Coming off of a dominating showing in the Regional round in South Bend, the Notre Dame baseball team will travel to Starkville, Mississippi this weekend for a best-of-three series in the Super Regionals against the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
The 10th-seeded Fighting Irish (33-11) went 3-0 during the regionals to advance to their first super regional since 2002. Notre Dame beat down Central Michigan twice and Connecticut once, outscoring both teams 50-5 in the three-game span. Coach Link Jarrett’s group scored more than half of its regional run total in the stunning 26-3 win over the Huskies this past Saturday.
“That’s us clicking on all cylinders,” said Jarrett after Notre Dame’s regional-clinching win on Sunday. “Those were championship teams. Each one of those teams in this tournament know what they’re doing. They’re well-coached, have great personnel and are in it for a reason. The separation of the scores probably surprises me a little bit, but that’s how we’ve played. Not every game, but I’ve sure seen it a lot.”
Waiting in the way of Notre Dame and a potential College World Series berth is seventh-seeded Mississippi State (43-15). The Bulldogs also swept through the regional round, going 3-0 against Samford, Virginia Commonwealth and Campbell, respectively.
Unlike Notre Dame, Mississippi State has experience advancing this far into the postseason. The Bulldogs have now made five-straight Super Regional appearances and are hoping to make their 12th-ever CWS trip.
Down in Starkville, the home field advantage for the Bulldogs could make a huge impact on the series. Dudy Noble Field at Polk-Dement Stadium is one of the most well-known cathedrals in college baseball. At a capacity of nearly 15,000, the ballpark holds the NCAA record for largest single-game attendance of a college baseball game at 15,586.
Some of Notre Dame’s players, including Niko Kavadas, have voiced their displeasure with not hosting a super regional due to ND’s low national seeding. They took some of that frustration and used it in a positive way during regionals, Kavadas said. It’ll be pivotal for the Irish to continue using that “chip on their shoulder” mentality as a positive and not let that frustration take away their focus.
“It’s good to be frustrated,” Jarrett said. “Now, you can be frustrated all you want, but you’re still going to deal with 10,000 people in Starkville that eat, sleep and breathe this, and they’re going to be hanging over every spot in the outfield. They’ll be yelling and screaming, and that’s what it’s about. They love their baseball. So do our people. We should be (at home), but the hand we’ve been dealt is for us to go there.”
BATS ON FIRE FOR ND
It’s no secret how well the Irish have swung the bats so far during the NCAA Tournament.
During its three wins at the South Bend regional, Notre Dame scored 50 runs on 49 hits. As a team, the Irish also smashed 15 home runs during that span, with a majority of that power came from the bat of Kavadas. The senior first baseman — who won the South Bend regional’s most outstanding player award — has gone 6-for-10 with five home runs and 13 RBI so far in the tournament.
“We were facing some high-quality arms (in the regionals), and we knew we had to match that with some high-quality at-bats,” Kavadas said. “We took aggressive swings at offensive pitches, and it really paid off. … Up and down the order, the Irish are potent. When we’re swinging the bat like that and get effective starting pitching like we have, I don’t think there’s a team in the country that we can’t beat.”
Lining up on the mound across from the Irish this weekend will be a very solid set of arms from the Bulldogs. Will Bednar (7-1, 3.17 ERA) and Christian MacLeod (6-4, 3.81 ERA) are Mississippi State’s main starters on the bump, and each do a great job of keeping hitters off balance and taking command of the strike zone. Combined this season, both pitchers strikeout-to-walk totals is 215 K’s to 45 BB’s.
In relief, the Bulldogs bullpen is highlighted by Landon Sims. Over 19 appearances and 40.1 innings pitched, Sims is 3-0 with a 1.34 ERA and 78 strikeouts.
PITCHING KEY FOR IRISH
While Notre Dame’s bats have certainly set the stage so far this postseason, the pitching on the mound has almost been just as impressive.
In the first game, John Bertrand threw a complete-game shutout against the Chippewas. In the win over the Huskies, Will Mercer only allowed two earned runs during seven innings of work. And in the regional finale, Aiden Tyrell pitched eight innings and only allowed two earned runs against CMU.
“Phenomenal starting pitching,” Jarrett said. “And those guys have pitched against some tough, tough teams. … They’re pretty battle-tested, and they’ve learned the importance of every single pitch. The defense and the pitching kind of worked together, and when you do it at the level that we did all weekend, those starts can dial out a little bit further.”
That consistency and reliability the ND starters showed in South Bend this past weekend will need to be on full display once again against a strong batting lineup from Mississippi State.
The Bulldogs have six starters that hit at .269 or above, with half of them having hit a double-digit amount of home runs this season. Their two best hitters are Tanner Allen and Rowdey Jordan. Allen’s hitting .395 with eight home runs and a team-leading 58 RBI, while Jordan comes in right behind him at .329 with nine home runs and 40 RBI.
The action gets started on Saturday at 2 p.m. on ESPN for Game 1. Game 2 will be on Sunday at 6 p.m. on ESPN2 or ESPNU and Game 3 — if necessary — will be on Monday at 7 p.m. on ESPN2 or ESPNU.