Analysis: This runaway Irish postseason baseball train shows no sign of slowing in Omaha
OMAHA, Neb. — No stage is too big, no spotlight too bright, no moment too much for a Notre Dame baseball team that continues to go and do winning work against this unbeatable bunch or that tradition-rich program.
Here’s what the Irish do — believe, play, win. Then they move on to the next challenge on the next scheduled work day and do it again.
On a night when you wondered if everything about playing in their first College World Series game in 20 years might finally catch up to a bunch of guys who’ve never before been in a moment such as this, the Irish (41-15) played perhaps their most complete game of postseason baseball against No. 9 seed Texas (47-21).
They hit. They ran. They hit for power. They bunted. They moved runners along. They got runners home. Then when it was time to pitch and play defense, they had plenty of that as well, all of which added up to a 7-3 victory Friday on the opening night game of the College World Series.
“When we’re playing well, that’s what we do,” said head coach Link Jarrett. “It was fun.”
Fun? This one more clinic than comedic. Watch these guys, dads sprinkled about eh stands could tell their kids. This is how you play the game. You hit. You run. You pitch. You defend. It all was beautiful baseball.
► How they scored:Notre Dame vs. Texas in College World Series opener
Just when you think you’ve seen all there is to see from Notre Dame, it shows this side. We’ve seen the confident side. On a steamy Friday, we saw the complete side. Believe them yet? No? No matter. They don’t mind, and aren’t paying any attention to the underdog narrative around them.
Despite everything this program has been through, despite everything it’s done going on the road winning six of seven since postseason arrived, some consider them just a plucky bunch that’s punching way above its weight class, a group of guys who don’t really deserve to be on this stage, in this moment, with all those other teams.
“It doesn’t matter to us if we’re underdogs or projected to win,” said left-hander John Michael Bertrand, who picked up the win. “I’m not sure that really matters to us. It’s more how we play, just be ready to play some baseball.”
Deserve all this, the Irish do. To beat Tennessee at Tennessee the way they did last weekend. To beat Texas by doing just about everything right, and right from the jump, in a game in front of the largest crowd (25,134) to see an Irish game in person this season.
The official stats sheet said this game took three hours and six minutes to complete. Fine. We’ll go with that. Really, this game was about over with the second batter of the game. That soon. That complete.
That’s Notre Dame.
A first-inning home run off the bat of second baseman/captain Jared Miller, told everyone in the third-base dugout, told everyone still filing into the Charles Schwab Field stands, that the Irish were here. They weren’t going anywhere. Maybe they won’t be going anywhere until next week as well, when the season’s final game is played and one team (guess which one) is holding the dogpile of all dogpiles.
Omaha for the foreseeable future, is home. Today. Tomorrow. Definitely until at least Tuesday and likely longer. If Notre Dame can beat a program like Tennessee given what it did this season, it can beat anybody. After Friday, if Notre Dame can beat a program like Texas that has long lived as if the CWS is its own tournament, try and convince anyone that Notre Dame might not be the last team standing when everything ends.
Go ahead. Good luck.
The way Miller worked Friday said it all. About him. About his teammates. About this program. Knowing how a quick start could kick-start the Irish, Miller jumped all over a Pete Hansen offering and drove it over the right-field fence. It landed on the roof of the Irish bullpen and gave the Irish a 1-0 lead two batters in.
Fans were still streaming down the aisles to their seats, and Notre Dame was grabbing a lead it never relinquished.
“When you get out there, and there’s all the fans, all the pressure, you kind of just stare at the pitcher and the ball and you and you just want to find a barrel,” said Miller, who found said barrel. “The atmosphere and the adrenaline usually help that.”
Earlier in the week in Knoxville, Jarrett talked about how a calm came over him in the dugout as he watched Notre Dame do what it did to close out a super-regional championship. He felt a similar calm on a warm Nebraska summer-like evening. Watching his guys work. Waiting for them to figure out the road map, Jarrett remained at peace. No use needing to give any big between-inning speeches or pep talks.
This one, on this night, was on cruise control. A team loaded with veterans played like a team loaded with veterans. Big crowd. Big moment. Big deal. That seemingly was the attitude. It didn’t matter if there were 25,000 people in the stands or five. It was going to affect/influence how Bertrand pitched. It wasn’t going to affect how Miller or Jack Brannigan played defense (both were tremendous). It wasn’t going to matter with what the Irish wanted to do at the plate (11 hits).
Friday was Notre Dame baseball at its collective best. If there’s a better team in this field of eight, better find it fast. We’ll wait. Every passing day, every next win, and an already confident club becomes even more.
This feels like a runaway train. Have fun trying to slow it. Oklahoma’s up next, but does that really matter? Notre Dame’s already made two Big 12 teams look small this postseason. You’re up next, Sooners. Come get your clinic.
“If we play good baseball,” Miller said, “we can play with anyone in the country.”
Don’t doubt him.
Following Friday’s post-game interview session, Miller rose from his seat still in full uniform, which was dirty from top to bottom from a full night’s work. He reached over to snag the NCAA placard with his name on it. Have for a keepsake. An NCAA official stopped him and asked for it back.
He can’t have it. Not yet. Probably not until Notre Dame plays its last game. Could be a long wait.
Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI. Contact: (574) 235-6153.