SOUTH BEND — Prior to 2020, the Notre Dame baseball program hadn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2015, hadn’t been a conference champion since 2006 and hadn’t advanced beyond the regional round in the postseason since 2002.

In just three seasons, Like Jarrett has updated all of those numbers for the Fighting Irish.

After winning the ACC regular season championship in 2021, Notre Dame won a regional on its home field to advance to the super regional round. This season, the Irish have one-upped that success, knocking off top-ranked Tennessee in last weekend’s super regional to advance to its first College World Series since 2002.

Jarrett has received a lot of credit for the turnaround, and rightfully so. He had Notre Dame off to an 11-2 start in the 2020 season before the COVID-19 pandemic shut things down. Notre Dame then wen 34-13 last year and are currently 40-15 this season as they get ready to face Texas in an opening-round game of the CWS Friday at 7 p.m. in Omaha, Nebraska.

For graduate senior David LaManna, he saw the impact Jarrett was going to have on the program right away.

“I remember in our first practice, we were just doing what we do now every single day, and we all looked at each other after practice and said, ‘That’s the most work we’ve ever gotten done in that amount of time. We’re going to be so ready when the season comes,’” LaManna said. “Even from the first practice, we knew that we were going to be prepared.”

LaManna also gave credit to the way Jarrett manages within the game.

“Link has just made a difference in-game,” LaManna said. “Really focusing on the details of every pitch, every at-bat — defensively, the same thing. And I think that’s really where Link has separated a lot of it for us.”

Along with an on-field impact, Jarrett has made a difference off the field for the Irish players as well.

“Link was huge when he came into the program,” senior Jared Miller said. “He kind of changed the way we thought about the culture and how we go about things.”

MAINIERI’S IMPACT STILL BEING FELT

The last time the Irish made the College World Series was 2002. That year’s team was led by Paul Mainieri, who would eventually go on to lead LSU to a national championship in 2009. Mainieri’s 1,505 career wins currently ranks 11th all-time in NCAA baseball history.

Despite his final 12 seasons as a coach coming in Baton Rouge, Mainieri still had deep ties to the Notre Dame program. So much so that when Jarrett was hired for the job in the summer of 2019, Mainieri was one of the first people to call him.

“Before I even got here, Paul was like, ‘I’m going to tell you some of the things I think you need to know as you enter Notre Dame,’” Jarrett recalled. “And I sat in a little Starbucks near my house in North Carolina for 40 minutes, and I literally was writing things down — and some of the stuff, 100% I agreed with and I did.”

Earlier this season, Notre Dame held a 20th anniversary reunion of that 2002 World Series team. Mainieri was one of the returnees, and Jarrett had the former coach speak to the current group of players.

Jarrett said the speech offered a “full circle” moment for Mainieri and the program.

“He came out there, and I think him talking to that group meant a lot to the group,” Jarrett said. “And when I say ‘full circle,’ I think it kind of closed that circle for him, too.”

Mainieri was watching this past Sunday when the Irish closed off the upset of Tennessee, shocking the college baseball world. Now, the former Notre Dame coach gets to head to Omaha and cheer on the team he led to The Cornhusker State two decades ago.

“Coach Mainieri texted me he’s going to be there, and he’s emotional about this,” Jarrett said. “He might be more emotional about it than I am right now. That’s how much Notre Dame means to all of us, including someone that, obviously, ended their career elsewhere.”

AMERICA’S TEAM?

A lot of people watched the series unfold between Notre Dame and Tennessee last weekend. In fact, the series finale was the most-watched super regional game on ESPN since 2019, according to the network.

While the profile of the game drew many people to their television sets, a lot of it also stemmed from the polarizing attitude that the Volunteer team had created. While Tennessee was the No. 1 team for a reason, their antics both on and off the field had rubbed a lot of people the wrong way.

This put Notre Dame into the “lovable underdog” role, one it rarely finds itself in as a school. Whether these new found fans will help them in Omaha this weekend is to be determined.

“I think our team enjoys riding the moment of what that felt like and what that meant,” Jarrett said. “Did the country enjoy that? I think the country enjoyed watching the competition level in Knoxville. Does the combination of that make us any sort of favorite (in the CWS)? I don’t feel that it does. It clearly let everyone see what we can do and what we’re capable of, though.”

Austin Hough can be reached at austin.hough@goshennews.com or at 574-538-2360. Follow him on Twitter at @AustinHoughTGN.

Trending Video