The magical season that was 20 years in the making has come to a close. With its season on the line, Notre Dame’s offense couldn’t come to life in its elimination game against Texas A&M at the College World Series. The Fighting Irish (41-16) mustered five hits and saw its season end with a 5-1 loss to the Aggies (44-19).
Who Notre Dame’s starting pitcher would be was the question that wouldn’t be answered, at least publicly, until the line-ups cards were turned in, but head coach Link Jarrett and pitching coach Chuck Ristano landed on Liam Simon, who hadn’t pitched since a short outing in the Super Regional clincher vs Tennessee.
Simon started as well as could have been expected. Against an A&M team that likes to take pitches and grind at-bats, the right-hander fired first pitch strikes to two of the first three batters of the game.
He got ahead of Trevor Werner 0-2, before falling behind 3-2 when he couldn’t locate his slider, but finished him off with a 97 mph fastball. He then fanned Jack Moss on three pitches and struck out Dylan Rock looking at a 1-2 breaking ball.
Simon’s 2nd inning ran the gamut. He got ahead of Austin Bost to lead off the inning, but the Aggie designated hitter pounced on a 1-2 breaking ball. It one-hopped the left field wall for a double.
Simon then issued a four-pitch walk to Ryan Torgac, giving the Aggies runners and first and second with no outs, pushing Jack Findlay into action in the Irish bullpen.
The junior threw seven straight balls, before finally firing a strike to Troy Claunch, who eventually struck out looking at a slider on the outside corner. Simon followed that by picking off Bost, and then he struck out Brett Minich on another slider to end the frame.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame mustered just one base runner through the first two innings. Leadoff man Ryan Cole reached on an error by Werner at third base and reached second on a sacrifice bunt by Spencer Myers.
Simon walked No. 8 batter Jordan Thompson on four pitches to start the 3rd. The centerfielder was awarded second base on a balk call on Simon and then took third when Myers couldn’t reel in a shallow pop-up behind second base.
The Aggies loaded the bases with no outs when Simon walked Werner when the line-up flipped back to the top of the order, prompting Link Jarrett to call to Findlay in the bullpen for a lefty-lefty match-up with Moss in the 2-hole.
Findlay struck out Moss, but Rock hit a hard chopper behind third base. It was backhanded by Jack Brannigan, but the Irish third baseman threw it in the dirt across the diamond, allowing the game’s first two runs to score and putting runners at 2nd and 3rd with one out.
Findlay walked Bost, to again load the bases, and then the Aggies added another run to make it 3-0 thanks to a sacrifice fly to right by Torgac. The Irish caught a break when they threw out a base runner on the relay to the infield.
Just one of the three runs Simon (2-1) allowed were earned. He struck out five with three walks in 2.0 innings.
Cole was Notre Dame’s lone base runner through the first three innings. In addition to reaching on the error his first time up, he was hit by pitch with two outs in the 3rd, but was left on base both times.
After a one out single by Minich in the 4th, Thompson followed with a bouncer back to the mound off Findlay’s glove that skidded into the outfield grass passed the diving effort of Zack Prajzner as shortstop, advancing Minich to third, but a 6-4-3 double play off the bat of No. 9 batter Kole Kaler quelled the Aggie threat.
David LaManna finally got their first hit of the game with a one-out single in the 4th. A&M second baseman Targac snared a line drive off Brannigan’s bat to rob the Irish third baseman of a hit.
Werner made it 4-0 Aggies when he led-off the 5th inning with his seventh home run of the season. Moss followed that with his team-leading 18th double. He advanced to third when the next pitch bounced off LaManna’s catcher’s mitt and
Moss would be the last batter Findlay faced as he exited in favor of righthander Alex Rao, who gave up the fourth straight hit to start the inning on a single by Bost, before Targac flied to left for the first out. A lineout to shortstop and a strikeout ended the inning, but it was 5-0 A&M.
Findlay’s final line: 2.0 IP, two runs on five hits with a walk and a strikeout.
Notre Dame got a leadoff double from Jared Miller, who moved down in the order from 2nd to 7th, to start the 5th inning, but Dettmer got a strikeout and a pair of groundouts against the next three Irish batters to leave Miller stranded at second.
Rao exited after issuing a walk and a single in the 6th. Will Mercer bounced a pitch to advance the runners to second and third with one out, but the Irish lefty recorded his first strikeout. A walk to Rock loaded the bases, but the bases would stay full after Bost flew to center to end the top of the inning.
Dettmer retired Notre Dame in order in his 6th and final inning. He had allowed 17 runs in his previous three starts combined, including seven in just 1.2 inning four days earlier in the CWS-opening start versus Oklahoma, but he was a different pitcher against Notre Dame.
The righthander fired 7.0 shutout innings on three days rest with six strikeouts and no walks. He had allowed 17 runs in 10.1 total innings in his previous three combined starts.
Dettmer’s exit gave the Fighting Irish the sign of life they had hoped for when No. 8 batter Brooks Coetzee homered to left on the second pitch from Brad Rudis to lead off the 8th.
The righthander followed by hitting ND leadoff batter Ryan Cole with a 1-2 offering and then issued a five-pitch walk to Spencer Myers, prompting Aggie head coach Jim Schlossnagle to go to Joseph Menefee with two on and not outs.
Menefee struck out Carter Putz on a swing and miss breaking ball and then LaManna grounded into a 5-3 double play to end the inning with the Irish trailing 5-1. Menefee recorded the game’s final six outs for his seventh save, to send the Aggies to Wednesday’s elimination game vs Oklahoma.
The Irish struck out eight times and left seven base runners stranded in the loss. Notre Dame batters finished their three games of the College World Series with 31 strikeouts and just six walks.
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