Off to a good start: Notre Dame powers past Central Michigan in NCAA regional opener
SOUTH BEND — Kavadas went Kaboom, and it came after a bit of a kerplunk to his spot in the batting order.
Actually, Niko Kavadas did so twice — powering a pair of two-run homers well over the center-field fence — and the rest of the Notre Dame baseball team dominated as well during a 10-0 victory against Central Michigan in the opening game at the South Bend Regional of the NCAA Tournament on Friday afternoon at Frank Eck Stadium.
The Irish (31-11) hit four homers while putting together much more support than crafty lefty John Michael Bertrand needed on the mound.
Bertrand (8-2), a senior, notched his first career shutout while scattering five singles. He struck out six, walked one and never allowed a runner past first base after the first inning.
ND will face Connecticut (34-17) in the 6 p.m. game Saturday as the double-elimination, four-team gathering continues. The Huskies knocked off Michigan, 6-1, on Friday night.
Kavadas’ fourth career two-homer game came on the direct heels of being dropped from his customary No. 3 spot in the batting order to sixth, and after learning about the move from coach Link Jarrett.
“I hadn’t been swinging it my best,” Kavadas said, “so he pulled me aside this morning and was like, ‘Hey, don’t take it personally, I just think it’s going to help us win ball games if we move you down a little bit, flop you with Jared (Miller),’ and I think it worked out today.”
NCAA Baseball Tournament
What: South Bend Regional, double-elimination
Where: Notre Dame's Frank Eck Stadium
When: Friday-Monday (if necessary)
Who: Notre Dame, Central Michigan, Connecticut and Michigan
Jarrett said there were several reasons for the adjusted lineup.
He pointed out that Kavadas, one of the nation’s premier home run hitters on the season, “had been pressing a little bit” lately, and added that he wanted “to bunch our three runners together at the top.”
“I think that opens up some other facets of our game,” Jarrett said, citing a successful hit-and-run that produced a score. “There’s a lot of focus on Niko in our program — rightfully so — but I just wanted him to be able to just have a different feel and look and let the game develop a little bit before he got his first at-bat, and it worked. Those balls were just annihilated.”
Kavadas’ second homer of the day was a majestic rocket that provided the first two runs of a six-run sixth inning as Notre Dame blasted the game open at 10-0.
His first homer came during a three-run fourth inning in which the Irish broke a scoreless deadlock against Chippewa ace Andrew Taylor (11-4).
Miller led off the frame with a triple that was followed by Carter Putz’s RBI grounder.
Then Jack Brannigan singled for the first of his three hits on the day, and Kavadas followed with that initial homer — on an 0-2 pitch.
Kavadas, a senior and Penn High graduate, made celebratory points into the stands after rounding first on each of his homers.
“I had a bunch of my buddies that I played high school baseball with and played with growing up, some of my best friends in the entire world, sitting down the right-field line,” Kavadas said, “so it was really cool to have them there for a day like today.”
Kavadas upped his 2021 home run total to 18 to move into a four-way tie for second on the ND single-season list behind Frank Jacobs’ 20 in 1991.
With 42 overall, Kavadas also stands third on the Irish career list, trailing only Jeff Wagner’s 49 and Brant Ust’s 46.
His homer in the sixth was followed by two-run shots from David LaManna and Ryan Cole — marking the first time the Irish have hit three homers in an inning since 2014, when Phil Mosey, Robert Youngdahl and Cavan Biggio combined to do so.
Bertrand notched the first postseason complete-game shutout by an ND pitcher since 2000, when Danny Tamayo blanked Mississippi State 7-0.
“You can’t ask for more than that,” Jarrett said of Bertrand going the distance and keeping the remainder of the Irish pitching staff fresh for what will be at least two more games over the next two days, and possibly as many as four over the next three.
“That was pitching today, and that art sometimes is lost a little bit,” Jarrett said of how Bertrand mixed pitches and locations, and improved on “feel” as the game moved along.
Effective to the end, Bertrand struck out the side in the ninth inning.
He was backed by a pair of double plays from his defense that went into the afternoon leading the nation in fielding percentage.
Bertrand bounced right back from a rough outing in ND’s regular-season finale, a 14-1 loss to Virginia during the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament.
“Not a bit,” Kavadas said of whether he was surprised his teammate could rebound that dramatically. “Resilient kid. He’s in year five, he knows what he’s doing out there, he’s been there before, and we believe in him. He believes in himself. There was never a doubt he was going to go out and dominate today.”
Offensively, the unrelenting Irish smacked two triples and two doubles to go with those four homers among their 14 hits.
Thirteen of those hits and all of the ones for extra bases came after Taylor had struck out five and allowed just one hit over the first three innings.
Jarrett praised his batters for the adjustments they made after seeing Taylor the first time through the order.
South Bend Regional schedule
♦ Game 1: Notre Dame 10, Central Michigan 0
♦ Game 2: Connecticut 6, Michigan 1
♦ Game 3: Central Michigan (40-17) vs. Michigan (27-18), noon
♦ Game 4: Notre Dame (31-11) vs. Connecticut (34-17), 6 p.m.
♦ Game 5: Winner Game 3 vs. loser Game 4, noon
♦ Game 6: Game 4 winner vs. Game 5 winner, 6 p.m.
♦ Game 7: If necessary, 7 p.m.
“I try not to get to a point where we’re panicking over what’s going on, because it’s a long game,” Jarrett said of the Chippewa star’s early success, “and you’ve got to give them a chance to process what’s happening when you’re seeing somebody that extraordinary with their stuff.”
Taylor, a redshirt freshman and the Mid-American Conference Player of the Year, went into the day second in the nation in earned run average at 1.21.
ND tagged him for seven runs on 10 hits in five-plus innings, ballooning that ERA to 1.81.
CMU fell to 40-17 and faces Michigan (27-18) in Saturday's noon elimination game.
NOTRE DAME 10, CENTRAL MICHIGAN 0
Connecticut 6, Michigan 1
Junior left fielder Erik Stock went 4-for-4 and drove in three runs, two with a double in the seventh inning, and four pitchers held Michigan to two hits as the Huskies (34-17) earned their winner’s bracket berth against Notre Dame Saturday night.
Austin Peterson, a 6-foot-6 junior right-hander from Chesterton who started his college career at Purdue, went 5.2 innings for his eighth victory in nine decisions. He struck out seven, walked three and hit two batters while allowing two hits including a solo homer by Michigan designated hitter Ted Burton in the top of the fourth that tied the game at 1-1.
Randy Polonia, Garrett Coe and Caleb Wurster finished up without allowing a hit for UConn. Left-hander Wurster came on in the ninth and got the final two outs with strikeouts, the ninth and 10th by the Wolverines (27-18).
The Huskies managed 11 hits, including two each by Chris Winkel and Chris Brown, who also drove in two runs, off four Michigan pitchers. Starting left-hander Steve Hajjar (4-2) suffered the loss despite striking out nine. He allowed four runs on eight hits in six innings.
With the game tied 1-1 going into the bottom of the sixth, Connecticut scored three times off Hajjar to take a 4-1 lead. Stock started the inning with a single. One out later, Christian Fedko singled to right. Reggie Crawford then singled home Stock to break the tie. With two outs and runners on second and third, Chris Brown beat out a slow grounder to Michigan third baseman Christian Molfetta, and Fedko and Crawford both scored.
In the bottom of the seventh, Kyler Fedko led off with a double and Chris Winkel reached on a bunt single. Stock then doubled into the left-center gap off Michigan reliever Will Proctor to score both runners for a 6-1 lead.
CONNECTICUT 6, MICHIGAN 1
At Frank Eck Stadium/Jake Kline Field, South Bend
Michigan 000 | 100 | 000 — 1-2-1
Connecticut 001 | 003 | 20x — 6-11-0
Austin Peterson (W, 8-1), Randy Polonia (6), Garrett Coe (8), Caleb Wurster (9) and Pat Winkel. Steve Hajjar (L, 4-2), Will Proctor (7), Isaiah Paige (7), Jack White (8) and Griffin Mazur.
2B: Riley Bertram (M), Kyler Fedko (C), Erik Stock (C). HR: Ted Burton (M).
Records: Michigan 27-18, Connecticut 34-17.