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Irish use bullpen, baserunning to prevail over Butler

| Wednesday, April 6, 2022

It’s been an up-and-down season for No. 6 Notre Dame baseball (17-5, 5-4 ACC) so far. The Irish rose to as high as No. 1 in some polls earlier in the year but fell after a four-game losing streak near the end of March. But after knocking off Butler 5-2 Tuesday evening, the Irish are hopeful they’re firmly on the up-and-up.

“We played sound. It’s a solid win,” said Irish head coach Link Jarrett about the victory, the team’s fourth straight. “You’re glad that you can continue to put tallies in the win column, and I was proud of the way the guys executed and played today. It wasn’t a loud, dynamic type game, but they’re not all gonna be that way, and you take every win that you can get.”

For the second straight game, an Irish starter failed to make it through the first inning, as freshman right-handed pitcher Radek Burkholz lasted just 0.2 innings, surrendering two runs on three hits. But the Irish bullpen locked it down from there. Graduate student righty Ryan McLinskey, freshman lefty Jack Findlay, sophomore righty Jackson Dennies and graduate student righty Austin Temple dominated on the mound the rest of the way. The quartet combined for ten strikeouts and just one hit allowed in 8.1 shutout innings.

“Radek needs to throw for us. He’ll figure it out,” said Jarrett before he was asked if he thought the bullpen had “figured it out.” Jarrett responded, “We’ve taken a step in the right direction, no doubt. Do I feel like we have specific roles locked down? I do not feel like that. And there may not be many college programs that do. But we have some pieces. It’s the pitch execution — when (that) is on point, the stuff is plenty good enough to get anybody out.”

The Irish wasted little time responding to the early deficit, launching a first-inning homer for the second straight day. This time, it came courtesy of a two-out blast by junior third baseman Jack Brannigan. After leading off the bottom of the second with a double, graduate student outfielder Ryan Cole came around to score on an RBI single by redshirt sophomore Nick Juaire, who delivered a solid performance in just his second start of the season.

“He’s a tough, competitive at-bat from both sides of the plate,” said Jarrett about Juaire, who finished 2-4 with an RBI, a run scored and a fly ball that Jarrett thought would’ve been a home run on a normal day, as wind whipped around the flags at Frank Eck Stadium for most of the game. “(He) kind of solved two problems as a switch hitter. So we weren’t worried about match-ups as much because he’s competitive from both sides, and he moves the ball around, doesn’t punch out a ton. He’s just a competitive, good kid,” before concluding not once, but twice, “He always has hit.”

The game remained tied heading into the bottom of the sixth. The Irish pitching staff was largely locking down the Bulldogs. But the offense wasn’t able to come up with a clutch hit in the fourth and fifth innings when they got a runner to second base with two outs. However, the Irish put the pressure on by getting runners to second and third with one out. Senior shortstop Zach Prazjner put the ball in play, with Cole beating the throw home from third base, and Juaire aggressively scoring as the ball kicked away from Bulldogs catcher Kollyn All. Prazjner also advanced to second on that play, then scored two batters later on an RBI sacrifice bunt by graduate student outfielder Spencer Myers.

“You want these games to not… come down to that,” said Jarrett when asked about the sixth inning small ball that propelled Notre Dame to victory, “But we talk out with our team all the time — every one of these games is a little different. You don’t ever know what piece becomes the piece that allows you to win. We work on that stuff all the time. It’s nice to have it actually come up.”

The little things were no doubt a key to Notre Dame’s victory. The Irish dropped down three successful bunts (two sacrifices, one for a base hit) and also went two-for-two in stolen base attempts.

After taking the lead in the sixth, the Irish largely locked things down in the field and on the mound, allowing just one base-runner in the final three innings and recording three strikeouts. While it may not have been the prettiest victory of the season for the Irish, it’s one they’ll certainly take, as Notre Dame looks to ride their regained momentum to bigger and brighter victories.

“We need to be able to win games like this,” said Jarrett. “And then the dynamic ones, you hope they come here and there just to give you a little more relaxation.”

The Irish return home this weekend as they host the Clemson Tigers. The three game series will start on Friday at 5 p.m in the Frank Eck Stadium. The series opener will be aired on the ACC Network Extra.

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About Andrew McGuinness

Andrew McGuinness is a rising senior in Siegfried Hall and Sports Editor of The Observer. He is from Haddonfield, New Jersey, a short drive away from Philadelphia. Naturally, he loves all of his Philly sports teams, even if they don't always love him back (although that may just be changing). Feel free to reach out below or on Twitter (@_AndrewMcG) to talk sports or TV shows, especially if they're Stranger Things, Survivor or/and Ted Lasso.

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