Notes: Motivational words not often needed for veteran Notre Dame baseball team
OMAHA, Neb. — Offering advice, be it to his players, to his staff, to anyone around the program, comes with the job for Notre Dame head coach Link Jarrett.
There are times when he just has to say something in a certain situation. Lay off the fastball here. Take a better route there. Lock in now. There are also are times when Jarrett has had a talk or two with himself.
Last week was one of those times. With Notre Dame soaring from a super-regional victory at No. 1 Tennessee, Jarrett figured less was more for a veteran club heading into the College World Series. Notre Dame opened Friday with a 7-3 victory over No. 9 seed Texas, a game where Jarrett didn’t have to say much. Just like last week.
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Jarrett decided on an approach similar to the one Mike Brey took last winter with the men’s basketball team. It was a veteran team. It was a driven team. Brey’s job was to not over-coach them and in his words, “screw them up.”
There’s a lot of similarities with the Irish baseball team — veteran group, hungry group, focused group. Sometimes, that makes Jarrett’s job easier to stay in the shadows, something he found himself doing more of as the trip to Omaha neared.
“Stay out of their way,” he said of what his role. “Just let them go. That’s the beauty of it. Like, let them go.”
Notre Dame (41-15) has become the feel-good story of college baseball this postseason. While Friday’s crowd of 25,134 featured a whole lot more burnt orange than blue and gold, it also was way more “Let’s Go Irish!” than “Hook ‘em ‘Horns.”
Huge night, huge game, but for Jarrett, it was like a mid-week home game against Valparaiso. He didn’t want to make it a bigger deal than what it was, so he didn’t. Just another game.
“There’s a time you might have to change things that you're trying to do or how you approach them,” he said. “My gut was, this is not the time. There was no crazy message before the game. You just sometimes have to know when to let them go play.”
Expect more of the same Sunday against Oklahoma (43-22).
Findlay is fine
Whatever’s gotten into Notre Dame left-hander Jack Findlay this postseason isn’t showing signs of subsiding anytime soon.
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound native of Ledgewood, New Jersey came on in the seventh inning Friday and promptly allowed no runs on no hits with no walks and two strikeouts while facing the minimum batters (seven) over the final 2.1 innings. In five NCAA postseason games, four of those Irish wins, Findlay has pitched 12.2 innings, allowed three hits and one run while walking four. He has a win, a 0.71 earned-run average and 14 strikeouts.
Jarrett was asked postgame again about Findlay, and is about out of ways to describe what’s happened for him. He saw signs early last fall that Findlay would be good, but nobody could have imagined he’d be this good.
“Findlay would just go out there and he just pitched,” Jarrett said of those early days in the program. “He’s so poised. It’s high fastballs and power sliders and he’s pumping his fist.”
Like with many of his teammates, the bigger the moment this postseason for Findlay, the better the effort, the focus, the do-your-job simplicity of it all.
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“You can't gauge the competitiveness until you see pitching competitively in high stakes situations,” Jarrett said. “Findlay's fastball is hard to wrap your mind around. Some of them go that way, to that side. It’s just a tough thing, and clearly he's been very, very precise with what he's doing.”
To a point that it reached a stage Friday in the first-base dugout where Jarrett and his staff talked of just being able to get the game into the late innings, they could turn it over to a freshman who never before this season closed games and everything would be fine.
It was fine.
One big blast
Oklahoma second baseman Jackson Nicklaus stood and waited just outside the batter’s box in Friday’s early game against Big 12 colleague Texas A&M while the Aggies held a meeting on the mound. Texas A&M coach Jim Schlossnagle offered some advice to left-hander Joseph Menefee, then departed.
Nicklaus told himself as he stepped back in to be ready for the fastball. He was ready. Nicklaus jumped all over Menefee’s first pitch after the mound meeting for only the third grand slam in CWS history. The blast pushed what had been an early 8-0 Sooner lead out to 12-3. Oklahoma went on to win 13-8.
“They had that little pitching meeting,” said Nicklaus, a true freshman. “I knew I wasn’t going to be late to the fastball. I saw the pitch out of the hand, a nice fastball and just tried to put a good swing on it.”
One big injury
Oklahoma lost designated hitter Brett Squires for the rest of the season during Friday’s game after the redshirt junior from Grapevine, Texas was hit by a pitch in the third inning that broke his hand. Squires remained in the game after being hit but was eventually lifted in the fourth for a pinch-hitter.
“I talked to Brett and just him I was sorry,” said Oklahoma head coach Skip Johnson. “He worked really hard. His at-bats got a whole lot better.”
Squires appeared in 46 games this season for the Sooners. He hit .310 with seven home runs and 33 RBIs.
- Sunday is the seventh time Notre Dame and Oklahoma have met, with the series tied at three. This will be the first meeting since Feb. 15, 2015, a 5-1 Irish win as they took two of three in a series in Norman.
- Mike Monaco, a 2015 Notre Dame graduate, earned the play-by-play assignment of Friday’s game for ESPN. He’ll be on the call Sunday for both games.
- Notre Dame is the only school in the country to have sent its football program to a New Year’s Six bowl (Fiesta Bowl), both of its basketball programs to the NCAA tournaments and its baseball team to the CWS. Those four programs have a combined 10 tournament wins. And counting.
- With Friday’s win, Notre Dame now is 53-21 away from home in the two-plus seasons under Jarrett.
- Tailgating in the parking lots around Charles Schwab Field is allowed. By 9 a.m. Friday, fans from Oklahoma and Texas A&M already had the grills going and the beverages flowing for a game that started four hours later. The city’s one big baseball party.
- How kind of, sort of out of place is Notre Dame as it makes its third appearance in the CWS? The other seven teams have averaged 13.8 CWS appearances in their respective programs’ histories. That’s skewed a little – OK, a lot – by Texas and its 38 appearances but subtract Notre Dame and no other team has fewer than six June trips (Auburn, Mississippi) to Omaha.
Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI. Contact: (574) 235-6153.