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All hands on deck as Irish face elimination against Aggies

| Monday, June 20, 2022

For the second time this postseason, Notre Dame finds its back against the wall. Much like last time, the task ahead is a daunting one. A little over a week ago, the Irish had to beat No. 1 Tennessee on the road without either primary starting pitcher available. Now, head coach Link Jarrett’s squad must win three straight elimination games. That includes needing to beat Oklahoma — who toppled the Irish on Sunday — twice. But first, No. 5 Texas A&M stands in the way. The Aggies eliminated Texas after suffering their first loss of the NCAA Tournament to the Sooners.

Irish enter with pitching options

The Irish really can roll out anyone on the mound Tuesday afternoon. Notre Dame has two regular starters in graduate transfers John Michael Bertrand and Austin Temple. Both have started in Omaha but Bertrand will have three days of rest, and Temple threw just 1.1 innings on Sunday. They are viable options, but the more likely option is the Irish to roll with a bullpen day. If they can escape the Aggies, they can throw Bertrand and Temple into two possible elimination games against the Sooners.

Ryan Vigilante | The Observer
Irish pitcher Liam Simon gave up one hit and two runs in Game 3 of the NCAA Super Regional game between Notre Dame and Tennessee on June 12 in Knoxville.

In Game 3 against Tennessee, Jarrett used junior Liam Simon as his spot starter. Simon’s high-90s velocity and strong offspeed offerings make him nearly unhittable when he’s on. Opponents are hitting .181 against him this year, and Simon boasts 51 strikeouts in just over 28.2 innings. Control issues are often Simon’s undoing. He’s issued 25 walks this season. Simon struggled against Tennessee in that start, but he was electric in two prior appearances. If the Irish can get 3 to 4 innings out of Simon, they’ll be in a great spot.

After Simon, the Irish have their standard options out of the bullpen. Senior Alex Rao should be available, as should true freshman Jack Findlay. If those guys are on, the Irish should be able to get through the game with those three, saving their starters for Oklahoma if they win. But every game will be all hands on deck, so the Irish could work with some other options.

Notre Dame needs to score early and often

Texas A&M boasts a strong and relentless offense. However, its pitching depth is questionable, which makes a loser’s bracket run that much more challenging. Starting pitching can be the Aggies’ undoing. Ryan Prager is the most likely starter, but head coach Jim Schlossnagle said no starter has been named. If Texas A&M gets to its bullpen in a close game, they can give the ball to Jacob Palisch (2.47 ERA), Will Johnston (3.25 ERA, .236 opposing batting average) or Robert Hogan (.191 opposing batting average). Coming back against those arms would be tough, so jumping out to an early lead is critical for Notre Dame.

The Irish did not look good offensively Sunday against the Sooners. Senior first baseman Carter Putz notched four of the team’s seven hits, as the Irish struck out 14 times. Putz heating up is a good sign, but the Irish need more from their lineup. Senior designated hitter Jack Zyska is 0-9 with five strikeouts so far in Omaha. Leadoff man and graduate student left fielder Ryan Cole is also 0-9. Senior right fielder Brooks Coetzee has been mired in a postseason-long slump, with just four hits in the NCAA Tournament. In the College World Series opener, the Irish got hits from seven different players, including multi-hit efforts from four different players. They only struck out seven times. The Irish need that offensive approach and success again to beat Texas A&M.

Aggie bats pose significant threat

The Irish must be sharper on the mound on Tuesday. Oklahoma beat them with their stars, as Peyton Graham and Tanner Tredaway went a combined 7-8 with two walks and two RBI. The Sooners struck out just five times as a team and battered the Irish with small ball. The Aggies enter as a dangerous offensive team that can do much the same. Jack Moss is hitting .384, and Austin Bost and Dylan Rock both feature an OPS over 1.000. Three Aggies have 10+ stolen bases, and Texas A&M can continue to put pressure on its opponents in a variety of ways.

Notre Dame didn’t pitch a clean inning yesterday, surrendering a base runner in every frame. Pitching under constant pressure is a recipe for an eventual breakdown, and it happened against Oklahoma.

But now, it’s all hands on deck. Backs against the wall. The Irish played a sloppy game on Sunday, and one more similar performance would end their dream season. First pitch against the Aggies is at 2 p.m. Tuesday. ESPN will broadcast the game.

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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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