For the second straight year, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish baseball team are in the Super Regionals as one of the last 16 teams standing. A year after losing in three games to the eventual national champions, the task this year for the Irish is to go to Knoxville and beat the #1 team in the country, the Tennessee Volunteers two out of three. On Friday night they took step one, using some early offense and clutch pitching to beat Tennessee and take a 1-0 series lead. They are now just one win away from a trip to Omaha.
Notre Dame 8 - Tennessee 6
Win: Alex Rao, ND (3-1)
Loss: Blade Tidwell, UT (3-2)
Save: Jack Findlay, ND (3)
Notre Dame came into the series against the top ranked Volunteers knowing that they would need a combination of offense and pitching to win. The offense wasted no time getting this started right away Friday in the top of the first inning. With a runner on third Carter Putz took a 1-2 pitch the other way for a home run over the right field fence for an early 2-0 lead.
They kept things going in the second inning with another home run. This time Jared Miller pulled one to right center for a solo home run, 3-0 Notre Dame. Next inning Jack Zyska hit a home run of his own, two runs, for a 5-0 Notre Dame lead. Austin Temple, who started the game for Notre Dame and worked his way out of trouble in the first two innings, finally cracked in the third. Jordan Beck hit a long fly ball to dead center field that ended up being nothing more than a long sacrifice fly, but it got Tennessee on the board.
The offense came right back for Notre Dame in the fourth inning with another home run, this time Jack Brannigan hit it to left field for three more Irish runs. In the bottom half of the inning Trey Lipscomb got a run back for Tennessee with a solo home run that chased Temple from the game. He was replaced by Alex Rao who was able to keep the score 5-2.
Things got a little bit interesting in the fifth inning, when Tennessee’s Drew Gilbert disagreed with a strike call against him. He had a few choice words for the umpire and was ejected from the game straight away. That drew the ire of the Volunteer bench, eventually getting pitching coach Frank Anderson thrown out of the game too. After things settled down Rao got out of the inning without any damage on the scoreboard.
In the sixth inning Jorel Ortega hit another solo home run for Tennessee to make it 8-3. The bottom of the seventh inning saw the Volunteers add two more runs on a hard hit ball that caromed off of the arm of shortstop Zack Prajzner and bounced all the way to the left field wall. Jack Findlay came on in the eighth inning to pitch for Notre Dame and retired the side while keeping the score 8-5. He came back out for the ninth inning and got one out before giving up another Tennessee home run to make it a two run game. That was all they would get though, as Findlay shut the door to earn the save.
Notre Dame now finds themselves one win away from a trip to Omaha for the program’s third College World Series appearance. Because of the way the schedule worked out last weekend with weather delays, they will be able to pitch ace John Michael Bertrand tomorrow to try to clinch the series. The Irish and Volunteers play game two in Knoxville Saturday at 2pm ET.