Irish win another ACC series, take two of three from Georgia Tech
Aidan Thomas | Monday, April 12, 2021
Although Georgia Tech put the wraps on a 4-2 victory over Notre Dame baseball on Sunday afternoon, salvaging the final game of the three-game set, the Irish still emerged with yet another series victory — they’re yet to drop one this season — so the overall mood had to be positive … or so one would think.
But that’s not the culture that head coach Link Jarrett has instilled in the Fighting Irish, where winning has become the norm, after years of struggling to compete in a highly competitive conference.
“They [the team] are out there, knowing they had a chance to win three straight games against a really good team, and they didn’t,” Jarrett said. “They’re mad about it, and hungry to have it not feel that way.”
Two years ago, a top-15 series win at home would have been a cause for celebration in South Bend, but the No. 12 Irish, even after two impressive wins against No. 14 Yellow Jackets, seem to have gotten a taste of what this squad can accomplish, and they aren’t here to settle for 2-1 series victories. At 14-6 in ACC play, this Notre Dame team isn’t here for moral victories — they’re here to win championships.
Friday night, Notre Dame pulled off a win worthy of a championship team. The opener of this series looked lost as the Yellow Jackets jumped out to a 7-0 lead by the top of the fourth inning, with the Irish having utilized four pitchers with little success. The Irish showed signs of life in the bottom half of the fourth, as sophomore third baseman Jack Brannigan slammed a RBI double off the right field wall for Notre Dame’s first run, and then flashed his speed on the ensuing RBI single by junior shortstop Zack Prazjner.
However, the score remained 7-2 through the sixth inning. The Irish found some stability on the mound, as graduate student Jack Sheehan, making his first appearance of the season, worked around three walks to muscle through 2 ⅔ scoreless innings. That set the stage for part 1 of Notre Dame’s stunning rally.
Once again, Brannigan was the spark, as he blasted a solo shot to start the frame, cutting the Georgia Tech lead to 7-3. Then there was senior outfielder Ryan Cole, Notre Dame’s newfound clutch hero, drawing the Irish one-step closer with a RBI single to center, before usual suspect and red-hot senior first baseman Niko Kavadas sent another offering into orbit, with his 2-run home run checking in at over 450 feet and bringing Notre Dame within one run at 7-6.
However, the deficit got a little more daunting once more, as the Yellow Jackets notched their first runs since the fourth inning with a 2-run eighth, stretching their advantage back to three runs. But the Irish still had some magic in their bats during this wildly entertaining Friday evening clash.
Prazjner continued his hot night at the plate, blasting an RBI double off the centerfield wall, making the score 9-7. Then, leadoff man and senior centerfield Spencer Myers made his big contribution, with a pair of runners on, lacing one to the right-center gap. It looked like a RBI single, but it was misplayed in the outfield, as Meyers would fly around to third base and two more Notre Dame runs scored to tie this one at 9 runs apiece. Some wildness from the Georgia Tech pitching staff allowed Notre Dame to load the bases, and junior designated hitter Carter Putz worked a go-ahead RBI walk for the 10-9 lead.
That was all Irish graduate student transfer Joe Sheridan needed to lock it down in the ninth inning. He allowed one baserunner, but he induced a two-out grounder to Prazjner who fired to Kavadas who emphasized the incredible victory with a celebratory fist pump upon catching the game’s final out.
“The bulk of our team that was available to play was involved,” Jarrett said. “I told them that was a big gut-check victory, the likes of which are rarely seen at this level.”
All in all, Notre Dame utilized 22 players in this game — 14 position players and 8 pitchers, as Jarrett constantly moved guys around, and pushed enough buttons, and the Irish completed the stunning rally.
“That’s one of the greatest team wins I’ve ever been a part of. I can’t remember anything like that,” Jarrett said. “This is the toughest team I’ve been around, and they find a way to hang in there and grind through it. Some of the big swings late made up for the slop early. Can’t say enough about our guys.”
For Notre Dame, a team that lacks a bevy of traditional starters, Saturday has been their day of stability, with left-handed grad student John Michael Bertrand having taken the ball for the middle game of most ACC series. However, dealing with arm soreness, Bertrand was unavailable, and the Irish were forced to juggle again. However, they needed no such magic as on Friday, as the pitching staff responded spectacularly, junior southpaw Aidan Tyrell was nothing short of dynamite, firing six innings of two-hit ball, keeping the Yellow Jackets off the scoreboard. Having not thrown more than three innings or 50 pitches in any of his previous outings on the year, Tyrell doubled that with his six-inning outing, firing 102 pitches. Meanwhile, the offense was good enough to stake their lefty to a 4-0 lead through six innings, which was more than enough in a comfortable Saturday victory.
Cole was at the center of the early offensive success, scoring Notre Dame’s first run of the game on Putz’ RBI single, before delivering his fourth bomb of the season — and of his career — in the third inning, for the 2-0 Notre Dame lead. Kavadas doubled the lead with a 2-run single in the fourth, and the Irish were off to the races.
The briefest sign of trouble emerged in the seventh, as junior Alex Rao allowed two men to reach in relief, but he notched a big strikeout, and Notre Dame completely broke it open in the seventh. Brannigan drilled an RBI double off the left field wall and then came around to score via a throwing error a few batters later, as Notre Dame built their lead to 6-0. Cole accounted for the 7-0 final with an eighth-inning sac fly, while Rao closed out the game with three shutout innings. For the Irish, it was their sixth series victory in ACC play, as their only non-series win was a rain-shortened series split with Louisville, who currently sits just percentage points above the Irish in league standings.
Sunday was a less-than-ideal ending to the series for Notre Dame, as they simply could not get anything going offensively in a 4-2 loss to end the top-15 series. The teams traded runs in the second inning, with Prazjner ripping a RBI double for the Irish, and junior righty Tanner Kohlhepp delivered 4 ⅓ innings of scoreless baseball in relief in a low-scoring series finale. Prazjner and Kavadas were a combined 4-6 with two walks, but the rest of the lineup mustered just three hits. Prazjner scored on Ryan Cole’s double in the fifth, but the Irish couldn’t extend the lead, and they eventually gave it up in the 7th and 8th innings. Georgia Tech victimized Joe Sheridan in the late innings, tying the game on a two-out infield single in the seventh and then taking the lead with a two-run bomb in the eighth. Notre Dame had no answer, and they fell meekly in the series finale.
“Good weekend, not great,” Jarrett said, setting the tone of the post-game press conference at less than satisfied. “We made too many mistakes today, and we couldn’t overcome it offensively. We didn’t play a great ballgame, and they’re a very good team.”
Asked about his team’s overall success and their current 2nd-best record in the ACC, Jarrett noted that he hadn’t realized that, and his attention wasn’t focused on such things
“When the dust settles, you are who you are, and the dust hasn’t settled yet,” Jarrett said. He went on to add, “I understand what it takes to compete in this league. To win a weekend series in this league is not easy to do. I do appreciate what we’ve been able to accomplish.”
The appreciation is there, but make no mistake, Jarrett and the Irish are far from satisfied. After combining to use 14 pitchers in three games, the Irish are learning how to win in a lot of different ways, and this team has more than a few series victories on their mind.
They’ll look to rebound from this loss against Central Michigan on Tuesday, before welcoming NC State for another home conference series. The week presents an interesting challenge — Central Michigan is 17-9 with series victory over West Virginia to their names, and they’ve won nine of ten, so they’ll have no shortage of confidence coming in on the road for this non-conference battle. Jarrett has not announced a starting pitcher, with the health of several arms and players up in the air after the gritty series with the Yellow Jackets. After facing the Chippewas, Notre Dame will welcome an NC State team that is just 8-10 in the ACC, and 14-11 overall, but somehow 8-0 on the road.
First pitch Tuesday is at 5pm, at Frank Eck Stadium.