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Sports

Irish outscore opponents 36-3 in first two tournament games, advance to regional final

| Sunday, June 6, 2021

Not even a week ago, Notre Dame senior second baseman Jared Miller took part in a post-selection show press conference to discuss Notre Dame’s seeding and region, and in particular whether he felt the Irish were snubbed of a national (top-8) seed.

“We thought our play spoke for a little bit of a higher seed, so we will go out this weekend and prove how good of a team we are,” Miller said at that moment, as noted in our initial region preview.

So far… point proven. 

Notre Dame played with a vengeance over the first two games of their regional, first swatting around the nation’s second-best pitcher by ERA in Central Michigan’s Andrew Taylor to the tune of a 10-0 winner in the opener, and they followed that up with a beatdown of epic proportions of UConn, scoring five runs in the first and pouring it on from there, whipping the Huskies 26-3 in the South Bend Region’s winners’ bracket contest. In doing so, they set a program record for runs in a NCAA Tournament game. The Irish advanced to the regional final, where they’ll have two opportunities to beat either UConn or Central Michigan, who face off Sunday afternoon. They’ll have their first shot at advancing to a Super Regional on Sunday evening, followed by a second chance on Monday if needed.

For Notre Dame, this one was all about the long ball and their pitching. In two games, the Irish blasted ten home runs, with four soaring off the bat of senior first baseman Niko Kavadas. Senior catcher David LaManna notched a pair of home run blasts, as did senior outfielder Ryan Cole, while junior designated hitter Carter Putz and junior right fielder Brooks Coetzee also joined in the long ball party. And complementing the ferocious offensive attack was a pair of outstanding pitching performances that not only lifted the Irish, but set them up perfectly for their regional final. First, it was graduate student John Michael Bertrand who twirled a complete-game, five-hit shutout against the Chippewas, and then a fellow lefty in junior Will Mercer delivered a seven-inning gem, giving up just two runs and walking nobody in an efficient 92-pitch outing. 

“Our guys were locked in, laying off tough pitches,” Jarrett said. “The ability to manage some at-bats was huge and gave our big guy a chance to make a big hit. Will [Mercer] was able to pitch to contact, and he had great stuff”. 

Game #1 of this tournament did not get off to a great start for Notre Dame, who went 0-8 with five strikeouts against Central Michigan’s Taylor the first time through the lineup, with only a walk preventing perfection through nine batters. However, the second time through the order brought alive the Irish bats, who finally began squaring up Taylor’s cut-fastball, taking advantage of his apparent lack of a trustworthy secondary arsenal. In the fourth inning, Notre Dame notched a three-spot, with Miller driving a triple off the wall to start the inning and scoring on Putz’s groundout. After Brannigan fired up the Irish dugout by beating out a routine ground ball, Kavadas broke a 0-8 (with eight strikeouts) slump in a big way, delivering a bomb to right-center field for a 3-0 Notre Dame lead. 

In the fifth, Cole sliced a RBI double to right field, and then the Irish really began their onslaught in style in the sixth, as they sent three home runs, all of the two-run variety, over the fence, forcing the Chippewas to go to the bullpen twice in the inning. Kavadas got a hold of one that was estimated at 450 feet to dead center, then LaManna and Cole each notched their first of the tournament, increasing the Irish lead to 10-0. It was all that Bertrand the Irish defense — which led the country in fielding percentage — needed, as despite allowing a runner in each of the first five innings, Notre Dame remained unscathed by the Central Michigan offense. Bertrand made a fantastic defensive play to end the fifth inning, tracking down a slow roller and firing to first for the third out, and the Irish spun a pair of double plays to end the sixth and eighth innings, keeping the clean sheet. Bertrand ended the game in style, striking out the side to secure the shutout and, more importantly, preserve the Notre Dame bullpen in what can be a taxing 4-5 game regional

The crowd was another major factor in both games, as the Irish benefited from 100% capacity for the first time all season, as their homefield was packed to it’s 2,500 person capacity. 

“We never had a Frank Eck Stadium like this,” Cole said of the sell-out environment. “It’s been awesome.”

Game #2 never had any semblance of a slow start, with Notre Dame scoring five in the first, three in the third, four in the fourth and four in the sixth, along with single tallies in the fifth and eighth, before pouring a healthy dose of salt into the Huskies’ wounds with a eight-run final inning to account for the outlandish 26-3 final score. A pair of singles to go with a HBP and a walk loaded the bases with one out and a 1-0 lead for Kavadas, who went opposite field for his third dinger of the tournament and a 5-0 Irish lead. He finished the game with eight RBI, and he has four home runs and 12 RBI in two games.

“You’d be hard-pressed to find a guy that’s ever been in a better rhythm in the postseason,” Jarrett said of Kavadas’ white-hot hitting.

Another two home runs increased the lead to 8-1 in the third inning, as Putz and LaManna did the honors for the Irish, but then they went with some small-ball action to increase the advantage to double digits in the fourth with a RBI walk from Kavadas, a two-run single from Coetzee, and another RBI single from LaManna. 

Meanwhile, Mercer, who gave up single runs in the second and third, went on cruise control, facing the minimum of twelve batters over innings 4-7, which allowed the Irish to go to a couple of the lesser-used members of their ‘pen to keep their big arms saved for the championship clash — or two. Three-run home runs from Kavadas and Cole did most the later damage for the Irish.

“We were just hitting the ball well, and everyone was playing to the best of their ability,” Cole said after the game. “We were just calm and played our game.” 

That’s the game the Irish will hope to bring one more time, with a second clash against either the Chippewas or the Huskies on deck later this weekend.

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