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Baseball

Irish post monumental year, look forward to postseason

| Friday, May 21, 2021

To say it has been a monumental year for the Notre Dame baseball team would be an understatement. The Irish posted their highest ranking for the program since 2001, eventually reaching No. 2 in Baseball America’s Top 25 after methodically rising in the polls throughout the season. They did so with a stacked schedule; the Irish battled every team in the ACC except Miami, all of whom have been ranked at one time or another, according to head coach Link Jarrett. 

“Every time we step on the field, it’s a challenge,” Jarrett said. “And the stakes have gotten higher each week … every time you step on the field this time of year, it’s a tribute to the toughness and the consistency of the players.”

So far, the Irish have met that challenge. Despite being picked to finish last in the ACC’s Atlantic division in the preseason poll, the Irish clinched the division Saturday night following losses by Louisville and Florida State. It was the first time Notre Dame had picked up a regular season conference title since the Irish won the Big East in 2006.

Ryan Vigilante | The Observer
Irish junior left-handed pitcher Aidan Tyrell throws a pitch during Notre Dame’s 0-2 loss to Duke on March 21 at Franck Eck Stadium.

To date, Jarrett said, the team has travelled over 8,000 miles. Before their first game against Wake Forest, the team had not practiced outside, and had to ease back into playing after a long year of obstacles.

“What these guys have done has been remarkable,” Jarrett said. “It is remarkable: the consistency, the toughness, what we’ve done. It’s been a joy.” 

Coming back from having their season cut short due to COVID-19, Jarrett has come to notice both strengths and weaknesses among his team members. He named the defense as being one of the highlights of the team, with only some of the success being shown in statistics.

“The above-average play doesn’t really show up in your stats, and we’ve made countless of those,” Jarrett said.

Though the team effort was effective, the pitching staff is an area Jarrett identified as needing some improvement in the future. He named their development as being an important undertaking for the team, with injuries causing major setbacks to the progression. However, this does not diminish the efforts of the pitchers that saw the mound. 

“We had guys really step up and develop,” Jarrett said. “John Michael Bertrand has been an exceptional starter, and Tanner Kohlhepp has been, if not the best reliever in the ACC or the country, it’s right up there. And those guys have helped us, but we need to continue to develop and evolve starting pitching so that we’re not relying on the bullpen quite as much as we have this year.”

In terms of offense, Jarrett noted the importance of keeping themselves in the games and finding ways to win. Senior first baseman Niko Kavadas, sophomore infielder and pitcher Jack Brannigan and senior outfielder Ryan Cole were some of the players who were helpful in this respect.

Though there were inconsistencies, the team was able to make remarkable stands against formidable opponents this season. A highlight-reel moment occurred against Notre Dame rival BC, when the Irish scored 12 runs in the eighth inning to erase a nine-run deficit.

The Irish performed a similar comeback against Georgia Tech when they scored eight runs in the seventh and eighth innings en route to a 10-9 lead. Though these events certainly stick out, Jarrett said acknowledging the lesser-known plays is important as well.

“I cannot tell you how many moments and defining plays — probably some of which I have forgotten about — that have been pivotal in helping us be so consistent,” Jarrett said. “But man, the Boston College and the Georgia Tech, just those were … those were amazing. You just don’t see that in our sport often, if ever.”

Looking ahead, the team will be aided by young talent that did not get much time on the field this season. Freshman pitcher Ryan Lynch, freshman outfielder Brady Gumpf, freshman outfielder TJ Williams and freshman catcher Danny Neri were some of the players named by Jarrett that were stuck behind older players.

“They’ll step in there and impact the program,” Jarrett said.

As the regular season draws to a close, the team looks ahead to the postseason and the possibility of hosting a regional. Jarrett said that he believes his team has earned the right to do so, but he is not sure whether state COVID-19 guidelines would comply with such an event. 

On May 14, the NCAA Division 1 Selection Committee named Notre Dame one of 20 potential regional host sites. Regardless of the outcome, Jarrett said his team has been preparing for the postseason with every game played this spring.

“There’s not another sport that has 14 teams in the ACC that have all been ranked, and we’ve had to play all but one,” Jarrett said. “This is national championship caliber, every single weekend. So we’ve kind of modeled it after ‘These are what the Super Regionals are going to be like.’ … All of this is a credit to the guys and what they’ve been able to accomplish, and to have these conversations is special.”

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