Three things Notre Dame needs to do to beat Mississippi State
In reality, nothing is absolutely a must for Notre Dame baseball this weekend in order to beat Mississippi State at the Starkville Super Regional other than scoring more runs than the Bulldogs in two of the potentially three games, but here are some of the possible musts:
MAKE CONTACT, INCLUDING BIG CONTACT
It’s unreasonable to expect the Irish to match the five home runs per game they hammered while going 3-0 in regional play, but plenty of offense may be needed.
Given that Notre Dame averages 7.0 runs and allows 4.2, and that the Bulldogs are at 7.1 while allowing 4.4, each team counts a bit more consistently on hitting than pitching.
ND is at 1.36 homers per game on the season and MSU 1.12, so each side possesses other ways of generating runs, although Irish coach Link Jarrett offers that Dudy Noble Field often “plays small.”
The June heat may only enhance that, so it might behoove Notre Dame to capitalize with the occasional long ball, because MSU certainly has a chance to do so on familiar ground. At the same time, however, the Irish can’t swing wildly.
Bulldog pitchers own a vicious 715 strikeouts in 516 innings this year, compared to ND’s 353 in 396.
“Those punchouts, that’s their recipe,” Jarrett said, “so if you can put the ball in play, then you have a chance. Their domination revolves around their ability to strike hitters out. You don’t want to go up there only trying not to strike out, but there are instances, hit and run, going first to third, where it will benefit us to put it in play.”
GET AHEAD AND STAY AHEAD
Both teams not only have solid starters, but mighty bullpens.
For the Irish, the latter includes Tanner Kohlhepp, Alex Rao and Liam Simon, who are a combined 14-3 with a 2.84 ERA. For Mississippi State, it includes lefty Houston Harding (7-2, 2.74 ERA), who has excelled both as a starter and reliever, and lights-out closer Landon Sims (3-0, 1.34, nine saves, 78 strikeouts in 40.1 innings).
The Bulldogs stand 35-1 when leading after six innings and 38-1 when up after eight. ND needn’t flinch too much at that, just get the lead. The Irish, after all, are 25-2 when leading after six innings and 32-0 when ahead after eight.
“It was nice that we had three games we didn’t have to grind into the bullpen,” Jarrett said of the starters working 24 of the 27 regional innings, “but Kohlhepp’s going to get the ball (this weekend).”
SHOW OFF THE LOVE OF THE GLOVE
Irish pitchers may not strike out hitters at MSU’s rate, but they just need to induce “soft contact and let our guys gobble it up,” Jarrett said.
After all, Notre Dame is in a virtual dead heat with Liberty as the nation’s top team in fielding percentage at .984, while the Bulldogs are a little bit outside the top 50 at .973.
MSU has committed 56 errors in 58 games to ND’s 26 in 44. The Irish turned nine double plays over their three regional games, too, and fittingly capped the final out with deeply positioned third baseman Jack Brannigan making a Brooks Robinson-like diving stop that carried him into foul territory before throwing out the runner at first.