Under new head coach, Irish show strong start to shortened season
Grant DelVecchio | Friday, May 15, 2020
A 9-8 away victory over Radford moved the No. 24 ranked Notre Dame baseball team to 11-2 on the season and marked the 10th-consecutive win that the offense scored eight or more runs. The Irish and first-year head coach Link Jarrett thus secured their first midweek win of the season and their seventh in a row. After three straight losing seasons, and five out of the last six under former skipper Mik Aoki, Jarrett and his team seemed to have turned the page on the team’s recent losing ways at the start of the 2020 season.
Notre Dame baseball hadn’t been ranked since the 2015 season, which was also the last time the team made it to the NCAA tournament. While it may not have come as a surprise to most people when the team opted for a coaching change at the end of the 2019 season, not many were expecting the Irish to come out as hot as they did. It’s a testament to the determination and hard work of the entire team, Jarrett said, coupled with their willingness to trust and buy into the program of a new head coach, which is not the easiest thing to do.
“The underlying task of a senior is to be a buy-in piece to help the coaching staff, and when you go through transition, it’s really important that those older guys understand what you’re trying to do and acclimate quickly to the system because essentially, they’re going to have one year,” Jarrett said. “I never heard a peep about, ‘Coach, I wish I could play.’ They just understood what we were trying to do, bought in and they’re great people. I can’t say enough about the group. There’s really eight of them, and to be honest with you, one, two, three, four, five never really stepped on the field, so that tells you about their commitment to a bigger cause within our program, and then on top of that they’re just phenomenal guys.”
Jarrett’s resume speaks for itself. He began his career as a four-year starter at shortstop for Florida State, was drafted to the MLB by the Rockies and previously served as the former head coach of UNC Greensboro, a team he helped win over 30 games in each of the previous four seasons and took to their first NCAA Tournament in over two decades.
His main task was revamping a notoriously poor offense, and the stats show how he fared. The team batting average of .302 was 25th best nationally, and their 8.9 runs per game were the ninth-best ratio in the country. Juniors Niko Kavadas and Spencer Myers had a lot to do with Notre Dame’s offensive success. Kavadas, one of the team’s captains and first baseman, led the team with seven home runs and 17 runs batted in, while Myers produced a .431 batting average and led the country in steals with 15, despite being known for his defensive play in center field. Kavadas’ 0.54 home runs per game were the best mark in the ACC and fifth best nationally, while Myers also led the NCAA for steals in a game with six steals per game and 2.08 hits per game.
Prior to the win over Radford, the Irish had swept three-game away series at both Presbyterian and North Carolina. The wins over the Tar Heels marked the team’s first road ACC sweep since 2016, and marked the first time UNC had been swept at home since 2015.
“To go into an ACC team [like UNC] that’s been a power of the conference for 15 years and play all phases really well was great. We pitched well, our defense was good, our baserunning was really good and our offensive variety was impressive,” Jarrett said. “To go on the road like that and open the ACC weekend of play the way we did, it was fun. It was really impressive to see it come together and equally as frustrating to have to put it down.”
Aside from the offensive revival, strong play on the mound from the Notre Dame pitching staff propelled them forward. Juniors Tommy Vail and Tommy Sheehan both posted 3-0 records to start the season, posting impressive 2.08 and 2.70 ERAs, respectively. Vail’s 0.46 WHIP ranked second nationally, and he tied for the ACC lead after allowing just five hits in his seven appearances. Freshman Jack Brannigan, sophomore Aidan Tyrell and junior captain Joe Boyle also performed well in their work out of the bullpen.
Unfortunately, Jarrett and the Irish suffered the same fate as everyone else in the world of sports when COVID-19 struck, leaving loyal Notre Dame fans wondering what could’ve been for a season that could have felt different to anyone who was watching it unfold. At first, when Jarrett and the team found out their road series against Louisville was canceled, he said he didn’t even consider a season cancellation being in the picture, but once the reality of the situation set in as weeks went by and the season did get canceled, it was tough to deal with.
“At that point, everybody was home, and it was an eerie feeling to know that that team will realistically never be together again,” Jarrett said. “You saw the cusp of greatness in the way they performed and then it stinks that it’s a heartbreaking end, but in the big scheme of things globally, to not be able to finish your season is minor compared to the suffering that people around the world have endured because of this virus. Keeping that in mind puts what we lost in perspective.”
When asked what the next steps are for the program, Jarrett acknowledged the potential losses or unexpected gains the new state of the MLB draft could pose, as well as the fact that it will be easier for his guys to continue to buy into his program and understand what he’s trying to build with another year of communication.
Though, most importantly Jarrett noted, “We’ve got to stay healthy.”