Findlay shuts it down, Irish advance to regional final with 6-4 win
Aidan Thomas | Sunday, June 5, 2022
Confident and relentless. That’s what Notre Dame graduate student catcher David LaManna said the Irish would be at this Statesboro Regional. And through two games, it’s hard to argue the fact.
Nobody embodied the confidence and relentlessness more than true freshman Jack Findlay on Saturday night. Notre Dame head coach Link Jarrett called upon the southpaw with the Irish up two runs in the eighth inning and runners at the corners for Georgia Southern. All Findlay did was strike out the first two he faced en route to two perfect innings and a save. He fanned four batters and locked down Notre Dame’s 6-4 victory over the regional host. The Irish stayed in the winner’s bracket, advancing to Sunday’s regional final.
Senior shortstop Zack Prajzner notched three RBIs to pace the Irish offensive attack. He tied the game with a sixth-inning home run and forced the eventual game-winning run in the seventh. Additionally, senior designated hitter Jack Zyska and junior third baseman Jack Brannigan added home runs for the Irish.
It was a crazy atmosphere as the Irish battled Georgia Southern in a true road game. The Eagles pulled in a record crowd for their stadium, and the energy was palpable.
“It was a great atmosphere and fun to play in,“ Prajzner said.
Long balls provide early runs
On the mound, Notre Dame turned to graduate student transfer Austin Temple. He struck out the side in the first before loading the bases on a single and two walks. Then, Temple fired off a 94 mph heater to pick up the necessary strikeout to end the inning. Despite avoiding early damage, Temple needed 41 pitches to get through two scoreless frames.
In his shortest inning, Temple faltered with an eleven-pitch third. Eagles player Noah Ledford blasted a home run over the right-field fence. It was the first home run in the Statesboro Regional.
The Irish bats stayed pretty quiet, unable to take advantage of early control issues from Georgia Southern starter Ben Johnson. Johnson was forced into an emergency start after scheduled pitcher Hayden Harris tweaked his back in his pregame bullpen. However, Zyska evened the score with a bomb of his own in the bottom of the fourth. One batter later, Brannigan launched a home run of his own, going the other way to give the Irish the lead. Notre Dame proceeded to load the bases and forced the Eagles to use three pitchers. However, they couldn’t tack on and ended the inning up only 2-1.
“There was some firepower from both sides,“ Jarrett said.
Prajzner clutch in Irish comeback
After 41 pitches over two innings, Temple settled into a groove. He needed just 37 for the next three frames. But the sixth provided more drama. Temple nearly escaped a jam but gave up a two-out, game-tying single. He left the game, but Georgia Southern kept the attack going. Sam Blancato delivered a two-run single to give the Eagles a 4-2 edge. Prajzner stopped further damage with a sliding stop and force out at second base to end the inning.
In the bottom half of the inning, Prajzner doubled down on his impact. After saving a run, he launched a two-run bomb that evened the score at four runs apiece. A very tense game continued into the seventh. The Irish brought in sophomore Matt Bedford to escape a seventh-inning jam. Bedford picked up a swinging strikeout on a 95 mph fastball to strand a pair in scoring position.
The Irish responded with their own threat; senior first baseman Carter Putz walked and Zyska singled. With two outs, Brannigan beat out an infield single and loaded the bases for Prajzner. The shortstop fought off a high fastball on a 2-2 count and then took another heater to the leg, forcing a run home. Freshman second baseman Jack Penney also took a fastball to the leg and drove in another run. With only one ball leaving the infield and two total hits, Notre Dame struck twice for a 6-4 lead entering the eighth.
Findlay electrifies, closes out Eagles
The eighth inning started auspiciously for the Irish. The Eagles notched consecutive singles to put runners at the corners with nobody out. Jarrett again made a change, summoning true freshman southpaw Jack Findlay. Showing poise beyond his years, the lefty struck out two batters in just seven pitches. He then induced an inning-ending groundout, firing up the Irish faithful as they escaped the jam, still up 6-4.
The Irish couldn’t add on in the eighth and they went to the ninth up two runs against the nation’s leader in come-from-behind victories. That didn’t matter to Findlay. First, Penney made a tricky barehand play look easy to record the first out. Then, Findlay fanned Ledford, retiring the Georgia Southern slugger for the first time in the regional. Finally, the freshman southpaw polished off a sparkling relief effort and save with his fourth strikeout. He punctuated the outing with a wave to the Georgia Southern home crowd, as the Irish marched on into the winner’s bracket.
“That’s as good as his fastball has been all year. For a freshman to go into that situation… it was what we needed him to do,“ Jarrett said. “Very proud of his poise. Very, very impressive.“
Notre Dame plays the winner of the Texas Tech-Georgia Southern elimination game in the regional final. The Irish have two chances at victory with a trip to the Super Regionals on the line.