Jarrett, Notre Dame out to orchestrate a trip to Omaha at Super Regional
SOUTH BEND — Given the maestro he’s been while orchestrating Notre Dame baseball back into national prominence, and given that he’s even got a gosh darn music stand right there in the dugout, it seems second-year Irish coach Link Jarrett ought to be carrying a wand around as well.
Jarrett will settle for packing the stand as No. 10 seed Notre Dame (33-11) gets set to visit No. 7 Mississippi State (43-15) in the best-of-three Starkville Super Regional beginning Saturday. The survivor earns one of eight spots to the College World Series that starts June 19.
“I’m not sure how my wife would feel, but I’ve gotten to where I might need to take it home,” Jarrett joked Thursday regarding his trusty portable podium, where he has quick access to his bevy of notes during games.
Jarrett began using a music stand soon after his arrival as head coach at UNC Greensboro in 2013, and even uses it sometimes indeed as a podium while addressing his team.
“I needed something to keep my stuff organized,” Jarrett said, citing the variety in sizes, accommodations and challenges that come with different college dugouts. “That’s when it hit me to go with the music stand. I remember seeing somebody else doing it along the way, but not sure who that was. They may look funny in a dugout, but I like it, and it’s easy to travel with.”
Assistant coaches Rich Wallace and Scott Wingo “kind of share” a second stand, while pitching coach Chuck Ristano “wants to be more mobile,” per Jarrett and relies on a clipboard.
Of course, dugout implements won’t be the stars this weekend.
Those will be the Irish and the Bulldogs themselves. In right fielder Tanner Allen and closer Landon Sims, Mississippi State features a pair of the 25 individuals still being considered for the Golden Spikes Award, presented annually to the top player in college baseball.
Allen is hitting a blistering .395 with eight homers, 58 runs batted in, a .467 on-base percentage and a .614 slugging average. Sims, a righty, is 3-0 with a 1.34 earned run average and nine saves. He has struck out 78 in 40.1 innings while allowing just a .155 batting average and 13 walks.
Will Bednar leads the MSU starting staff with a 7-1 record, 3.17 ERA and 109 strikeouts against 18 walks covering 71 innings. Center fielder Rowdey Jordan is batting .329 with 31 extra-base hits, including nine homers.
Three other players have each cracked double digits in home runs, including third baseman Kamren James, who also has stolen 17 bases in 18 tries.
For ND, Golden Spikes candidate Niko Kavadas has hit a school-record 21 homers to go with 62 RBIs, a .309 average and .785 slugging percentage, while Ryan Cole is batting .326 with a .560 slugging rate. Four other starters are batting at least .289. Two of them, Spencer Myers and Brook Coetzee, have combined for 26-of-32 thievery on the bases.
Lefty John Michael Bertrand (8-2, 2.98 ERA) will be the Game 1 starter on the mound for the Irish, “and after that, I couldn’t tell you,” Jarrett said, “kind of like we’ve done all year.”
ND’s deep and versatile pitching will be deployed at least in part based on matchups. Tanner Kohlhepp has gone 7-1 with a 2.83 ERA over 57.1 innings almost entirely out of the bullpen, while fellow righties Alex Rao and Liam Simon have combined for 7-2 with a 2.85 across 60 innings. Lefty Aidan Tyrell has a 4-1 mark and 2.91 ERA. He started and worked eight innings in the 14-2 regional-clinching win Sunday over Central Michigan.
While some of the Irish — ranked No. 4 in the Baseball America poll and No. 6 by the coaches — have acknowledged their frustration over the team not being a top-eight national seed, and thereby a super regional host, Jarrett says his players also are “embracing” the chance to play at storied and often frenzied Dudy Noble Field.
“They’re gonna love it,” said Jarrett, a former Southeastern Conference assistant at Auburn. “Obviously, most of the fans there will want Mississippi State to win, but I think even their fans will love how our guys go about things.”
Dudy Noble has a built-in capacity of about 5,600, although as many as 15,586 fans have squeezed in, and mostly stood, on special occasions.
“They’re going to have more fans hanging over the outfield walls than we’ve had in our stadium,” Jarrett said, referring to Frank Eck, where ND had a capacity of 1,825 for the regional, “but we hope we can play some baseball that makes them uncomfortable, too.”
The Bulldogs, similar to their No. 7 seed, were No. 8 in the last Baseball America poll to go with seventh in the coaches’ poll. By virtue of being in the Southeastern Conference, they play in the league that is widely regarded as the nation’s best — and one that has the top three teams in both of those aforementioned polls in Arkansas, Vanderbilt and Tennessee. MSU has faced those three clubs a combined seven times, going 1-6.
The Dogs were 20-10 in the SEC overall for second place in the West division behind Arkansas. The Irish went 25-10 in the Atlantic Coast Conference for comfortably the best record in that league.
While the ACC may not boast quite the reputation the SEC does, at least seven of its teams were ranked this year.
“It’s hard to assess just how good Vandy, Tennessee and Arkansas are,” Jarrett said, “but I also know when we swept Virginia, I thought, now there’s an outstanding, talented team with some electric arms that we just beat. With our schedule, I feel like we went through 12 super regional-caliber series.”
MSU is in its third season under head coach Chris Lemonis, who arrived after four years at Indiana, while Bulldog pitching coach Scott Foxhall is “one of my closest friends,” Jarrett said, “one of those guys who’s had a big impact on my career.”
Mississippi State is looking to advance to its third straight College World Series and 12th since 1971. Notre Dame is seeking its third-ever trip, the others coming in 1957 and 2002.
Notre Dame vs. Mississippi State in Starkville Super Regional
Saturday: Notre Dame (33-11) vs. Mississippi State (43-15) 2 p.m. ET, ESPN.
Sunday: Notre Dame v s. Mississippi Stat , 6 p.m. ET, ESPN2 or ESPNU
Monday: Notre Dame vs. Mississippi State, 7 p.m. ET (if necessary ), ESPN 2 or ESPNU