As the ball soared off Ryan Cole’s bat and began its journey over the left field fence, the Fighting Irish were already preparing to rapidly clear the dugout and give their teammate a proper Gatorade-soaked welcome at home plate. Cole’s walk-off homerun not only finished off the visiting Blue Devils in dramatic fashion, but also gave Notre Dame Baseball their first home win in almost two years. The wildly energetic scene on the field after the game represented not only a supremely satisfying conclusion to a grueling thirteen-inning game, but also the sensational trajectory of the program under head coach Link Jarrett.
When he started the job in the summer of 2019, Jarrett inherited a program that had failed to record a winning record or reach the NCAA Tournament in the last four seasons. But the new coach seemingly jump-started the program on arrival. The 2020 season was cut short due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Irish displayed a new promise in the games the team was able to play before the season’s cancellation. The Irish finished up 2020 at 11-2 and on a seven-game win streak, providing the momentum to propel the team forward into Jarrett’s first full year at the helm.
Whatever elevated expectations the Irish had coming into 2021 after their success in 2020’s abbreviated season, Link Jarrett’s crew has certainly exceeded them thus far. Standing at 10-3 (9-3 in the ACC), Notre Dame has replicated last season’s winning ways against much stiffer competition. The Irish have won every series they’ve played so far this season, while playing mostly conference road games.
The team’s run of victories has seen the Irish race up through the national rankings. The Irish now sit at No. 12 in Baseball America’s Top 25 Rankings and are included in the top-15 of most widely recognized lists.
The integral role of Jarrett’s leadership in the Irish’ newfound success is undeniable, but any discussion of Notre Dame Baseball would be remiss not to highlight the veteran talent that has spurred this reversal in fortune. At the plate, two seniors lead the way: second baseman Jared Miller tops regular starters with a .352 batting average and five steals, and first baseman Niko Kavadas has slugged his way to a team-high nine home runs (placing him at second in the nation) and 23 RBIs. On the mound, two graduate transfers have bolstered the pitching corps: Reliever Joe Sheridan has yet to give up an earned run in 14.1 innings pitched, and starting pitcher John Michael Bertrand has managed a 3-0 record in four starts (including a complete game win against Duke) — posting a 3.38 ERA with a staff-high 22 strikeouts.
The next step for the surging Irish is a home date with the sixth-ranked Louisville Cardinals. This monumental top-15 clash will likely be the most consequential series to take place at Frank Eck Stadium in recent memory, and will be an excellent challenge for a Notre Dame team that is looking to take another leap towards the top of the college baseball landscape.
While the Irish are only thirteen games into a long season, their red-hot start has given the Irish faithful reason to hope, but only time will tell if the team will achieve some of the program’s loftier goals. After this start, reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2015 seems like a very reasonable expectation, but some higher aspirations such as an ACC Championship, hosting a regional and even making a run to Omaha and getting a shot at a College World Series will require the team to build upon the performance and energy that has propelled them this far.
But after years of mediocrity, the very idea that the Irish could likely be heading back to a regional and that the mention of Omaha is not met with laughter is a testament to the way that Jarrett has already transformed this program in his first couple of years at Notre Dame. It’s also evidence of how he has put Notre Dame on the right track towards becoming a great name in the sport.