SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame is making just its third College World Series appearance.
It’s first opponent in the tournament, Texas, is making its 39th trip to Omaha, Nebraska, for college baseball’s biggest showcase.
If the past two seasons have shown anything, though, it’s that the Fighting Irish won’t be intimidated by the history and success of the Longhorns program.
Notre Dame (40-15) begins its journey toward its first national championship in baseball Friday against No. 9 Texas (47-20) at 7 p.m. ET. The first game of the day features Oklahoma (42-22) taking on No. 5 Texas A&M (42-18) at 2 p.m. ET. Both games will be televised on ESPN.
“This is (road) trip 13 I think, and you’re playing other super regional-caliber and College World Series-caliber programs,” Notre Dame coach Link Jarrett said. “Those events in the ACC turn into super regional weekends when you go to Louisville, Raleigh, Tallahassee, Miami, Duke — they’re teams that have all been through it. … No team has endured more than this group. They deserve this. They deserve this trip.”
A Notre Dame win advances them to the winner’s bracket within their four-team pod. A loss, and the Irish will be forced to win four-straight elimination games to advance to the championship series. Regardless of the outcome Friday, Notre Dame will play again Sunday at either 2 or 7 p.m.
The other side of the bracket features No. 2 Stanford, No. 14 Auburn, Arkansas and Ole Miss. The winners of each quadrant advance to the three-game championship series, which begin Saturday, June 25.
While this is the first trip to the College World Series for these Irish players, Jarrett has gone to Omaha multiple times. He went all four years he was a player at Florida State (1991-94) and also went to watch his son, J.T., play there as a member of NC State last season.
“I think it’s along the lines of Augusta or the events that happen in the same spot every year,” said Jarrett when asked to describe what the CWS is like. “I think that mystique and how the city and the country embrace it — this weekend is one of the best spectacles in athletics. The opening weekend of the College World Series is amazing. … You just say ‘Omaha’ and people know exactly what that’s about.”
HOW THEY GOT HERE
The Fighting Irish pulled off the biggest upset of the college baseball season last weekend, knocking off No. 1 Tennessee in a three-game series in Knoxville. Notre Dame won game one 8-6, lost game two 12-4 before rallying in game three to win, 7-3. They scored six unanswered runs in the final three innings against the Volunteers, including back-to-back home runs from David LaManna and Jack Brannigan to turn a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 lead in the seventh.
“We’ve always been confident,” LaManna said. “Even last weekend, we were going into that confident. To the outside world, maybe it looked like an upset. But in here, we knew we always had it in us to win. So, I don’t know if the confidence continues to grow or it just stays where it’s been at since the beginning of the year.”
“That was the craziest moment I’ve ever had on a baseball field,” senior Jared Miller added. “… When Dave hit that home run, it really brought a swing of momentum, and then Jack piled it on. From that point on, we never looked back.”
It was redemption for the Irish after falling one game short of the CWS in 2021. Notre Dame lost a three-game super regional series to Mississippi State last season, a series they had to play on the road in Starkville.
LaManna said he and his Irish teammates used that loss as motivation to make it farther in the NCAA tournament this year.
“Last year, we just kind of had a taste of it, but our goal was to make it to Omaha last year,” LaManna said. “And when we walked out of Mississippi State, we kind of looked at each other and were like, ‘Our goal next year is to win the whole thing.’”
Texas, much like Notre Dame, went 3-0 in their regional, beating Air Force twice sandwiched around a victory over Louisiana Tech.
Then, in the super regional, the Longhorns went into Greenville, North Carolina, and beat No. 8 East Carolina. After losing the first game of the series to the Pirates and trailing 7-2 in the bottom of the seventh inning of the second contest, Texas rallied back to win, 9-8, before overwhelming ECU, 11-1, in the finale to advance to Omaha.
The Longhorns have scored 53 runs in their six postseason games so far. Notre Dame will turn to its ace pitcher in graduate senior John Michael Bertrand to try and slow down Texas, who’s coming off a tough outing in the super regional against Tennessee. Bertrand gave up six earned runs in less than five innings in the only loss the Irish had to the Volunteers in the series.
“We need Bertrand to be on his ‘A’ game,” Jarrett said. “Their right-handed lineup is physical. … J.M. needs to be a little better with his fastball command, his breaking pitches need to have a little bit more depth and his changeup has to be a factor against this lineup. They do everything well.”