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David LaManna has the best seat in the house for Notre Dame’s pitching-led rise

| Friday, June 10, 2022

KNOXVILLE, TENNESSEE — Even though they had already scored three runs, it did not feel like the Tennessee Volunteers offense really came alive on Friday until the sixth inning.

A sacrifice fly or a couple of scattered solo home runs is one thing. But Lindsey Nelson Field was rocking when Jared Dickey stroked a two-out single off senior right-handed pitcher Alex Rao. Rao was laboring. Irish graduate student catcher David LaManna did not even bother going back into his crouch behind home plate. He knew Rao needed some help.

Not all that long ago, LaManna and the Irish felt far away from answers. When LaManna was a freshman on the 2018 team, the Irish had just one Regional appearance to their name in the last 12 years. They had not advanced to the Super Regionals since 2002. The Irish finished dead last in the ACC that year with a 5.81 team earned run average (ERA). LaManna was not responsible for those shortcomings. But the Saddle River, NJ native was unable to find a way to get Notre Dame’s pitching staff out of the basement.

A lot has changed in the last four years.

Under Link Jarrett, the Irish have emerged as one of the top teams in college baseball. They moved to within one victory of ending their 20-year College World Series drought with an 8-6 upset of No. 1 Tennessee in Knoxville on Friday night.

At first glance, Notre Dame’s offense might take almost all the credit. But while the Irish bats got the party started, the pitching staff still had to close the door. And with the Irish failing to score after the fourth inning, the pressure only mounted as the night progressed.

Notre Dame’s first two pitchers, graduate student right hander Austin Temple and Rao, both didn’t show their best stuff Friday. Jarrett admitted as much. And yet they were still able to power through 6.2 combined innings. Temple tossed three-plus frames of one run ball. Rao was charged for four runs but made it through 3.2 very important innings, keeping Tennessee’s potent offense within arm’s reach long enough so that by the time the Volunteers almost inevitably pulled close, the Irish could see the finish line. A line that freshman left hander Jack Findlay carried them across, finishing the last two innings while allowing just one hit and striking out three.

But they could not have done it on their own. All three of those pitchers, as well as sophomore right hander Matt Bedford (who pitched 0.1 innings Friday) and the rest of Notre Dame’s staff, deserve credit for getting the Irish to the cusp of the College World Series. So does Jarrett and assistant coach Chuck Ristano, who is in charge of Notre Dame‘s pitching staff. A lot has changed in the batteries of Notre Dame over the last five years. The pitchers throwing the ball, the stuff they are throwing, how the coaches are telling them to approach hitters.

David LaManna (3) breaks from the right handed batter’s box against Butler at Frank Eck Stadium on April 5, 2022. The Fighting Irish defeated the Bulldogs, 5-2.

LaManna has been the one constant. And while change is important for the growth of a player or a team, continuity helps. LaManna provides that for the Irish, starting at least 75% of Notre Dame’s games in three of his first four seasons. He still started 61% of the team’s games in the other. But this season, LaManna’s fifth in South Bend, has represented growth for him too.

While he has been a steadying force behind the dish for the Irish, he has picked it up at the plate as well. No, he is never going to be the biggest power threat in a lineup. It is understandable if you lost him in the shuffle of Friday’s home run barrage. However, LaManna has gone from a defense-first catcher to Notre Dame’s toughest out. His .353 batting average leads Irish regulars. His .422 on base percentage is second only to graduate student outfielder Ryan Cole.

And after the Irish spun their wheels with a pair of 24-30 seasons to begin LaManna’s collegiate career, followed by the brief 13-game season that COVID turned the 2020 campaign into, LaManna has flourished under the bright lights. He has played in ten career Regional and Super Regional games with the Irish and reached base safely in all ten. He has at least one hit in nine games and has combined to drive in 11 runs in those games as well.

LaManna does not have all of the answers today. Nobody does. Jarrett pulled Rao before that mound visit could run its course. Bedford came in and allowed those runners to score on a hard hit double that took an unfortunate ricochet off senior shortstop Zack Prajzner’s glove. But when the dust settled, LaManna was right there to congratulate Findlay on a job well done when Prajzner threw out Trey Lipscomb for the final out. And Findlay was there to do the same.

David LaManna and the Irish have found far more answers than they could have dreamed of just five years ago. And it has brought them both to the wings of college baseball’s biggest stage, a stage where both could flourish. Now, they just have to get there.

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About Andrew McGuinness

Andrew McGuinness is a rising junior in Siegfried Hall from Haddonfield, New Jersey, a short drive away from Philadelphia. Naturally, he loves all of his Philadelphia sports teams, even if they don't always love him back. Feel free to reach out to talk sports or TV shows, especially if they're Stranger Things, Survivor, or/and Ted Lasso.

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