Baseball: Two NCAA regional wins down, one more to go for Irish
Following are NDI/SBT columnist Tom Noie’s top three storylines/observations and other odds and ends/notes and quotes from Saturday’s second-round NCAA baseball tournament victory by No. 2 seed Notre Dame over No. 1 Georgia Southern from the Statesboro, Georgia regional.
►Another day of regional play, another weather delay (this one a mere two hours and 47 minutes) and another late night of watching Notre Dame do what it does.
Notre Dame did Saturday what it did Friday – won an NCAA Tournament regional game – 6-4 over Georgia Southern. While much about Saturday seemed the same as Friday, it was totally different.
There was a different energy in J.I. Clements Stadium. That’s what you get when you play the host team on its field with its fans dominant in the stands. There were more fans. More juice. More on the line. It got a little spicy midway through the game with some back-and-forth jawing. That’s June baseball. That’s tournament baseball.
"Really intense game," said Irish shortstop Zach Prajzner. "The emotions are going to come out a little more."
Nothing seemed to faze Notre Dame. Not the big crowd. Not a big blast off the bat of Eagle designated hitter Noah Ledford, which rekindled memories of a certain sweet-swinging left-handed hitter who hit similar missiles for Notre Dame last season (we see you Niko Kavadas).
Saturday was everything that Friday’s game wasn’t in terms of drama and big moments and big hits. But it again ended the same – with an Irish win.
"There was some firepower on display from both sides," said Irish coach Link Jarrett.
Is any moment too big for Notre Dame (37-14)? Haven’t seen it the first two nights.
►It’s almost a case of the Irish looking at the big picture of a baseball game and figuring out, OK, this is what it will take over the next nine innings to push home the one or two runs that’s going to make the difference.
Then the Irish go and do it.
On Friday, Notre Dame beat Texas Tech when pinch-runner Jared Miller scored from third on a wild pitch. On Saturday, Notre Dame did a little of everything to get more runs across than the other guys.
The Irish hit a pair of solo home runs (Jack Zyska, Jack Brannigan). They got a two-run blast from Prajzner in the sixth. Notre Dame ultimately won the game by loading the bases in the home half of the seventh and letting Georgia Southern pitcher Jaylen Paden become a prisoner of the moment. It seemingly was too big for him. The lights, apparently, too bright.
With those bases loaded, Paden hit not one (Prajzner) but two (Jack Penney) Irish to force home the decisive runs. Notre Dame didn’t even have to swing the bat to win this one.
"These guys," Jarrett said, "delivered in a big way."
►Pressure? What pressure? Freshman left-hander Jack Findlay stared pressure right in its face – and then laughed it off Saturday evening.
Called on in relief in the top of the eighth with the Irish up 6-4, runners at the corners and nobody out, Findlay had little room for error. Make that no room. That was cool. He didn’t need any. Findlay struck out the first two hitters he faced, then got Jason Swan to ground to short and he was out of the inning.
And, really, out of trouble.
Findlay returned for the ninth, and by then, he was humming. He retired the Eagles in order, the last two on strikeouts, to send the host team off quietly into the night with a crusher loss.
At this point in the season, freshmen are no longer freshmen. Findlay proved that.
"We were trying to figure out how to navigate the end, and he was clearly in play," Jarrett said of Findlay. "That's as good as his fastball has been. He's pitched well for us. For a freshman to go in that situation, it's what we needed to do. He was comfortable with it.
"He took that thing and went."
Right into another win.
Third baseman Jack Brannigan has had himself a solid weekend. After going 1-for-3 with a walk on Friday, the junior finished 3-for-4 on Saturday. His solo home run in the fifth gave the Irish a 2-1 lead. He later beat out a pair of infield singles that not too many corner infielders leg out at this time of year.
On his first, Brannigan eventually came around to score on Prajzner’s two-run home run in the sixth.
First baseman Carter Putz has done it all year for the Irish, but postseason has been his Kryptonite. Putz is hitless in two games. He went 0-for-4 Friday against Texas Tech, and 0-for-4 Saturday.
Best part of that is he’s too good to be locked up that way. And that he’s due. Watch Putz on Sunday. It might be his game.
Facing Notre Dame was the second game of the day for Georgia Southern, which blanked UNCG in the morning opener, 8-0. Those teams were scheduled to play the night game Friday, but a six-hour weather delay pushed the resumption of the Notre Dame-Texas Tech game well into the evening, which bumped the second game back a day.
Georgia Southern left-hander Ty Fisher carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning before finishing with six strikeouts, a walk and four hits allowed. His complete game was the first for the Eagles since May 24, 2018.
UNCG, Jarrett's former team, was eliminated by Texas Tech in a loser’s bracket game before the Notre Dame-Georgia Southern game.
Saturday’s first two games were played in basically the same amount of time (six hours) as Friday’s weather delay in the Notre Dame-Texas Tech game.
Sunday promises to be the best day of the bunch weather-wise. Hot. Sunny. Minimal chance (17 percent) of rain. Delays shouldn’t be the issue. Then again, it is the south. And it is June.
"When you're playing an intense game like that, it makes it that much more fun."
-Brannigan on the electric/different atmosphere in the stands and on the field Saturday against Georgia Southern.
There are four letters stitched in capital letters on the backs of the Georgia Southern baseball caps. It’s also part of the school’s login identification for statbroadcast.com (for what that’s worth).
What does it mean? According to Georgia Southern legend, it stands for a phrase coined by former Georgia Southern football coach Erskine "Erk" Russell, who spent seven seasons (1982-89) in Statesboro.
GATA stands for, well, Get After Their … um … let’s go with the family-friendly version – butts. It’s a saying that apparently applies elsewhere around campus as in, Get After Those … Academics.
By the numbers
►1: Saturday was the first time that Notre Dame and Georgia Southern met in baseball.
►3: Of the four teams in the Statesboro regional this weekend, the three that remain each finished the regular season ranked in the Top 25 of the Division I Baseball poll. Notre Dame was No. 17, Georgia Southern was 21st and Texas Tech was No. 24.
►9: Georgia Southern had won nine straight home games before Saturday’s nightcap setback.
►20: When Irish left fielder/leadoff hitter Ryan Cole stole second with one out in the bottom of the eighth, it was his 20th steal of the season without once being thrown out.
►24: This weekend marked the 24th time in program history that Notre Dame has played in an NCAA regional. It’s the first time that Notre Dame has gone to the NCAA tournament in consecutive seasons since 2005-06, the last two of seven straight postseason appearances.
►25: Georgia Southern had a national-best 25 comeback wins this season. Couldn’t get No. 26, though. Findlay wouldn’t let it happen.
►32-1: Notre Dame ran its record this season to 32-1 when leading after eight innings.
►50: Cost of a standing-room only seat good for the entire regional. That’s all that remain at Clement Stadium (3,000 capacity), where record crowds were anticipated with Georgia Southern hosting a regional for the first time.
►104: Pitches thrown Saturday by Irish starter Austin Temple, a season high. Temple worked 5.2 innings. After Friday’s marathon bullpen effort, all those innings were crucial.
►200: Number of tickets each participating team in Statesboro was allotted.
►3,533: Announced attendance for Saturday night’s game, a Georgia Southern program record.
A chance to sleep in Sunday morning and relax most of the afternoon before returning to Clements Stadium with a chance to win a regional championship for a second straight season.
Notre Dame got the winner of the elimination game between Georgia Southern and Texas Tech, which was scheduled for early Sunday afternoon.
Come 7 p.m. that night, a win no matter the opponent would send Notre Dame back to South Bend with a regional championship. To do that, the Irish would have to beat a team it already had beaten again
Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI. Contact: (574) 235-6153.