Baseball: Irish charge into winner's bracket having won six of seven in postseason

Tom Noie
ND Insider

OMAHA – Notre Dame did something Friday that it had not done in 7,304 days. 

Yeah, that’s a long time. 

Jun 17, 2022; Omaha, NE, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish second baseman Jared Miller (16) celebrates with first baseman Carter Putz (4) after hitting a home run in the first inning against the Texas Longhorns at Charles Schwab Field. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday marks the last time – to the day – that the Irish baseball team played a College World Series game. On that day – June 18, 2002 – Notre Dame saw its dream run end with a 5-3 loss to Stanford. 

On Friday, June 17, 2022, Notre Dame (41-15) dispatched No. 9 seed Texas (47-21) in an opening-round game at Charles Schwab Field. The Irish moved into Sunday’s winner’s bracket to face Oklahoma (43-22) following a 7-3 win in front of 25,134.. 

Here are three quick thoughts on a postseason game that was a long time in the making, but a short time waiting before the Irish took control. 

Jun 17, 2022; Omaha, NE, USA; A detail view of a Notre Dame helmet reflects during the game against the Texas Longhorns at Charles Schwab Field. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

►No use waiting around to get going 

Easing into postseason games of late isn’t something that appeals to these Irish. 

They want to get going. Like, now. It worked last weekend against Tennessee. It worked again this weekend against Texas. 

Left field Ryan Cole jumped on the first pitch he saw that Friday night in Knoxville. Set the tone for the entire series. This Friday, Cole was retired quickly before Jared Miller stepped in, and stepped on one. 

A switch hitter, Miller hit right-handed against left-handed starter Pete Hansen. He drove one out to right, a shot similar to David LaManna’s opposite field blast in the decisive game against Tennessee. It landed in a similar spot. 

The Charles Schwab Field fans were still filing into their seats as Notre Dame took a 1-0 lead. It felt larger, especially since this wasn’t supposed to be a park that was conducive to the long ball. On Thursday, during the Irish workout at the stadium, nobody went deep in batting practice. Nobody. The park seemingly would play big. It didn’t take long to realize that it wouldn’t. 

The Irish kept constant pressure on Hansen and the Longhorns. Pressure to the point where the guys in burnt orange never could relax. Or breath easily. Notre Dame either scored a run or had another in scoring position in each of the first five innings. The traffic was constant. It busted through with three in the top of the fifth to take a five-run lead. They were rolling.

Jun 17, 2022; Omaha, NE, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish second baseman Jared Miller (16) celebrates hitting a home run in the first inning against the Texas Longhorns at Charles Schwab Field. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

►Jack Brannigan is really good 

The deeper Notre Dame moves through postseason, it seems no game is official until the Irish third baseman legs out an infield hit. Easily. Chopper/two-hopper? Don’t even try it. Slow roller? Just eat it.

Brannigan led off the fourth doing what he does, so this one went official. Right fielder Brooks Coetzee followed with a single and Brannigan was off. Watching Brannigan go from first to third was a treat. He didn’t so much make the turn at second as he glided. Quickly. He got to third in a heartbeat. First and third, one out, the fastest guy on the roster, maybe on campus, at third, it almost begged for a bunt. 

Spencer Myers delivered that bunt. Brannigan came racing in from third with a headfirst slide. Hansen made a heck of a play to seemingly throw Brannigan out, but the Irish veteran was calling for a replay review almost immediately. 

The play was reviewed. The play was overturned. Another run was on the board. Thanks to the game’s fastest man. Brannigan later showed he can do it with his glove. He smothered two consecutive line drives to start the seventh.

Brannigan charged a grounder and first to first baseman Carter Putz to end it. Fitting.

Jun 17, 2022; Omaha, NE, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish strating pitcher John Michael Bertrand (28) throws against the Texas Longhorns in the first inning at Charles Schwab Field. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

►Another scary Big 12 lineup silenced 

Texas came into postseason the leader of eight Big 12 offensive categories. It led that seemingly overrated league in batting average (.320) and runs (535) and hits (734) and home runs (128). 

How would the Irish handle that assignment? 

Just like Notre Dame two weeks earlier in quieting Texas Tech, another group of supposed Big 12 boppers. It’s not supposed to be this easy. Notre Dame again made it look it. 

Texas Tech struck out 19 times in that opening-round regional win. Texas got some good swings at times, really good ones at others, but never could get that one big inning to knock the Irish back on their CWS heels. 

First baseman Ivan Melendez, named earlier in the day the Dick Howser Award winner, given to the country’s best college player, came in with the nickname “Hispanic Titanic.” 

Melendez never got out of port. His big bat was big quiet. Texas was held without an extra-base hit for the first time this season Friday. That's staggering.

There were times when Irish starter John Michael Bertrand seemed on the ropes. Other times, he looked like, well, John Michael Bertrand. He worked his way through the Texas lineup for 5.1 innings before turning it over to the bullpen. 

This one was in good hands. Again. 

Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI. Contact: (574) 235-6153.