Coming off the series-opening loss last Friday, the No. 12 Notre Dame baseball team battled back on Saturday as the game came down to the final inning. With Louisville tying the game in the top of the ninth, Ryan Cole was at it again with his second walk-off home run in as many weeks as the Irish defeated No. 6 Louisville 5-3 to tie the series.
“(John Michael) Bertrand got us deep into the game and was in control of his outing, as we have seen before,” said head coach Link Jarrett. “Our defense played very well and there were very nice plays at essentially every defense position on the field. (Jack) Brannigan had a great day at the plate, at third, and to come in and help close out the ninth.”
The Irish (11-4, 10-4 ACC) took the lead in the seventh inning after plating three runs in the inning to go ahead 3-2 which held until the top of the ninth. Alex Binelas hit a solo home run to tie it in the top of the ninth. The Cardinals (16-6, 8-3 ACC) got a runner to third but Brannigan took to the mound and got the Irish out of the inning.
“Baseball is such a great game and to think you would see the same guy hit his second walk-off home run in six home games is simply amazing,” stated Jarrett. “Louisville is a very good team…”
Here is how it happened…
Following a one-out single from David LaManna, Cole took a 2-1 pitch over the bushes in left field for his second career walk-off home run. With the win, the Irish ended a 20-game losing streak to the Cardinals and tied the weekend series heading into Sunday.
Bertrand set down the first nine batters of the game in order. The Irish had the first seven batters retired in order before Brannigan got the first hit of the game for either team in the bottom of the third. Louisville did not get their first hit of the game until the fifth inning but that made it count. Lucas Dunn reached on a single and then stole second to get in scoring position. With two outs Levi Usher hit one back up the middle that scored Dunn and gave the Cardinals a 1-0 lead after five innings. Louisville added another run in the sixth inning with a leadoff solo home run from Cooper Bowman. The homer doubled the lead for the Cardinals at 2-0 after six innings.
The Irish offense woke up in the seventh inning and it started with a leadoff single to right from Jared Miller. After advancing to second on a ground out and stealing third, he scored on Brooks Coetzee’s single to center. Cole went from first to third on the play and Coetzee made it to second on the throw into the plate. Brannigan stepped up and launched a double off the wall in center that scored the pair and put the Irish up 3-2. The Cardinals tied the game in the ninth off Binelas’ solo shot but Brannigan kept the Irish tied after getting the final two outs of the inning. Cole’s heroics in the ninth propelled the Irish to their 10th conference win and sets up a rubber match on Sunday. However, the game was cancelled due to inclement weather…
Notre Dame (11-4, 10-4 ACC) is one-third of the way through its 2021 college baseball season and is now ranked No. 13, per D1 Baseball. The Irish have yet to lose an ACC series. This includes splitting two games with No. 7 Louisville this past weekend after inclement weather on Sunday indefinitely postponed game three. After back-to-back weekends at home, Notre Dame will hit the road again to face No. 24 Pittsburgh (12-8, 8-7 ACC) at Charles L. Cost Field. Game one was scheduled for Thursday at 3 p.m., but inclement weather and on-campus conflicts have pushed game one of the series to Saturday.
Cole has been the catalyst:
In his first three seasons at Notre Dame, outfielder Cole accumulated 26 starts while producing a career .207 batting average.
Then in a Friday evening game on March 19 against Duke — the first game at Notre Dame’s Frank Eck Stadium in 677 days — Cole subbed in for starting left fielder Alex Brait with the game tied at 4-4.
The ball game ended up lasting 13 innings. Cole went 2 for 3 at the plate, including a two-run, walk-off dinger to give Notre Dame a 6-4 win.
It was his first career home run.
This earned him his second start of the season the following day against Duke in game two. He responded with an inside-the-park home run in a 6-2 victory. One weekend later, Cole found himself in a similar spot versus No. 7 Louisville. With the game tied at 3-3 in the bottom of the ninth inning, he swung on the first pitch and belted it over the left field fence for his second walk-off home run in as many weeks. But it’s been so much more than clutch plays for Cole. He’s hitting a team-high .360 and has the second-best slugging percentage at .720.
Kavadas has been punishing the ball:
Watch Notre Dame first baseman and left-handed cleanup hitter Niko Kavadas at the plate, and it’s easy to be fooled by his muscular 6-1 and 235-pound frame. Most opponents view him as if he’s a dead pull hitter, hoping to groove inside fastballs and hanging curves. That’s why they employ such a dramatic infield shift against him, moving their shortstop to the right of second base. Yet, Kavadas is a complete hitter, with a disciplined eye and a calculated approach. He’s just as likely to turn on a 1-2 curveball thrown over the inner half of the plate as he is to smack a 3-1 outside fastball over the left field fence.
“When he gets his pitch, he's disciplined enough and he doesn't come out of what he's trying to do,” said Notre Dame head coach Link Jarrett. “With some power guys, you see them get pull-oriented when they're hunting a pitch or a zone and they think they're going to pull it. He obviously doesn't do that. He's hit home runs to every part of the park and probably more of them to center and left field.”
This approach has aided him as he’s hit an NCAA-leading 0.67 home runs per contest (with a minimum of five games played).
Is Notre Dame’s defensive success sustainable?
In 15 games, Notre Dame has committed just five errors and has an NCAA-leading fielding percentage of .991.
But at times, Notre Dame has looked sloppy defensively, especially on Friday against No. 7 Louisville when the Irish committed two errors and had several other lapses in judgment (such as Jared Miller being late to cover second on a steal attempt). This was the second time this season the Irish had two errors in a single game.
More than likely, Notre Dame was just experiencing nerves against Louisville, acutely aware of the fact that they were facing a team that the Irish had lost to 19 games in a row.
Of course, Notre Dame bounced back and played sound defense the following day in a 5-3 win. But such defensive lapses are a slight cause for concern, especially in future high-pressure situations.
Notre Dame is in position it hasn’t been since the Paul Maineiri years!
Keep in rollin’ Irish!