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Irish, Jarrett to open season at UAB

| Thursday, February 13, 2020

Notre Dame baseball will begin its season this weekend, as the team travels to Birmingham, Alabama, to take on UAB in a three-game series. The series will be head coach Link Jarrett’s first games with the team, as he was hired in July after seven years leading UNC Greensboro.

“We need to be better than we’ve been here in the last couple years,” Jarrett said. “Obviously I wasn’t here, but I can look at the stats and see where some of our needs for improvement are.”

Alexis Hernandez | The Observer
Junior pitcher Tommy Sheehan awaits the catcher’s signals during a 5-2 home win against Virginia on April 5.

The Irish finished sixth in the seven-team ACC Atlantic division in 2019 with a 24-30 overall record and 13-17 in the conference. He said he wants the team to specifically improve upon their defense.

“I’d like to see us play good defense. That’s something that’s been holding the team back. … It’s going to be the first time we’re going to be outside on a natural surface field,” he said. “It’s just different [than practicing indoors].”

Jarrett has implemented a new approach for the Irish hitters, emphasizing the mental aspect.

“We talk a lot about our approach. They have certain mental thoughts and points of attack for every pitch,” he said. “It’s an approach-based, pitch by pitch hitting system that allows our guys to use these mental weapons based on what the pitcher seems to be doing, what the pitcher’s stuff looks like and the capabilities of the hitter.”

He also emphasized creativity on offense and getting back to the basics of pitching.

“We have to be creative offensively to try and find ways to score,” he said. “… [Every pitcher is] a little different, but the fundamentals are fastball command, an above-average secondary pitch and hopefully a third pitch.”

The Irish are returning two of their top starting pitchers, senior Cameron Brown and junior Tommy Sheehan. The pair combined for 151 strikeouts over 170.1 innings pitched in 2019. The team is excited to take the field Friday after a long winter of training.

“You’ve spent five months, six months training, but ultimately, it’s against your own team,” Jarrett said. “The scoreboard is not on, you don’t have to truly deal with success and failure. When you play outside teams and everything is publicly visible and there’s an outcome, … it’s just a different feel. How we respond to the real-life competition with [an] outcome is important, so I’m excited about it.” 

On Jan. 27, two Irish players were named preseason All-Americans, junior third baseman Niko Kavadas and junior relief pitcher Joe Boyle. Kavadas led the team last year with 12 home runs and 43 RBIs, while Boyle finished with 39 strikeouts in 25.2 innings pitched, both career highs.

Jarrett said every game will be a challenge.

“College baseball’s more deep than it’s ever been,” he said. “Every team has capabilities, and talent and personnel. You have to prepare based on who you’re competing against, and if [UAB] had a different uniform on, you probably wouldn’t realize if they’re ACC or non-ACC. UAB’s a well coached, aggressive, action-oriented team, and it’ll be all we can handle.” 

However, he said he knows it will pay off for the Irish if they can build on the progress they’ve made over the winter

“If we can implement some of things we’ve practiced and trained to do, we’ll see success,” he said. 

First pitches this Friday, Saturday and Sunday are scheduled for 5 p.m., 2 p.m. and 1 p.m., respectively. The Irish will play the next five weekends on the road before opening their home slate March 17 against Western Michigan.

Jarrett said he understands the challenge this will pose: “It’s a never-ending cycle of trying to be elite.”

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