On Saturday, the Notre Dame baseball team played in their second of two intercollegiate scrimmages, hosting the Cincinnati Bearcats in a doubleheader of seven inning contests.
Notre Dame baseball is coming off of arguably the best season in program history, having made the College World Series in a season highlighted by knocking off top-ranked Tennessee in the Knoxville Super Regional.
However, head coach Link Jarrett opted to leave for his alma mater, Florida State, in the offseason. Notre Dame found their new head coach in July, hiring Shawn Stiffler. Stiffler coached Virginia Commonwealth (VCU) for 10 seasons, leading them to NCAA tournament appearances in 2015, 2021 and 2022. Every head coaching change brings a period of transition, and it’s no different for the Irish.
Stiffler also hired a new crew of assistant coaches, with Logan Robbins, Seth Cutler-Voltz and Ryan Munger helping to get their first season as Irish coaches off the ground.
“They coach the guys very, very hard every day,” Stiffler said of his assistants. “Knowing that those guys are there and we can trust them to coach the players and build relationships with the players is huge for me.”
The new staff inherits a roster with talented players still in the fold, with 11 graduate students on the 40-man squad. Graduate student first baseman Carter Putz went 4-5 over both games, hitting two singles, a double and a triple.
In the first game, CJ Dean hit a home run in the top of the first inning to have the Bearcats ahead 1-0. That score held until the top of the fifth inning. Kameron Guidry walked, and second baseman Lauden Brooks successfully laid down a sacrifice bunt. Later in the frame, Dean drove in his second run of the game with a single to put the Bearcats up 2-0.
In the bottom of the sixth, graduate student Brooks Coetzee reached on a Bearcat throwing error and advanced to second courtesy of a wild pitch. After sophomore Jack Penney walked, graduate student Zack Prajzner executed a successful bunt to put two runners in scoring position, who Putz knocked through with a two-RBI single to tie the game.
In the top of the seventh, the Bearcats were able to load the bases courtesy of two walks and a single. A lightly hit ground ball to third base turned into the play of the game, as a throwing error from the Irish led to the bases being cleared. The Bearcats were able to hold on to take the first game 5-2. After a 5-minute intermission, game two began as a duel between the pitching staffs.
The Bearcats scored their only run in the top of the fourth inning, as a ground ball got just behind a diving Penney for a two-out single good for a 1-0 lead. In the bottom of the fifth, Putz hit a triple and was driven in on a groundout by Prajzner. An inning later, junior Connor Hincks stepped in and hit a clutch pinch-hit double with two outs to plate what would come to be the winning run to split the fall-ball series.
For the Irish, this series was successful in several way. The games gave good reps for all players involved, allowing coach Stiffler and his staff to evaluate a good amount of players and see them in a game environment. Even in a veteran-laden team, a few freshmen were able to see some action in a glance toward the future. David Lally pitched two scoreless innings, striking out four of the six batters he faced.
“Lally showed that he’s going to be ready to take on some high-leverage innings early,” Stiffler said of the freshman. Estevan Moreno took the field as third baseman in the first game in an effort for him to “try and get as many reps as he can.”
Although unable to collect a hit, Moreno showed signs of becoming a player of interest in the beginning of his Irish career.
“I think he has a very promising future,” said Stiffler after the game.
After a long break of summer ball, fall ball and an intersquad scrimmage, Stiffler said the chance to play another school is a teaching opportunity.
“To throw a team in with a different uniform on just adds another element of trying to evaluate your guys, because some guys rise to the occasion when they see a different color across the field, other guys maybe reserve themselves a little bit or pull back,” Stiffler said of the scrimmages.
Similar to spring football or other out-of-season contests, the scrimmages mainly serve to provide crucial data points for the coaches to put players in the best possible positions come springtime.
Stiffler and the Notre Dame staff seem to be employing an approach that aims to get the most out of each rep, practice and scrimmage. The results will come, but the process has to be established first.
“Right now we’re just trying to learn how to practice, how to go about our business every day, how to go about our work,” Stiffler said. “We’re getting better at that, so I’m more focused on that than anything else, like trying to win baseball games in February or October.”
Stiffler and the Irish staff want to make sure their players are ready for the games that really matter, and this starts with tomorrow’s practice. Winning each day is their key to success.
Contact Joseph Tunney at firstname.lastname@example.org