small enough that there was nothing we could really do. You couldn’t cast it. You couldn’t brace it. It just came down to pain tolerance for him and that was never ever the problem. It was swelling and trying to keep a hand on the bat. We manipulated bat handles, pine tar in different ways for him. There’s no keeping him out of the lineup. The second he was able to hold the bat we were going to have him back in the lineup. 

“Brady Gumpf and DM Jefferson did an unbelievable job while he was gone.” 

On RHP Jackson Dennies after his big performance on Friday vs. Boston College:
”No leash right now. We’ll get through Pitt and then we’ll discuss whether it’s him or (Blake) Hely vs. Wake. I would have liked to have gotten one more inning out of Jackson probably on Friday. He just never got to the pitch count we needed him to get to prior. His first pitch count I believe was up to 30 pitches and the second pitch count was 45-50 against Akron. He just never looked comfortable. He looked out of sync. He felt fine, but I made the decision to cut him short. 

“Once he got to about 80 pitches at BC, I just felt like stretching him to 100 did not seem necessary at that time. Hindsight is 20-20. I wish I would of. He’s in a good place and feels very, very strong. He’s ready for whatever role we need him in.” 

On LHP Aidan Tyrell’s season:
”Aidan’s consistent. His temper is consistent. The way he goes about his work is consistent. He has a consistent mentality to start. It probably begins with that. Him and Coach (Seth) Voltz really seemed to hit it off. They have an understanding of his stuff, understanding of the zones in which he needs to pitch to. 

“Aidan’s kind of a pitch-to-contact type of guy. He gets you out within the count, within the zone and he and Coach Voltz have put together a great plan with that. Obviously, early on we were using him piggybacking with Jackson quite a bit. He was kind of finishing out those games. I think half of his wins have come out of the bullpen. 

“When Jackson got dinged up, (we had) the chance to move AT into the rotation and he’s taken off from there as well. We knew he was very, very versatile, but he’s been great and deserves all the accolades he got. I could go on forever about him, but his personality is so consistent, which I believe leads to his work.” 

On freshman RHP Caden Spivey’s mentality after dealing with adversity on Friday vs. Boston College:
”I had a couple of short, brief conversations just in passing with him. ‘You gotta get back out there. Stay confident.’ He’s done a great job for us. This is part of growing up. Not every outing is going to be perfect and every outing isn’t going to be easy. We wouldn’t be in the position we’re in without Caden Spivey. 

“The next chance I have to give him the ball, I’m giving it to him. My confidence in him is just as high as it’s ever been. This is part of the learning process. If you want to make the next jump to go from good to great or go from contributor in this league to a dominant arm in this league, you’re going to have to deal with nights like that. 

“He didn’t do poorly. He was just a little bit off. They had an older team and they made him pay. That happens. We love that young man. He does a great job for us and we can’t wait to get him back out there.” 

On Casey Kmet starting at third base after playing left field earlier in the year:
”Casey played the entire fall at third. He played a little bit of outfield. Him and (Nick) DeMarco are kind of the next two infielders up. Casey hasn’t taken ground balls at third base probably since February. He concentrated a little bit more in the outfield. It’s going to be an adjustment period for him to get back to where he feels confident and comfortable there. Same with DeMarco. 

“We’re going to have to work through that piece and continue to platoon them and see what the matchup is. Jack Penney defending third base is elite. You can’t ask somebody to do what he’s doing. We’re just asking those guys to get in there and really hold the position down. 

“The thing about Casey is he brings such infectious energy. That’s why we’ve gone with him. He’s just such an energy giver. He cares so much. He cares about his teammates so much. I’ve liked his at-bats. He gets in there and battles. He just really, really understands what the goal of the team is and understands the message of the team. He echoes it and his teammates love having him on the field. That’s why he’s kind of gotten a little bit more of those nods. I’ve been happy with what he’s doing.” 

On the first meeting with Pitt in April:
”I thought that was a period where our offense was starting to find itself. We were playing pretty confident and pretty well at that point. It was right at the start of the point of committing to Vinny (Martinez) and getting him in the lineup as the DH pretty much every day. DM (Jefferson) had kind of come on the scene at that point in left. 

“The thing about Pitt is they’re old and mature. They know exactly who they are. They don’t really get flustered or anything. You’re going to have to go out and play a complete game to beat them. They don’t chase. They don’t expand the strike zone and their pitchers do a really good job of throwing breaking balls for strikes. 

“It’s going to certainly be a real challenge for us. At that time when we were playing in early April, I felt we were feeling pretty good about ourselves. Pitching was kind of clicking at the time and the offense was kind of finding who we were at that moment. I’m hoping we can gain a little bit of that confidence when we see them tomorrow.” 

On how he gets the team to play free given the stakes of this week:
”That’s every head coach's dilemma. You have to look at everything as an opportunity. That’s first and foremost. I’m not a big changer in routine when it comes to tournament time. I’m not a big ‘we have to do this now or do extra this or that.’ I just think you stay in your routines, stay to your game plan, stay consistent in what you’re doing and what got you there.

“Look, we’re one of the 50 teams in the country that are still playing for something. That’s something to be said. We’re still playing for an at-large bid. We’re still playing for a championship. There’s a lot of teams that can’t say that right now. 

“You can look at that as pressure or you can look at that as an opportunity. If you see the obstacles as being the thing that frees you up and why you do this, then I think you have the right attitude and you should play free and you should play loose. We’re not going to lose anything by playing in this tournament. We can only gain something. 

“The other thing is I don’t think Zack Prajzner is going to play tight. There is nothing he hasn’t been through that a college baseball player could go through. These guys have seen it all. They’ve done it all. I believe they’ll be free. 

“This is what is great about college baseball. Schools out and you’re with 40 guys who care about the exact same goal you care about and are on the same mission. You don’t get that outside of college athletics until you make it to the major leagues in sports. You don't get that in the minor leagues. This is college baseball at its best. I trust them to go out and embrace the moment and be free. 

“What’s at stake? Nothing. The opportunity to continue to go play. I have to keep that message and hopefully, I can stay loose in the dugout and maybe if I don’t freak out, then maybe they won’t.” 

On the resilience of the senior class:
”It’s the big four as I call them. It’s Brooks, Prajz, (Zack Prajzner), (Carter) Putz and AT (Aidan Tyrell). I can’t say enough about those guys and how proud of them I am and how much they mean not only to the team right now, but how much they’ve meant to me personally to help me get this era started. To help me kick off my first season and the way they’ve responded and done everything we’ve asked them to do. They’re unbelievable people and leaders. They’re going to have great futures.

“AT was second team All-ACC, which was awesome. He’s had his best year at Notre Dame. I think the two hardest positions in college sports is quarterback and shortstop. For Zack Prajzner to make six errors on the year at shortstop is an unbelievable feat in my mind. It’s probably the best season of defensive shortstop that I’ve ever seen. The amount of runs he has saved, I would never take away from anyone else that has won an award, but I would tell you he’s certainly in my mind the defensive player of the year.” 

On if he feels like Notre Dame needs to make up ground to make the NCAA Tournament: 
”Last week did not help us. I can’t sit here and say that it did. The loss Tuesday was tough. As thankful as I was to play at Wrigley, I would love to have that game back at a different site for sure. I would never look at a team and tell them they have to win this game. It’s assumed when you play at this university and play for Notre Dame. Winning the game is assumed as what we need to do. 

“I necessarily don’t believe in looking at a team and saying we have to go two out of three or three out of four. Kids read Twitter more than I do. They read Social Media more than I do. They’re going to know everything that everyone is saying about us before I know it. We gotta go out and play well. If we’re going to sit here and lose five of our last six and think we should be an NCAA Tournament team, I think that’s a bit far-fetched. If we sit here and paly well in this tournament and get yourself to 16-17 wins in the ACC - historically speaking that puts you in a pretty good place. I would certainly hope our resume would hold up with history.” 

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