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Notre Dame loses 5-1 to Texas A&M, falls short in Omaha

| Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Notre Dame baseball fell 5-1 to Texas A&M at the College World Series, ending their season and phenomenal postseason run. Ultimately, a career-defining performance from the Aggies’ starter and some unforced errors doomed the Irish in Omaha.

It was a great starting frame for junior pitcher Liam Simon on the mound, as he struck out the side to open the game. Simon has struggled with control throughout the year, but his electric stuff was playing very well today. His fastball topped out at 98 mph with great arm-side run and a wipeout slider that looked very sharp early on.

But the trouble started shortly thereafter. In the second inning, Simon gave up a leadoff double to junior Austin Bost. Moving to the stretch, Simon seemed to lose his command. He walked sophomore Ryan Targac and fell behind in the count to graduate student Troy Claunch. However, he regained control and with some help from the umpire punched out Claunch on a third strike. Then, he picked off Bost and got another strikeout to end the inning.

At the same time, the Aggies’ starter Nathan Dettmer was cruising. He allowed just one baserunner in the first two innings and would go on to put together arguably the best outing of his career — and on college baseball’s biggest stage, no less. Dettmer went seven shutout innings, giving up just three hits and striking out six batters. It was a remarkable turnaround for Dettmer, who pitched on short rest after a terrible outing in the CWS opener. Dettmer couldn’t finish the second inning of that game, allowing seven runs against Oklahoma. It was the first time this year that Dettmer didn’t allow an earned run in a start and just the third time he pitched at least seven innings.

In the third inning, things began to unravel for Notre Dame. Simon started the inning with a four-pitch walk and then a balk to move the runner to second. Graduate student Kole Kaler, the ninth hitter in the Aggies’ lineup, then hit what looked like a routine pop-up behind second base. Unfortunately for Notre Dame, graduate student center fielder Spencer Myers and graduate student second baseman Jared Miller failed to communicate, and the ball dropped into shallow center field. The error gave the Aggies runners on second and third with no one out. And after a walk to the next hitter, Simon’s start came to an end.

Irish head coach Link Jarrett went next to freshman Jack Findlay, who had been incredible out of the bullpen in the postseason. Findlay came into the toughest position possible: bases loaded, nobody out, A&M’s best hitter Jack Moss at the plate. He struck out Moss before inducing a routine ground ball to third baseman Jack Brannigan. But an errant throw to first got away, allowing two runs to score. The Aggies’ Austin Bost then proceeded to walk the bases loaded. A sacrifice fly ball from Ryan Targac made it 3-0, but it also became a double play after the runners got caught between the bases trying to tag up.

In the end, it was a three-run inning for the Aggies. Two of those runs were unearned. Some uncharacteristic defensive mistakes cost the Irish, putting them in an early hole that they would never climb out of.

After the big third inning, Findlay worked a quick fourth. A nice double play on a ball fielded by senior shortstop Zack Prajzner helped him get through the inning unscatched. But the fifth was a different story; Findlay gave up a home run, a double and two singles to A&M. The Aggies jumped to a 5-0 lead before the Irish could record an out.

Those runs forced Findlay from the game as Link Jarrett turned to senior right hander Alex Rao. From that moment on, Notre Dame’s pitching settled in, completely halting the Aggies’ offence. Combined, Rao and senior Will Mercer threw five scoreless innings. The duo allowed just three hits, striking out five to keep Notre Dame in the game.

The Irish looked like they might have a chance to rally in the eighth inning after a leadoff home run from senior right fielder Brooks Coetzee made it 5-1. From there, graduate students Ryan Cole and Spencer Myers saw a hit by pitch and a walk, respectively, giving the Irish two men on with nobody out. However, Texas A&M made a pitching change and brought in junior Joseph Menefee. The lefty Menefee struck out senior first baseman Carter Putz before getting graduate student catcher David LaManna to ground in a 5-3 double play to end the inning.

The ninth inning provided one final chance for Notre Dame. Junior third baseman Jack Brannigan worked a walk to get on base for a promising start to the inning. Sophomore designated hitter Nick Juaire batted next, but in the middle of that at-bat, a perfect pick-off move by Menefee got Brannigan as he took his lead from first. Menefee then struck out Juaire and got a shallow pop-up from Prajzner to end the game — and Notre Dame’s season.

Despite a disappointing end, it was a remarkable season for the Irish. Notre Dame finished the year with a 41-17 record and returned to Omaha for the first time in two decades. It was a defiant postseason run for the Irish, as Notre Dame went on the road after missing out on a regional host and put together some truly unforgettable performances. None were bigger than beating No. 1 Tennessee in the Super Regionals in college baseball’s upset of the year.

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