The Central Michigan baseball team has felt like it’s been playing must-win games all season, with no Mid-American Conference tournament in 2021.
Now, the Chippewas really will face a do-or-die game.
Behind a complete-game gem from lefty John Michael Bertrand and two monster home runs from Niko Kavadas, top-seeded Notre Dame blew past No. 4 seed Central Michigan, 10-0, in the opening game of the South Bend Regional.
Central Michigan (40-17) must win out or be eliminated from the NCAA Tournament. It will play either Michigan or Connecticut in Saturday’s noon game at Frank Eck Stadium.
“Apparently you don’t win the ACC by five games with just pure luck, as it turns out,” Central Michigan head coach Jordan Bischel said. “Shocker there.
“You lose like this is Game 15 or Game 20 or Game 30, you’re probably gonna have a little bit of a feeling-lousy period. I just don’t think there’s any time for that.”
The Chippewas were shut out for the first time this season, as the Fighting Irish got to ace pitcher and redshirt freshman Andrew Taylor in the fourth inning. In the frame, Notre Dame scored three times, hitting for the cycle in one inning, highlighted by a massive homer by Kavadas to right-center.
Kavadas later homered off Taylor to dead center, spurring a six-run sixth inning. That home run blew things open, and came right after Central Michigan lost a review on a bang-bang play at first.
Kavadas now has 18 home runs this season; Central, as a team, has 15. Kavadas struck out his first time out, his eight strikeout in his previous eight plate appearances.
“It’s just falling back on preparation that we’ve done,” Kavadas told ESPN afterward, speaking of his turnaround against Taylor.
“He was a good arm. We were prepared for it.”
The two home runs by Kavadas matched the total home runs Taylor had allowed all season, in 14 regular-season starts. He also gave up two doubles and two triples.
Taylor, relying heavily on his fastball which is his norm, allowed seven runs on 10 hits in five innings, after cruising through the first three innings. The MAC pitcher of the year struck out the Notre Dame side in the second inning, giving him 124 for the year — a single-season record for Central Michigan.
It was the first time all season Bischell pulled Taylor before pitch count dictated doing so. Taylor threw 84 pitches, 57 for strikes. He walked one and struck out five. In other words, Notre Dame earned what it got.
“He’s really good for a young guy at kind of managing his workload in a game, not unloading the chamber before he has to,” Bischel said of Taylor, adding perhaps the adrenaline got to him early in Friday afternoon’s game. “I think he probably worked a little harder in those first three innings. … Maybe he used up a little bit of energy.”
The Chippewas, meanwhile, managed just six base runners, and five hits, all singles, off Bertrand, who has emerged as a force for the Fighting Irish (31-11) after transferring from the defunct Furman baseball program.
Mario Camilletti had two of the hits
Bertrand, facing a Central Michigan lineup that is top 10 in the nation in on-base percentage but which started five left-handed hitters, gave up a walk and struck out six for 10th-ranked Notre Dame, which was picked to be last in the ACC before the season.
“He’s a pretty good pitcher,” said Camilletti, “I’m not going to lie to you.
“Our feeling is, we’re all down right now. With a few, couple hours, we’re all gonna be back up where we need to be.”
Central Michigan, in the NCAA Tournament for the second time in a row (2019, 2021; 2020 was canceled), saw its eight-game winning streak snapped.
SOUTH BEND REGIONAL
At Frank Eck Stadium, South Bend, Indiana
►Game 1: No. 1 Notre Dame 10, No. 4 Central Michigan 0
►Game 2: No. 2 UConn (33-17) vs. No. 3 Michigan (27-17), 7 (ESPN3)
►Game 3: Central Michigan (40-17) vs. Game 2 loser, noon
►Game 4: Notre Dame (31-11) vs. Game 2 winner, 6
►Game 5: Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 loser, noon
►Game 6: Game 4 winner vs. Game 5 winner, 6
Monday (if necessary)
►Game 7: 1
Our special thanks to:detroitnews.com