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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
The Observer

Irish qualify for NCAA Tournament, open against Texas Tech in Statesboro regional

Notre Dame baseball will begin its NCAA Tournament run in the Statesboro regional next weekend. During Monday’s selection show, the Irish were announced as the No. 2 seed in the region hosted by Georgia Southern, who earned the No. 16 national seed. Notre Dame’s first game in the four-team, double-elimination tournament will come against Texas Tech. Fourth-seeded UNC Greensboro completes the region, opening against Georgia Southern.

Notre Dame’s position as a No. 2 seed comes as a surprise to many. The Irish were widely viewed as a potential top-eight seed and surefire regional host. Notre Dame ranks 13th nationally in the RPI and was projected as the No. 8 national seed by D1 Baseball entering Sunday after a strong regular season that saw them finish with a record of 35-14 and 18-12 in ACC play (including ACC Tournament games).

Irish enter hot

The Irish enter the tournament playing some of their best baseball of the season, having won 12 of their final 17 regular season games. They also made a run to the semifinals of last week’s ACC Tournament.

Pitching has been a particular strength for the team as of late. Notre Dame allowed just three total runs in wins against NCAA Tournament-bound opponents Florida State and Virginia during the ACC Tournament. Masterful outings on the mound from All-ACC selection John Michael Bertrand and junior Liam Simon led the way. These wins carried the Irish through pool play and earned them a berth in the semifinals. There they fell to eventual tournament champion North Carolina in a game decided in the later innings.

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Max Petrosky | The Observer
Notre Dame outfielder Ryan Cole (1) celebrates with his teammates after hitting a home run against Purdue Fort Wayne at Frank Eck Stadium on April 20. The Fighting Irish defeated the Mastodons 12-2.

Tough road ahead

The Irish’s road to Omaha appears to be a challenging one, and it will begin against Texas Tech. The Red Raiders finished second in a loaded Big 12 with a 15-9 conference record, picking up series victories against two nationally seeded opponents. They toppled both No. 7 Oklahoma State and No. 9 Texas. In the other half of the region, host Georgia Southern has been tough to beat at home all season, posting a 24-6 record in Statesboro. Additionally, UNC Greensboro is riding a wave of momentum after winning the Southern Conference Tournament.

Looking ahead, the Statesboro regional is paired with the Knoxville regional, hosted by No. 1 national seed Tennessee. The Volunteers have looked like the best team in the country all season and enter the tournament with a 53-7 record. They won both the SEC regular season and tournament titles in dominant fashion. If Notre Dame emerges from their regional, they would likely be staring down a Super Regional matchup against Tennessee in Knoxville. Tennessee’s opener comes against Alabama State. Georgia Tech and Campbell make up the rest of the region.

One step further

Notre Dame makes its second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance after qualifying only once in the previous 14 seasons. The Irish will look to advance to the College World Series for just the third time in program history, the last since 2002. The Irish had a historic offensive outburst in last year’s South Bend Regional, outscoring their three opponents by a combined score of 50-3. The team advanced to the Super Regional in Starkville, where they fell to eventual national champion Mississippi State in three games.

The Irish will look to advance even further this year, and their quest to capture their first national championship starts this weekend as they take on Texas Tech in Statesboro. First pitch is at 2 p.m. ET. The regional round takes place from June 3 to June 6.