Top 10 Irish defeat Central Michigan
Liam Coolican | Thursday, April 15, 2021
Playing their first contest as a top-10 team in nearly 15 years, the 7th ranked Notre Dame baseball (16-6, 14-6 ACC) team jumped on Central Michigan (17-10, 9-3 MAC) early and often en route to an 8-4 victory.
“The game rewards you for how you go about it,” head coach Link Jarrett said after the game. “Our guys were ready to go. The intensity of what was going on in our scouting report meeting, and pregame, and getting ready to compete…it was impressive.”
The Irish bats got off to a hot start, scoring three runs in the first inning. Junior infielder Carter Putz drove home a run with a triple to deep right center, and then stole home when junior outfielder Jack Zyska, who had reached on catcher’s interference, stole second. After advancing to third on a throwing error, Zyska was driven in by a single from sophomore infielder Jack Brannigan.
“I felt like our guys were ready to play,” Jarrett said. “Being able to jump on the scoreboard early is always ideal but in today’s game, that was the sense of what we wanted to do.”
Sophomore right hand pitcher Liam Simon, who was starting his first game of the season, did not make it out of the second inning. After allowing an RBI single, he loaded the bases, and was pulled after he went to a 2-0 count on the subsequent batter. Junior right hander Alex Rao replaced Simon, and walked in the Chippewas’ second run of the contest, but induced a weak groundout to limit the damage. Rao went on to pitch four scoreless innings after escaping the jam, helping to earn the win in the contest.
“Rao was really good again,” Jarrett said. “Fastball command, pretty good changeup, [he got] some swings on the changeup.”
The Irish tacked on another in the bottom of the second, thanks to a sacrifice fly from senior outfielder Spencer Myers. Then, in the third, senior first baseman Niko Kavadas came around to score on a passed ball, and after the Irish loaded the bases, sophomore infielder Kyle Hess lined a double into the right field corner to score two, but junior shortstop Zack Prajzner was cut down at home to end the inning. The Irish added one more in the fourth on a sacrifice fly from Putz for their eighth and final run of the ballgame. Putz finished 4-4 with two RBIs.
The Chippewas’ first real threat after the second inning came in the seventh. Sophomore right hander Dominic Cancellieri replaced Rao and loaded the bases with two outs. Junior left handed pitcher Will Mercer came in to relieve Cancellieri, and he struck out the first hitter he faced to prevent Central Michigan from scoring. Mercer pitched a scoreless eighth, and freshman right hander Jackson Dennies came in to pitch the ninth. He allowed a two-run single but was able to make it through the inning and preserve the win.
The Irish continue their home-stand next weekend, welcoming ACC opponent North Carolina State for a three-game series. The Wolfpack struggled to start their season, but they have since turned it around, winning each of their last five contests.
“They’re an elite team in the league, they’ve been really good for a long time, and they’ve had high, high draft pick guys,” Jarrett said. “It’s going to be all you can ask for every inning.”
The Irish are the only team in the ACC to have not lost a conference series. After the Irish took two out of three games from No.14 Georgia Tech last weekend, they jumped into the top ten in Baseball America’s poll for the first time since April 24, 2006.
Jarrett, who was hired to lead the Irish before last year’s shortened campaign, reflected on the ranking.
“We’re 35 games into me coaching these guys, and that’s a little over half of a good baseball season, so we’re still learning,” he said. “But when you see this number seven by your school, you can step back and go ‘Okay, we’ve made some real progress.’”