College World Series: A shaky Sunday evening pushes Notre Dame to brink of elimination

Tom Noie
ND Insider
Jun 19, 2022; Omaha, NE, USA; Oklahoma Sooners starting pitcher Cade Horton (9) pitches against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the first inning at Charles Schwab Field. Mandatory Credit: Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports

OMAHA, Neb. — Turns out a third team out of Texas this postseason, and the second from the Southeastern Conference, now stands between Notre Dame and College World Series elimination/summer vacation. 

Rolling along with wins in six of seven previous postseason games, the Irish (41-16) now must beat No. 5 seed Texas A&M on Tuesday (2 p.m. eastern time) to keep alive hope of the program’s first national championship. 

► How they scored:Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma in College World Series second round game

Here are three thoughts on a Sunday setback (6-2) to Oklahoma in front of 24,934 that sent Notre Dame to the CWS brink. 

► The Irish bullpen was taxed early 

Like, way too early. Like bottom of the first early as Irish starter Austin Temple was shaky and never settled in. He was in trouble from the jump, to the point where left-handers Jack Findlay and Aidan Tyrell were up and working in the bullpen.

Second inning, more Temple issues and another busy bullpen. This time, head coach Link Jarrett went with Tyrell, who hadn’t pitched since June 4. He was good for two innings, but crumbled in his third as this one got away from him in the fifth. That's when Oklahoma scored three runs to go up 5-0. 

Yes, the bullpen struggled but the Irish bats were quiet — too quiet — early in the game. Shadows across the mound weren’t an issue, but Notre Dame struggled to get any quality swings on Sooners starter Cade Horton. Halfway through this one, the Irish had managed only three hits – two by first baseman Carter Putz, and one of those of the infield variety. 

Somewhere, along this CWS line, Notre Dame is going to need someone not named John Michael Bertrand to make a quality start. To give them some innings. To get guys out. 

If that doesn’t happen, this magical run doesn’t make it another weekend. 

►We see you Big 12, finally 

It’s not as if Notre Dame didn’t know what it was getting into when it faced Oklahoma on Sunday for the first time since 2015. The Irish beat Texas Tech twice in three days to win a regional title, then dispatched Texas and its 38 all-time appearances in the CWS rather easily — and convincingly — in Friday’s opener. 

When along came another Big 12 team in Oklahoma (44-22), one that finished in a three-way tie for second in the league, it was easy to dismiss it. Boomer Sooner? Whatever. Right? Wrong. 

Jun 19, 2022; Omaha, NE, USA;  Oklahoma Sooners center fielder Tanner Tredaway (10) singles in a run against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the third inning at Charles Schwab Field. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

The third time around this postseason against the Big 12 wasn’t the charm. Oklahoma may not have had the resume as its conference colleagues, but on Sunday, it was the best of the Big 12 bunch. 

Much of that, thanks to Horton, who went six innings and allowed five hits, two runs and one walk with 11 strikeouts. Pitch No. 100 was his last, and may have been his best. He got Brooks Coetzee looking to end the sixth. From the press box, it looked like a fastball and a little something extra behind it. 

Notre Dame has a chance to see Oklahoma again. Maybe it will be different that time. Maybe. 

► Hey, look, a (relatively) close game 

Home runs flying into the bleachers and guys running around the bases for doubles and triples are nice, but you know what’s not so nice? Really long innings of pitching changes and slow play and mound visits and games that tumble out of control so early that fans in the Charles Schwab Field stands realize they don’t want to sit around in the Nebraska heat watching another lopsided game. 

That was par for the CWS course the first five games, where the average score was 10.4 to 3.2. When those first five games featured at least one run in each of the first innings, that set a Series record. It had never happened before happened. 

Jun 19, 2022; Omaha, NE, USA;  Oklahoma Sooners shortstop Peyton Graham (20) slides under the jumping Notre Dame Fighting Irish shortstop Zack Prajzner (14) in the third inning at Charles Schwab Field. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Sunday night under the lights, we finally got a good game. A close game. Somewhat. Some drama as the sun set and it cooled (however slightly) where each passing inning meant even more-important at-bats. 

Four and a half innings in, it was still only 2-0 Oklahoma. One big hit from Notre Dame, and it would get interesting. But that hit never came. Even after Oklahoma jumped to a comfortable lead, it always felt like Notre Dame was one big hit or two away from really making this interesting. Even in the later innings. Even in the last inning, where there seemed some real game pressure on the Sooners to get the final three outs.

That was rare in this CWS to date.

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