No. 12 Notre Dame picks up another series win at No. 17 Pitt
Greg McKenna | Wednesday, April 7, 2021
No. 12 Notre Dame clinched a conference-leading fifth series win in ACC play this past weekend as the Irish grabbed two wins out of three at No. 17 Pittsburgh.
After the series at Charles L. Cost field was pushed back two days due to weather, the Irish (13-5, 12-5 ACC) won 4-1 Saturday and dropped a 3-2 decision to the Panthers (13-10, 9-9 ACC) on Sunday before the bats came alive Monday in the rubber match to propel Notre Dame to an 11-5 victory.
Irish head coach Link Jarrett said he was pleased with another good weekend against a quality opponent, as well as the progress his team has made so far this season.
“It was another Super Regional-type weekend,” he said in a press conference Tuesday. “I feel like every team we’ve played has been a top-20-type team. I’m proud of the way we played. We’ve overcome a lot to this point.”
The series victory might have also won Jarrett temporary bragging rights. Jarrett and Pitt head coach Mike Bell played together at Florida State in 1994 before coming up against each other several times in the minors.
Jarrett said the two head coaches remain close friends, and explained how their shared experiences in the world of coaching have influenced their relationship, especially when both Jarrett and Bell began their coaching careers as assistants at small Florida colleges.
“And when you’re at that level 20 years ago, you’re doing the laundry, you’re driving the team on the vans, you’re taking care of the field, you’re cleaning the restrooms, you’re figuring out what new windscreen to put on the fence, you’re figuring out who can do the announcing at the games,” Jarrett said. “So we would share the stories of what you’re having to do just to run the program.”
Jarrett said he does not relish competing against Bell, though.
“You know so much about him and their team,” he said. “and it just is awkward.”
On Saturday, Notre Dame opened the scoring in the fourth via a pair of solo home runs from junior designated hitter Carter Putz and senior first baseman Niko Kavadas.
Kavadas’ 441-foot blast to right field was the Granger, Indiana native’s ACC-leading 11th home run of the season. He is also tied with Texas Tech’s Jace Jung for third in the country in homers, despite having played eight fewer games.
Jarrett claimed Kavadas’ numbers could be even higher if he played in a more forgiving ballpark, and said Kavadas’ continued improvement on defense will be key to bolstering his draft stock.
“And he’s going to be drafted for the hitting and the power,” Jarrett said. “But you also have to feel like there’s a spot on a major league field for him. And to me, first base is the most logical of those, and he’s still learning it.”
Junior starting lefty Will Mercer pitched four scoreless innings before sophomore right-hander Tanner Kohlhepp earned the win in relief after not allowing a hit in three innings of work. The Irish added two insurance runs in the ninth, and graduate student Joe Sheridan recorded the save.
Notre Dame only mustered nine hits on Sunday, but graduate student left-hander John Michael Bertrand kept the Irish in the game by only allowing three hits and two earned runs in 7.1 innings of work. Bertrand is currently 10th in the ACC among all qualifying pitchers with a 2.98 earned run average.
Jarrett said Bertrand’s impressive work this year has not surprised him, because the current Irish head coach saw his hitters during Jarrett’s final year at UNC Greensboro struggle against Bertrand when the left-hander was playing for Furman in 2019.
“They [were] like, ‘coach, it’s tough,’” Jarrett said of his hitters that day. “You’re not getting anything to hit.”
Pitt senior right-fielder Nico Popa broke the 1-1 tie in the bottom of the eighth with a two-run home run, and the Panthers held on in the top of the ninth to claim a one-run victory.
Though Bertrand’s performance came in a losing effort, his ability to go deep into the game allowed the Irish to save most of their bullpen for Monday, when Notre Dame would use four different relievers.
Bertrand’s team-high 41 innings pitched is almost double the next closest workload on the Irish staff (Sheridan with 23.1 innings), so Jarrett said his plans largely depend on Bertrand going deep into games like on Saturday.
“So the way you have to do it is stick the longer outing in the middle to try to survive Friday [and] Sunday,” he said.
Another bright spot for the Irish was sophomore second baseman, Kyle Hess, starting in place of injured senior Jared Miller. In his first start, Hess managed two hits in as many at-bats.
Jarrett said he was proud of Hess’ hard work in preparation for this sort of opportunity. He included that the Mountainside, New Jersey native is very familiar with how Jarrett wants to play.
“You can sense that he knows what’s going on around him, and that’s all you can ask,” Jarrett said. “These guys are going to get their feet wet, but as they’re getting their feet wet, you want them to be able to function in your system.”
On Sunday, the Irish were able to break the game open with four home runs, the first time Notre Dame had accomplished that feat since 2018 against Western Michigan.
Sophomore third baseman Jack Brannigan was the first to get in on the action. He had a solo shot in the second inning. After Notre Dame added another run in the third, junior shortstop Zack Prajzner began a three-run fourth inning for the Irish with a solo run.
Kavadas knocked in two runs on a two-out, bases-loaded single. Then, Putz punctuated Notre Dame’s five-run fifth with his second home run of the weekend and season to clear the bases.
Leadoff man and senior center fielder Spencer Myers finished the offensive show with a solo home run in the seventh. As on Friday, Kohlhepp picked up the win in relief.
The Irish are now set to begin an eight-game homestand with a weekend series versus No. 14 Georgia Tech.
First pitch at Frank Eck Stadium on Friday is scheduled for 5 p.m. The entire series will be available to stream on ACC Network Extra.