Notre Dame, head coach and players, expressed their disappointment at not being selected as one of 16 host programs for this weekend’s opening round of the NCAA Road to Omaha baseball tournament.
But the Fighting Irish (35-14) are instead the second seed in the Statesboro Regional hosted by top seed Georgia Southern. They will look to make a second straight Super Regional appearance starting with Friday’s tournament opener against No. 3 seed Texas Tech (37-20).
“These guys are tough, and I noticed last year when we went through the grind of basically playing a full ACC team schedule skipping one team; we didn’t play in Miami,” said Link Jarrett, who picked up his 80th career win at Notre Dame as the Irish advanced to the semifinals of last weekend’s ACC Tournament. “The requests from these guys, you’ve seen our travels, we’re usually on the road for five to six weeks in a row to start the season. I didn’t see any concerns about where we were going.
“You’re disappointed, everyone who isn’t a host is disappointed and thinks they deserve it because it’s an award that you feel like you’ve earned through their long-term play. Obviously, the measures did not work in our favour. It’s like that. … We have the possibility to continue playing. That’s what matters most to them. These guys are fine. All that, I don’t think has anything to do with what’s going on in this tournament.
Irish star receiver David LaManna added: “As Coach said, we were disappointed that we weren’t able to host South Bend, but it’s really out of our control. We’re excited to come here and compete. I think we will be relentless and we are confident to address this subject.
A year after winning baseball’s first-ever ACC regular-season title and a week after reaching the league semifinals for the first time, the Irish are largely healthy, according to Jarrett, and prepare to open their NCAA playoffs with ace and recently hit All-America pitcher John Michael Bertrand on the mound Friday against the Red Raiders. The first pitch is scheduled for 2 p.m. and the game will be televised on the ACC network.
“John Michael Bertrand is going to have to go out there and pitch,” Jarrett said. “He’s going to have to make sure all of his throws work and are in play.
“Now he has to go and replicate one of his best performances to hold this Texas Tech team in check.”
That’s no small feat against the Red Raiders, who saw sluggers Jace Jung and Kurt Wilson combine for 28 home runs and 119 RBIs as the duo started each of the team’s 57 games.
But the Irish showed considerable throwing depth beyond their ace; Austin Temple has become more and more comfortable in his role as the No. 2 starter, Aiden Tyrell’s versatility is a staple of last year and this season’s run, and Liam Simon is doing his best since Jarrett’s arrival. Freshmen and other actors are also available.
“Throwing depth and the variety you have in throwing depth is one of the main ingredients of a successful team,” Jarrett said. “The ability to hit people might be the biggest metric.
“I think the athleticism of our defense has been something that has stuck with me all year. We have a pretty good range; now we haven’t been perfect. But some balls can go into the gap (but instead being cut off by the Irish defence), these things can stifle the other team’s momentum and almost put you in a state of mind like you’ve scored on the pitch.