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Sports

Tyrell, Irish bats hush Starkville crowd, force Game 3 in Super Regional

| Monday, June 14, 2021

At first, the sound was almost unbelievable. But the chant was audible everywhere – in the stands at Dudy Noble Stadium, in Notre Dame’s dugout, on the field and over the ESPN broadcast. A ringing “Let’s Go Irish” broke out amidst another sellout crowd in Starkville, Mississippi, as the No. 10 Fighting Irish quieted the No. 7 Mississippi State Bulldogs with a 9-1 victory in Game 2 of the Starkville Super Regional, forcing a winner-take-all Game 3 Monday night. 

“The fans, the players – they’re hungry for it. I actually heard it,” head coach Link Jarrett said of the chant, before wryly adding “Then I heard 13,000 cowbells try to stifle it out. But I can’t say enough about the grit of our players.” 

The game did not start off promising for Notre Dame, as the Bulldogs’ dangerous leadoff man Rowdey Jordan blasted a triple to right-center and coming in to score on a sacrifice fly just one pitch later. However, Irish starter Aidan Tyrell evaded further damage, giving his offense a chance to take the lead in the bottom of the first inning. After a walk and hit batter put a pair of runners on, senior first baseman Niko Kavadas ripped his first base hit of the Super Regional to load the bases. After a strikeout for the second out, the Irish benefited from a chaotic play, as junior shortstop Zack Prajzner chopped a slow ground ball down the first-base line and beat it out, while senior second baseman Jared Miller wheeled around from second base to score and give Notre Dame the early 2-1 lead. 

That remained the score over the next few frames as a mini pitching duel developed, with the Irish struggling to put runners on against MSU starter Christian MacLeod and Tyrell matching his counterpart pitch for pitch. The southpaw is normally a soft-tossing, pitch-to-contact hurler, but with the adrenaline pumping, Tyrell saw his fastball play up to 92 mph while his slider became a premium strikeout pitch, validating Jarrett’s decision to go with Tyrell rather than junior Will Mercer, who had preceded Tyrell in the rotation much of the year. 

“It was a gut feeling. Tyrell has a little more swing and miss stuff, which played well in a smaller park like this,” Jarrett said of his decision, “He got into a rhythm, had some big punch outs while the game was still in the balance.” 

Tyrell ended the second inning with a pair of strikeouts, but he pulled off an extraordinarily impressive feat in the third. After giving up a leadoff single, Tyrell was staring down the barrel of the daunting top three of Mississippi State’s lineup, which entered the game a combined 26-52 in postseason play. However, 16 pitches later, Tyrell had struck out Rowdey Jordan, Tanner Allen, and Kamren James, all swinging on sliders out of the zone. 

“We just needed him to be a cool, calm, and collected Aidan Tyrell, and that’s exactly what he was” Jarrett said of his starter, “The slider was down and good, he mixed his changeup in and controlled the running game”. 

“In the bullpen [my slider] wasn’t feeling good, and I was able to find it early in the game and use it pretty well,” Tyrell noted. 

After Tyrell retired the Bulldogs in order for the first time in the series in the fourth inning, Notre Dame finally gave their pitcher some much-desired insurance. Junior designated hitter Carter Putz singled, and one batter later, sophomore third baseman Jack Brannigan drew a walk. Junior right fielder Brooks Coetzee squared to bunt and dropped down a beauty, forcing a hurried throw from MSU catcher Logan Tanner. The throw was low and was not scooped at first – the ball bounced away and Putz raced home for the 3-1 lead. 

However, after three runs scoring on balls that didn’t leave the infield, the Irish broke this one open by finding their power stroke, which has carried them through their NCAA Tournament so far. Senior catcher David LaManna got a 1-0 pitch on the lower inside portion of the plate and got absolutely all of it, sending Macleod’s offering into orbit for the 6-1 lead. LaManna punctuated the monster blast with an emphatic bat flip out of the box, as Dudy Noble Stadium fell silent. 

“I knew I got that one pretty well,” LaManna said, “We’re a tough group. We were mad, we felt we let them off the hook, and that we were the better team and could pull off a victory.”

Looking for the shutdown inning in the fifth, Tyrell got off to a shaky start, allowing a leadoff single, before the ensuing batter drilled one that seemed destined for the right-center gap. However, Miller took two short steps to his right and made a highlight-reel diving catch for the first out of the inning, stifling any hope of a rally before it started, as Tyrell got the next two men out with little issue. 

“Phenomenal play. Jared’s a great player, he makes great, instinctive plays,” Jarrett said. 

From there, the game felt firmly in Notre Dame’s control, particularly when Brannigan skied a two-run bomb that went about as high in the air as it did far, giving Notre Dame an 8-1 lead. The Irish tacked on one more run in the seventh, sparked by a leadoff triple from senior left fielder Ryan Cole. 

“It’s been impressive,” Jarrett said regarding the Irish’s offensive effort, “Our guys have seen about everything that can be thrown at them. The at-bats have been good, the focus has been really good on this stage. The adrenaline and the crowd can lock you in a little bit” 

Tyrell pitched into the eighth inning, going 7.1 frames and giving up just five hits and one run while fanning six Bulldogs on the day. Junior righty Alex Rao faced the minimum to wrap up the game, notching one strikeout, walking one, and inducing a game-ending double play punctuated by a Kavadas scoop at first base. 

Notre Dame rebounded nicely from yesterday’s uncharacteristic four-error performance, as the nation’s best defense was back to its usual tricks. The Irish made just one error and turned in a couple of sparkling defensive plays, highlighted by Miller’s diving catch.

On offense, Prajzner led the eight-hit effort with a 3-4 performance, improving to 6-8 with 6 RBI in the Super Regional so far. No other Irish batter had more than one hit, although Kavadas, Cole, Putz, and Brannigan all reached base multiple times. 

“You can learn from the mistakes and be mad,” Jarrett said of his team’s turnaround from a sloppy Game 1. “Come play mad and angry – learn from it, process it, and let that frustration try to focus you because it’s going to be a dogfight.”

Game 3 is scheduled for 7 pm Monday night. The winner will go to Omaha, NE and face the Texas Longhorns in the College World Series opener.

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About Aidan Thomas

A junior marketing and ACMS major at Notre Dame, I've countered the success I've enjoyed as a New England sports fan with the painful existence of a Notre Dame football fan.

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