Irish Baseball Season Wrap Part One: Offensive Explosion Fuels 11-2 Start
First-year Notre Dame head baseball coach Link Jarrett had his squad rolling to kickoff the 2020 season.
For the third time this century, the program was off to an 11-2 start and had just swept conference foe North Carolina on the road, the winner of the 2019 ACC Tournament.
But the following weekend, as the team was in Louisville to take on the No. 2 Cardinals, the season came to an abrupt halt due to the coronavirus pandemic that is now impacting the entire nation.
At first, Jarrett wasn’t sure if the season would have a chance to resume or not. It has since been canceled and Notre Dame’s hot start is over.
“To go to North Carolina and play the way we did against a traditionally capable and strong team, it was just impressive and enjoyable but unfortunate that that’s the end of it for this year,” Jarrett said.
The key to Notre Dame’s early success?
A high-octane offense fueled by contact hitters, power at the plate and an aggressive approach on the base path.
Out of 298 Division I teams, the Fighting Irish finished the season No. 9 in the country in runs per game (8.9).
To accomplish this feat, they had to do more than simply dominate weaker opponents.
In the three-game series against North Carolina, Notre Dame averaged 11.0 runs per contest, which included a 14-8 victory in the final game, the team’s highest scoring output of the season.
The individual leaders for Notre Dame in those categories are junior and switch-hitting center fielder Spencer Myers with a .431 batting average (tied for No. 31 in the country) and first baseman Niko Kavadas with seven home runs in 13 games (No. 5 in terms of home runs per game).
“[Kavadas’] power is phenomenal. His ability to drive balls to all fields is unique,” Jarrett said. “He had some huge home runs for us. Big, big home runs. If you do the math and string that out for [an entire season] those are big numbers that were coming.”
Yet even with such a strong showing at the plate, Notre Dame isn’t afraid to play small ball. What drove the Notre Dame offensive is the speed and tenacity its players showed on the base paths.
At 2.69 stolen bases per game, the Fighting Irish finished the season at No. 4 in the country, with the three teams ahead of them playing against a lower tier of competition.
Notre Dame also isn’t afraid to lay down a bunt if the moment calls for it.
“I like that stuff and I think you have to be able to do it against good teams because you’re not just going to sit there and bang away at really good pitching staff and score via just hitting, hitting, hitting,” Jarrett said. “You have to be able to bunt, you have to be able to run the bases.”
In addition to having the highest batting average, Myers also leads the team and the nation in stolen bases per game, and he finished the season as the only Division I player to average more than one stolen base with 1.25 per contest (the next closest was Western Michigan catcher Connor Charping with 0.83 stolen bases per game).
This comes after Myers led the team in stolen bases in 2019 with 28, the highest total by a Fighting Irish player since A.J. Pollock (currently with the Los Angeles Dodgers) also had 28 in 2008. In 13 games, Myers already had 15 stolen bases.
Jarrett says Myers’ strong start is especially impressive since he was unable to practice with the team in the fall.
“I've coached a lot of exceptional players speed-wise, base running-wise, but his instincts are as good as anybody I’ve ever coached,” Jarrett said. “He has just a tremendous feel for what he’s doing.”