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Irish continue season preparations as opening tournament is canceled

| Friday, February 19, 2021

Notre Dame baseball has not seen the field since March 11 when they won 9-8 over Radford University in Virginia. The team even made it so far, a few days after that, as to be halfway to Louisville before finding out the game was canceled due to COVID-19 — as was the rest of the season.

“Us turning the bus around in Louisville is still really fresh and all of our minds,” senior infielder Niko Kavadas said. “We were playing so well at the time, and we were ready to go out and continue to make a statement in the ACC.”

Kavadas, who had 12 runs and 17 RBIs in the 13 games they did get to play last year, credits that Louisville cancellation, and the frustration that built up over the 11 months following it, for the energy the team has returned with.

“Everyone’s really focused and really excited and ready to go make a new name for ourselves again this year,” he said.

That energy carried them through to make this fall worthwhile.

“First of all we had a very competitive fall schedule,” head coach Link Jarrett said. “Obviously no outside teams, but we got to do all of our practices and all of our workouts and with a bunch of new players. That was very important. We got to implement a lot of our foundation last year, but with such a drastically shortened season, you needed this fall to be productive and I felt like it was.”

Despite this weekend’s tournament against Air Force, Louisiana Tech and LSU being canceled, Jarrett referenced a very strong schedule, one that included six weekend series against teams that have been in the College World Series in the last decade.

“You understand the magnitude of essentially you’re playing a Super Regional caliber series through the bulk of our entire season which is unique,” Jarrett said. “It’s going to be very exciting, very challenging, and that’s what’s in play right now.”

Jarett also acknowledged that while certain teams have that history, this could be the most talented college baseball has ever been or will ever be due to the draft not happening at its normal depth this year. Because of that, the team has been preparing to play up to and better than the caliber of teams they’ll face.

“As I see it, pitching depth is a strength,” Jarrett said. “We have eight left-handed pitchers. Anybody would love to have it; we have it. There’s not tremendous starting elite caliber stuff, [senior] Tommy Sheehan is probably the most elite on the front end of that rotation with pure stuff, but we have plenty of options. How we manage our bullpen matchups is going to be very critical this year. Catching depth, I think we’ve improved that position overall. That was something last year that I felt was not a strength of our team, was just the actual ability to function at that position or the number of guys we had available to play the position, so we’ve upgraded everything we’re doing there.”

On the offensive, Jarrett said he believes they have some variety within the playbook and within the lineup.

“We’ve got Dave LaManna back as an experienced right-handed bat,” he said. “I feel like we have some power production. I feel like we have some speed but inside of the speed; I think we have guys who understand how to run the bases. I think when you see our offensive team, you know, you’ll see different type personnel, and we have a mix of right-handed hitters left hitters which is always something you like as a coach.”

There are some things, however, that Jarrett would like to see the teamwork on before they officially get a chance to take the field.

“I still think our team defense needs to be a target for us in the last couple weeks of the preseason,” he said. “Just to fine-tune some of the details of our team.”

Specifically, Jarrett referenced depth and comfort levels at the infield positions. He wants to see some of the guys get “some innings under their belt at the positions they’re playing” once the games can really start.

As for the players, they have their own individual plans for what they need to do and get done when they step onto the field.

“Just try to go out there and have fun. That’s a big thing for me,” senior left-handed pitcher Tommy Sheehan said. “And then, just being confident against whoever I’m up against whether it’s the number one team in the country or anyone else. I think being confident and being aggressive on the mound is the biggest thing for me and what helps me succeed the most.”

To better do his part, Kavadas has two pieces of his game he wants to work on.

“If I can improve how often I put the ball in play, it gives our team a better opportunity to win. Also, I want to solidify myself as a very good corner infielder,” Kavadas said. “I have been working on lengthening myself at first base and being more agile getting more balls and having softer hands when the infielders make a little bit less accurate throw.”

He believes these are the best two ways he can contribute, especially when it comes to the goals his class and the team have set up for the end of the year. The team wants to get itself into a good enough position to host a regional.

“We want to give ourselves the best opportunity possible to play in the Supers,” Kavadas said. “So, once you are hosting your regional, you’ve done everything you can and everyone’s into the tournament. It’s really who’s playing their baseball at that time. We want to get to that point and make sure that we’re hot-headed into the NCAA Tournament.”

With lofty goals and feeling they have prepared as well as they can, all things considered, Notre Dame’s baseball team continues its preparations for the season as the team looks ahead to its first series against Wake Forest next Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

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