Irish endure six-hour delay, topple Red Raiders in NCAA opener
Aidan Thomas | Saturday, June 4, 2022
The Irish went nearly nine hours between scoring runs in their NCAA Tournament opener.
And they still won.
After taking a 2-0 lead in the first inning, Notre Dame endured a 5-hour and 59-minute rain delay. The game finally resumed around 8:30 pm after an initial 2 p.m. start time. And after six long hours that included story-telling; a return to the hotel; and players doing card tricks on a projector in an academic building, the Irish went back to work.
“There’s one thing we’re looking to get done here,” Irish head coach Link Jarrett said. “That’s competing with these three championship-level teams. All four teams are competitive, well-coached and talented.”
Notre Dame ultimately entered a duel of the bullpens and, despite coughing up a late lead, emerged victorious. They toppled third-seeded Texas Tech 3-2 in their tournament opener, moving into the winner’s bracket in the Statesboro Regional. It’s a strong start after the Irish weren’t granted a chance to host a regional and instead hit the road for the opening weekend of the tournament.
“That’s out of our control, but we were excited to get down here and compete,” graduate student catcher David LaManna said. “We’re going to be confident and relentless.”
The first inning provided quality entertainment before the lightning struck. Irish ace and graduate student John Michael Bertrand loaded the bases but struck out a pair in a scoreless frame.
Then, the Irish struck seconds before the delay commenced. LaManna sliced a two-run ground-rule double. Six hours later, the Irish stranded a pair and the game finally rolled on.
For the Irish, they went to junior Liam Simon on the bump. Normally a reliever, Simon tossed five shutout innings in the ACC Tournament. He opened his day by striking out the side in the second inning. Simon repeated the feat in the third, ending the frame with a 98 mph burner up in the zone.
Simon escaped a bases-loaded jam in the fourth and finished with 3+ innings of work and eight strikeouts. He hit three batters and walked two, displaying some wildness that got him in trouble. He walked one and hit a batter to start the fifth. But senior Alex Rao came in and struck out three in quick succession to escape the jam. Rao fanned seven Red Raiders in three innings of work.
“Pitching depth… is one of the biggest ingredients to successful teams,” Jarrett commented. “The ability to punch people out in big moments might be one of the biggest metrics [of postseason success].”
Offensively, the Irish gave themselves chances but couldn’t get much across the plate. They stranded a pair in both the second and third innings. Texas Tech’s Chase Hampton flashed a lively low-90s fastball and enough off-speed offerings to keep the Notre Dame bats off balance. Two singles represented all the offense over the next three frames after the wasted chances. Hampton seemingly got stronger as he threw more pitches. In a thoroughly impressive seventh inning, he mowed down the heart of the Irish order, catching three straight batters looking.
Finally, in the eighth, the lack of offense caught up to Notre Dame. The Irish utilized three pitchers after putting the first two Texas Tech batters on base. A pop-out and a sacrifice bunt put two runners in scoring position with two outs. Leadoff hitter Easton Murrell came through with a two-run single to tie the score.
However, Notre Dame responded, albeit in an unorthodox fashion. A catcher’s interference put LaManna on first. Freshman second baseman Jack Penney dropped a sacrifice bunt and the Irish pinch-ran with graduate student Jared Miller. Miller, who had been out for several weeks with a shoulder injury, promptly stole third and scored on a wild pitch. Without a hit, Notre Dame took back the lead.
There were no gifts for the Irish. They had to solve the middle of the dangerous Texas Tech lineup one final time to secure the win. Jarrett trusted the start of the task to senior lefty Will Mercer. Mercer gave up the two-run single in the eighth, but he started the ninth strong. He fanned All-American Jace Jung on three pitches. After a one-out single, Jarrett summoned sophomore Jackson Dennies to continue the daunting ninth-inning task. Dennies fired one pitch and induced a shallow fly out to right field. Jarrett made another trip to the mound and summoned senior lefty Aidan Tyrell.
Of course, there had to be a little more drama after over nine hours. An airmailed throw on a Texas Tech stolen base gifted the Red Raiders an extra base and put the tying run 90 feet away. Tyrell didn’t falter, issuing the 18th strikeout of the day from the Irish pitching staff. That was enough to seal a critical opening victory in the NCAA Tournament for the Irish.
Notre Dame moves on to the winner’s bracket game which is scheduled for Saturday night, pending more questionable weather. They’ll face the winner of top-seeded Georgia Southern and fourth-seed UNC Greensboro.