Notre Dame stays hot, downs Central Michigan to advance to NCAA baseball super regionals
SOUTH BEND — Stunning hitting. Shutdown pitching. Slick fielding.
Other than that, Notre Dame baseball really didn’t show much in the South Bend Regional over the weekend at Frank Eck Stadium.
“That’s us clicking on all cylinders,” coach Link Jarrett said after the Irish notched their third double-digit win in three games to win their first NCAA Tournament regional crown in 19 years with a 14-2 victory Sunday night over Central Michigan.
“How often can you do that three days in a row?” Jarrett said of the unrelenting dominance that ND displayed. “Rare in our sport, and these are championship teams (we played). Each one of these teams in this tournament knows what they’re doing and is well-coached.”
With Niko Kavadas smashing his program-record 21st home run of the season, Carter Putz drilling two homers — including a grand slam — and Ryan Cole and Brooks Coetzee going deep as well, the Irish overwhelmed the Chippewas for the second time in three days.
Now Notre Dame (33-11), the overall No. 10 seed, will play in a best-of-three super regional series next weekend at seventh-seeded Mississippi State, a 6-5 winner Monday over Campbell in its Starkville Regional.
Coming through the losers’ bracket at South Bend, CMU (42-18) eliminated both Michigan, 8-2 on Saturday, and Connecticut, 14-9 earlier Sunday, to earn its rematch against the Irish.
ND blanked the Chips on Friday, 10-0, then obliterated UConn, 26-3, on Saturday.
The composite 50-5 score posted by the Irish set a program standard for a three-game stretch in one postseason, comfortably bettering a 44-11 count in 2002.
“I guess the separation of the scores surprised me a little bit,” Jarrett said, “but that’s how we played.”
Notre Dame’s five homers on Sunday gave the Irish a stupefying 15 over the three games, including five by Kavadas, who was named Most Outstanding Player of the regional, and three by Putz.
“We had a little bit of adrenaline going,” Kavadas said of the power display. “We were facing some high-quality arms and we knew we had to match that with high quality at-bats.”
Besides their five home runs, the Irish also turned a whopping five double plays Sunday, giving them nine over the weekend, while lefty Aidan Tyrell (4-1) became the third straight ND starter to allow two or fewer runs while going seven or more innings. He went eight, striking out three and walking one.
“That all started with Aidan,” Kavadas said about the parade of DPs. “He kept the ball at the bottom of the zone.”
Kavadas, as the first baseman, was in all five twin killings, including starting a quick-reflex one of the 3-6 variety, while second baseman Jared Miller and shortstop Zach Prajzner were in on four apiece.
“Baseball IQs far superior to anyone on the field,” Kavadas said of Miller and Prajzner, two of the keys to the Irish leading the nation in fielding percentage.
A pair of the double plays came in handy over the first three innings as Notre Dame temporarily labored to solve Chippewa starter Cameron Brown.
“The guys were furious today after three innings,” Jarrett said of the scoreboard daring to read 0-0.
CMU even went ahead with a run in the fourth, marking ND’s lone deficit of the regional, but the Irish bounced right back with two runs in their half of the inning to go on top for good.
Kavadas knotted the game with his 21st homer, breaking the 30-year-old single-season program record established by Frank Jacobs.
“It’s pretty cool,” said Kavadas, a senior and Penn High product. “It means a lot. I think it means a lot more to my mom and dad right now than it does to me, but hopefully, it’s something I’ll look back on in 20 years and smile about.”
For now, though, Kavadas said his focus remains on getting to the College World Series.
He suggested Sunday that the road is definitely going to go through Starkville, which he acknowledged still has him and his teammates angry.
The Irish headed into postseason ranked No. 4 in the Baseball America poll and No. 6 in the coaches poll,
but were seeded just 10th by the NCAA Tourney selection committee.
They needed a top-eight seed to guarantee hosting a super regional.
“We’re still frustrated,” Kavadas said. “We feel like next weekend should be at home, too, so that’s something we’re going to play with that’s going to light a fire underneath us.”
Actually, the fire’s already quite lit in at least one sense. ND has adopted a demonstrative team celebration on its home runs that the players are calling “the torch.”
“Light the torch,” Kavadas said.
The only apparent sour note for the Irish on Sunday was center fielder and lead-off hitter Spencer Myers tweaking a hamstring after going 3-for-3 with a sacrifice through the first six innings, but TJ Williams came in and reached base in both his plate appearances.
At the other end of the batting order, Prajzner eached base all five times out of the No. 9 slot, including three singles among ND’s 14 hits.
Putz’s grand slam in the fifth inning ballooned Notre Dame’s lead from 2-1 to 6-1, and Cole’s three-run shot in the seventh stretched the spread to 9-2. The final two Irish homers came during a five-run eighth.
“We were so focused this week and so detail-oriented,” Kavadas said, “and our starting pitching was just phenomenal.”