Notre Dame’s David LaManna (3) rounds third base and celebrates his three-run home run against Mississippi State during the fourth inning of the Starkville NCAA Super Regional game Sunday eventing. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

STARKVILLE — Nobody said this was going to be easy. When you get to the Super Regional level, it’s not supposed to be. Indeed, Notre Dame players and coach had promised on Saturday that it would not be. And then, on a coolish Sunday evening, the Fighting Irish delivered on that vow, drubbing Mississippi State Bulldogs 9-1.

And that sets up a rubber match Monday at 6 p.m. for the right to go to the College World Series at Omaha. Call it the Rudys vs. the Dudys, or call it the Cowbells vs. the Catholics. Whatever you call it, round three of the Starkville Super Regional will decide it all.

“We gotta flush it, man,” State senior Tanner Allen said. “That’s all there is to it. They can swing the bat and they showed it.”

Rick Cleveland

Sunday’s round two had none of the drama, none of the suspense, of the Bulldogs’ 9-8 victory on Saturday. Game One was a back and forth struggle, not decided until the final out. 

Sunday was all Irish, after State’s first two batters produced the Bulldogs’ only run. The announced crowd of 13,917 thundered their appreciation when Rowdey Jordan slammed a triple off the right center field wall and then scored on Tanner Allen’s sacrifice fly to center.

Notre Dame apparently was not overly impressed, especially left-handed pitcher Aidan Tyrell, who would say afterward, “That was just one run. I knew we were going to score runs.”

The Irish wasted no time, plating two runs in the bottom of the first to take a lead they never relinquished. And after his rocky start, Tyrell was dominant. His “out” pitch was a biting slider that broke sharply downward. But he mixed the slider well with well-placed, if not overpowering fastballs, and an occasional changeup. A 90 mph fastball looks a whole lot faster if you are looking for something else.

“We couldn’t stay off the ball down,” State coach Chris Lemonis said. “We chased the ball down. He had good stuff and his velocity was a little better than we had seen on tape, as well.”

Notre Dame kept the accelerator down, scoring four more in the fourth, two in the sixth and another in the seventh. The Fighting Irish are a quality team, playing its best baseball at the right time. The Irish have now won nine of their last 11 and swept through last week’s South Bend Regional, winning three straight games by a combined total of 50-5.

The Irish thought they should have won on Saturday when they committed four errors that led to two unearned runs in a one-run defeat.

Said catcher David Lamanna, who batted in the nine-hole and slammed a three-run home run in the fourth inning — the biggest blow of the night: “To be honest, we were mad after yesterday’s loss. We felt like we should have won the game and we let them off the hook. We were confident we could come back and win the series.”

Link Jarrett, the Notre Dame coach, had pointed out Saturday that his Irish had not lost two straight games over the last two seasons. He told his team Saturday night that they should be angry and use that anger to bounce back. They did.

After committing the four miscues Saturday, the Irish sparkled in the field Sunday. The fielding gem of the night belonged to Irish second baseman Jared Miller, who made a spectacular, diving-to-his-right stab of Kellum Clark’s smashed line drive in the fifth inning. Brad Combest had opened the inning with a single and the Bulldogs could have had runners at first and third with nobody out, trailing 6-1.

“It was just a phenomenal play, and it came at a time when it seemed their crowd was really getting into it,” Jarrett said. “It was a huge play in the game. Just huge.”

Tyrell got the next two hitters on a strikeout and a fly ball to center field.

Lemonis had high praise for Tyrell — and his teammates.

“We got out-played tonight,” Lemonis said. “We had some really good at bats, hit some balls hard, but they made plays. It’s baseball. You just scratch it and get ready to play tomorrow. Our guys have always responded.

“We’ve been playing well lately; it will be fun tomorrow,” Lemonis continued. “They’re good. They’re well-coached and they are hot. They are hot at the right time. We gotta pitch a little better, make some more plays and match them.”

Lemonis would not give his pitching plan for Monday other than to say, “We should pretty much have our full bullpen available.”

Jarrett said he plans to go with junior left-hander Will Mercer (4-2, 4.53 ERA) who gave up two runs over seven innings to UConn in a 27-3 Notre Dame regional victory in his last start.

Both coaches have plenty arms available and figure to have short leashes on anyone who runs into trouble. It may sound trite, but for one team there will be no tomorrow after tomorrow.

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.