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Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024
The Observer

Looking ahead at Notre Dame's road to a College World Series

Notre Dame baseball is headed to the College World Series for the third time in program history and the first time since 2002. It is the culmination of a remarkable resurgence for the Irish baseball program since head coach Link Jarrett arrived ahead of the 2020 season. Since then, Notre Dame has the second-best winning percentage in college baseball, only behind this year’s top-ranked Tennessee team.

Road to Omaha

Notre Dame went on the road and took down the nations's best regular-season team, Tennessee, in a best-of-three series. After two relatively one-sided games to open the series it all came down to Game 3 last Sunday. In the rubber match, it was a closely contested affair until back-to-back home runs from David LaManna and Jack Brannigan gave Notre Dame a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Postseason closer freshman Jack Findlay also starred Sunday. He pitched five one-hit innings to silence an offense that led the country in home runs this season.

All of this came after Notre Dame was passed over to host a regional despite a 40-15 regular-season record and an 18-12 record in ACC play. Instead, they headed to Statesboro where stellar pitching and timely hitting saw them sweep through a regional that had three top-25 teams, as they beat No. 24 Texas Tech twice and hosts No. 21 Georgia Southern once.

Notre Dame has used this season as a redemption arc following their defeat by — eventual national champion — the Mississippi State Bulldogs in last year’s Super Regionals. It has also been reminiscent of the last time Notre Dame went to the College World Series back in 2002. Twenty years ago, they also defeated the top national seed when Paul Mainieri’s team went down to Tallahassee and beat the Florida State Seminoles in the super regionals. The 2002 team then went 1-2 in Omaha, finishing in fifth place.

What can the Irish expect in Omaha?

The College World Series is a double-elimination format just like the regionals, with the winner of each bracket heading to a best-of-three CWS Final to determine the national champion. Notre Dame finds themselves in Bracket 1 along with Texas, Oklahoma and Texas A&M.

After the opener against Texas, Notre Dame will face the winner — or loser — of the Friday afternoon Oklahoma-Texas A&M game depending on their own result.  A loss would mean an elimination game against the loser of the early Friday game on Sunday and a win would mean a game with a trip to the Bracket final on the line on Sunday.


The full bracket for the 2022 Men's College World Series.

Texas (47-20)

Notre Dame opens play Friday with a primetime game against Texas, who are making their record 38th College World Series appearance. The Longhorns arrive to Omaha after they cruised through the Austin regional before winning a thrilling series on the road in Greenville beating No. 8 national seed East Carolina.

Texas is a power-hitting team that scored 8 runs per game this season and hit 128 home runs, good for third in the nation. They showed off their offense in Greenville, scoring 27 runs in three games and hitting 10 home runs as a team. They have seven hitters with double-digit home runs, but no one has more than first baseman Ivan Melendez who leads the country with 32 home runs.

Melendez is the Big 12 Player of the Year and he’s been arguably the best hitter in college baseball this year with a .396 batting average and 1.404 OPS. The Longhorns have two more First Team All-Big 12 position players with RF/2B Stehly Murphy (1.114 OPS) and catcher Silas Ardoin (.925 OPS) who has thrown out 42% of base stealers this season.

On the mound, they have two strong starting pitchers in Pete Hansen and Lucas Gordon who sit at 3.40 and 2.68 ERA respectively. Hansen was a unanimous First Team All-Big 12 selection while Gordon made the Second Team. However, Texas has had their fair share of bullpen struggles this year as all their other pitchers have combined for a 4.69 ERA this season.

Texas A&M (42-18)

The Aggies are the No. 5 national seed and coming off a convincing run through the regionals where they scored 32 runs in 3 games. Then, they became the first team to qualify for the CWS with a pair of one-run wins over No. 12 seed Louisville — a team that swept Notre Dame in the regular season — in the College Station Super Regional.

The Aggies are a team lead by their offense, in particular, by the three-headed monster left fielder Dylan Rock, second baseman Ryan Targac and UTIL Austin Bost.  All three boast an OPS over 1.000 and were named Second Team All-SEC. In particular, Rock is a dangerous power-speed threat. He leads the team in home runs (18), on-base percentage (.480) and stolen bases (16).

On the mound, the Aggies lack a true ace starting pitcher. All three weekend starters have ERAs above 4.70. As a team, they are a little better with a cumulative 4.68 ERA that lands them 62nd in the country. The most notable arm is graduate student lefty Jake Palisch who has provided length and effectiveness for A&M with a 2.60 ERA in 52 innings over 27 appearances this season.

Oklahoma (42-22)

Oklahoma shares a similar story to Notre Dame as they had a strong regular season that didn’t result in hosting a regional. The Sooners also won the Big 12 tournament beating Texas in the final by a convincing 8-1 margin. They then went into Gainesville and beat host No. 13 Florida twice to advance to the Blacksburg Super Regional where it took a decisive Game 3 victory over the No. 4 Virginia Tech Hokies to move on to Omaha.

Much like the Longhorns and the Aggies, Oklahoma has difficulties from the mound. Outside of starter Jake Bennett (3.53 ERA) and reliever Trevin Michael (2.94 ERA) the Sooners have no arms with an ERA better than 4.80.

Offensively, they boast a team OPS of .884 with star shortstop Peyton Graham leading the team with a 1.076 OPS, 20 home runs and 70 RBI. He also leads the team with 32 stolen bases on 34 attempts. The Sooners were aggressive on the basepaths all year. Their 142 stolen bases ranked fourth in the country.

The Irish must get through this side of the bracket in a double-elimination format. If they do so, they earn a berth in the best-of-three championship series. No. 2 overall seed Stanford is the favorite on that side of the bracket. Arkansas, Ole Miss and Auburn make up the rest of the field. Notre Dame’s first game is on Friday night at 7:00 p.m. against Texas from Charles Schwab Field in Omaha, Nebraska. It will be broadcast on ESPN.