36 runs in two days: Notre Dame's power show has Irish one win from super regionals

By John Fineran
ND Insider Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — Coach Link Jarrett and his No. 10 Notre Dame baseball team couldn’t have written a better script for themselves after their first two games in the NCAA Division I baseball regional at Frank Eck Stadium.

A day after thumping Central Michigan with a 14-hit 10-0 victory which featured four home runs, two of them mammoth blows by former Penn High standout Niko Kavadas, the Irish jumped out to a 5-0 first-inning lead against Connecticut thanks to Kavadas’ grand-slam homer and cruised to a 26-3 victory over the Huskies that included five more Irish homers, including a 3-run blast by Kavadas in an eight-run ninth.

“(Tonight) was one of the most exceptional offensive games I’ve seen,” said the Irish coach after the Irish pounded out 21 hits against four Connecticut players, scoring 11 earned runs on seven hits against UConn starting right-hander Ben Casparius in the first 3 2/3 innings. In addition to the five-run first and eight-run ninth, Notre Dame (32-11) also had two four-run innings (fourth and sixth) and a three-run third.

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The 26 runs set a school record for most runs in an NCAA tournament game, breaking the previous mark of 25 set against South Alabama in 2002.

“The extra-base hits, the baserunning … they know how important it was to put us in that position,” Jarrett said after the Irish advanced to Sunday’s 6 p.m. championship game in the double-elimination tournament against the winner of the noon losers’ bracket game between the Huskies (34-18) and Central Michigan (41-17), which eliminated Michigan 8-2 in Saturday’s opening game. 

Notre Dame infielder Niko Kavadas (12) rounds third base after hitting grand slam during the Notre Dame-Connecticut baseball game on Saturday, June 05, 2021, at Frank Eck Stadium in South Bend, Indiana.

Whoever wins to play the Irish would have to win three games to advance to next week’s super regional, and clearly, both teams could have serious pitching issues. A third game, if necessary, would be played on Monday at 1 p.m.

“This tournament is built to give you the rest when you win,” Jarrett said. “We’ll sort out the pitching. The bullpen is nice shape at this point in the tournament. I’m just proud of them. The focus was as good as I’ve seen. We’re in the driver’s seat.”

The beneficiary of the Irish offensive outburst was junior left-hander Will Mercer, who surrendered just two runs and eight hits in a career-high seven innings in shutting down the Huskies, who were coming off a solid 6-1 opening victory over Michigan Friday. Mercer’s performance comes on the heels of grad left-hander John Michael Bertrand’s six-strikeout five-hitter against Central Michigan. 

Notre Dame infielder Carter Putz (4) celebrates with his teammates after hitting home run during the Notre Dame-Connecticut baseball game on Saturday, June 05, 2021, at Frank Eck Stadium in South Bend, Indiana.

The Huskies, who had 11 hits against the Wolverines, finished with 10 against Mercer and two relievers, right-handed sophomore Dominic Cancellieri and freshman right-hander Jackson Dennies, who each hurled an inning after Mercer struck out two and walked none in improving to 4-2 after throwing 92 pitches, 59 for strikes.

“Will can pitch to contact,” Jarrett continued. “He was great. There were balls that found their way through. But when you feel like he’s on the ground with it, he’s been effective. Today ground balls and defense played well. Will was in command. He was running fastballs up there pretty good. He was good, maybe as good as I’ve seen him, and that’s a pretty good physical team.”

But not anywhere near the Irish. For the second straight day, Kavadas hit from the No. 6 hole and had another impressive line, going 3-for-4, scoring five runs and knocking in eight runs. His two-day total is 5-for-8 with four home runs and 12 RBI.

“That was incredible what Niko did,” said senior left-fielder Ryan Cole, who went 3-for-6 with six RBI, finishing his day with a homer in the ninth. “That five-run lead really let us settle into the game, cool off a little bit and let us play the way we play. Everyone was playing to the best of their ability and we were calm just playing our game.”

The Irish also got three hits each from Jared Miller and Brooks Coetzee while Carter Putz and David LaManna each had two hits. Putz had a solo homer to start the third and LaManna, who had three RBI, had a two-run homer in the same inning to make it 8-1 Irish. Coetzee, who also drove in three runs, had a solo homer in the eighth.

Connecticut’s Erik Stock, who had a homer, was one of four Huskies with two hits each.

NOTRE DAME 26, CONNECTICUT 3

NCAA Baseball Regional Winners’ bracket 

At Frank Eck Stadium, South Bend

Notre Dame 503 | 414 | 018 — 26-20-1

Connecticut 011 | 000 | 010 — 2-18-0

Will Mercer (W, 4-2), Dominic Cancellieri (8), Jackson Dennies (9) and David LaManna, Danny Neri (8).  Ben Casparius (L, 8-5), Will Lucas (4), Sam Favieri (5), Brendan O’Donnell (5) and Pat Winkel, Ciaran Devenney (7).

2B: Ryan Cole (ND), Jared Miller (ND), Christian Fedko 2 (C). HR: Niko Kavadas 2 (ND), Carter Putz (ND), David LaManna (ND), Brooks Coetzee (ND), Erik Stock (C), Ryan Cole (ND).

Umpires: H, John Branmer; 1B, Jeff Macias; 2B, Jason Bradley; 3B, Doug Williams. Records: Notre Dame 32-11, Connecticut 34-18.

Central Michigan 8, Michigan 2

Junior right-hander Jordan Patty scattered eight hits over 7 2/3 innings with six strikeouts and Mid-American Conference two-time champion Central Michigan scored two runs in each of the middle three innings to eliminate Michigan in the losers’ bracket opener.

Sophomore designated hitter Garrett Navarra broke a 1-1 tie with a two-run home run in the bottom of the fourth inning off sophomore right-handed losing pitcher Cameron Weston of Michigan (27-19), and then senior catcher Griffin Lockwood-Powell added a two-run shot in the sixth off reliever Joe Pace to give the Chippewas (41-17) a 6-1 lead.

Lockwood-Powell led the 11-hit Central Michigan attack against five Michigan pitchers with three hits. Zach Heeke and Justin Simpson each had a pair of hits for coach Jordan Bischel’s Chippewas.

Patty (9-2), who threw 118 pitches (77 strikes) during the 90-degree-plus heat and windy conditions, did not walk a batter. Earlier this season, Patty tossed the first perfect game in the program’s 115-year history in Central Michigan’s 14-0 victory over Miami (Ohio) on April 30. He gave way to junior right-hander reliever Grant Frazier, who pitched the final 1.1 innings. 

The two Central Michigan pitchers allowed nine hits to Michigan, which managed just two in Friday night’s 6-1 loss to Connecticut. Tito Flores, Jimmy Obertop and Riley Bertram had two hits each for the Wolverines, with Flores and Obertop hitting solo home runs in the first and ninth innings, respectively.

CENTRAL MICHIGAN 8, MICHIGAN 2

NCAA BASEBALL REGIONAL LOSERS’ BRACKET

At Frank Eck Stadium, South Bend

Michigan 100 | 000 | 001 — 2-9-0

Connecticut 100 | 222 | 01X — 8-11-1

Cameron Weston (L, 7-4), Logan Wood (5), Joe Pace (5), Jacob Denner (6), Willie Weiss (7) and Griffin Mazur. Jordan Petty (W, 9-2), Grant Frazer (8) and Griffin Lockwood-Powell.

2B: Griffin Mazur (M). HR: Tito Flores (M), Garrett Navarra (CM), Griffin Lockwood-Powell (CM), Jimmy Obertop (M).

Records: Michigan 27-19, Central Michigan (41-17)