Irish look to pull into CWS drivers’ seat against Sooners
Andrew McGuinness | Saturday, June 18, 2022
The College World Series, like most playoffs, is usually seen as a “survive-and-advance” tournament. Notre Dame and Oklahoma won’t be playing for their lives on Sunday. But it doesn’t make their matchup any less important. The team that usually emerges in Omaha isn’t always the most talented. It’s the one that puts itself in the best position to win. They don’t just survive, they thrive. And if the Irish can muster another victory over the Sooners, they would be doing just that. A win puts the Irish one victory away from the College World Series championship series. A loss and Notre Dame must win three straight games to reach that same milestone.
Of course, that victory won’t come easy. Oklahoma may not have as much contender cache as Tennessee or Texas, but the Sooners are here for a reason. Oklahoma’s top-20 offense in runs scored is catching fire at the right time. They scored 24 runs combined in their last two games. That includes a 13-8 win over Texas A&M in their first game in Omaha, as the Sooners recorded eleven hits, nine of them singles. The Sooners will present a much different challenge than Notre Dame’s last two opponents. The Volunteers and Longhorns are two teams built around power bats and power pitching. Instead of having to face one of the game’s premier pitchers out of the gate, Oklahoma boasts an outstanding closer of their own in Trevin Michael.
What’s perhaps been most shocking to outsiders about Notre Dame’s run thus far is how well they’ve beaten opponents at their own game. The Irish out-slugged Tennessee and Texas, who rank first and fourth nationally in home runs, respectively. However, Oklahoma may be the ones trying to do that to Notre Dame in this contest. The Sooners are tied for 72nd in long balls launcher, with just two players reaching double digits in dingers. One of them is shortstop Peyton Graham, a potential first-round pick in the MLB Draft. Graham is the definition of a dual-threat, pacing the Sooners with 20 home runs and 32 stolen bases on 34 attempts.
As a team, Oklahoma ranks 14th in the country in on-base percentage. They are 10th in stolen bases per game. Graham, and outfielders Tanner Tredaway and Kendall Pettis each nabbing at least 20 bases themselves. Expect the Sooners to test Notre Dame graduate student catcher David LaManna early and often. Irish catchers did hold runners to a .682 stealing percentage, fourth-best in the ACC. But the Sooners can give each the most experienced backstops fits.
Notre Dame’s pitching and defense have set it apart from opponents all season and could be the difference again Sunday. The Irish rank 12th in the country in ERA and 13th in fielding percentage. Oklahoma is outside of the top 100 in both departments. The Sooners do a solid job at limiting walks, but the Irish should be able to put plenty of balls in play and continue pressuring the opposing defense, a formula that worked very well for them against Tennessee and Texas.
Regardless of who they’re facing, the Irish offense will look to stay within themselves Sunday. Notre Dame may be hitting more home runs as of late. But that’s less a byproduct of trying to hit more home runs and just trying to hit better overall. Head coach Link Jarrett commented on this after Game 2 of the Knoxville Super Regional.
“Execution of the game plan is far more important, and if you do that, the home runs are really a byproduct of pitch selection and timing more than really an attempt to do it. And that’s what worked (in Game 1 against Tennessee),” Jarrett said. “There was no attempt [to hit home runs]; it just was a result of good approach and good timing and pitch selection.”
For the first time in a long time, the Irish may actually enter Sunday’s game as favorites — but that should make them more aware than anyone of how trivial that distinction can sometimes be.