— Notre Dame Baseball (@NDBaseball) January 14, 2020
Jack Brannigan: Bringing Baseball HomeBy Jack Brannigan
Signed, The Irish: No. 9 Jack Brannigan is a freshman on the baseball team, hailing from Orland Park, Ill.
This year felt different. Coupled with a new coach and my first season at Notre Dame, I was as excited as ever heading into our preseason practices upon arrival back to campus following Christmas break. After a strong fall of workouts and practices, the team was ready to see how things would change with our new coaching staff as we began our preparation for the season. We all knew we had a special team with unique players that covered the field, filled the lineup and loaded the bullpen.
With Coach Jarrett under the helm for his first season at Notre Dame, every player felt the program changing to align with his coaching style. As practices kicked off, we noticed the changes and some extra attention to how the team was practicing. We were ready to show what we could do as a team and prove to ourselves, and to the country, that we were a different team this year.
Taking the Field
Heading into the first weekend, every player was excited for a new season to kick off, but also to see how the team had changed and developed from last year to this year. Being a freshman, I did not know what to expect in comparison to the previous year, but looking at the lineup card prior to Game 1 against UAB and seeing myself starting at third base, I felt nervous, excited and anxious all at once to prove my capabilities.
The first series was exciting and unpredictable as we won two out of the three games with big comebacks and late game heroics. Our pitchers threw well all weekend, and our team caught a glimpse at how good we could be this season. As we traveled to San Antonio and Presbyterian for our next sets of games, we felt our momentum build leading up to our opening series in the ACC against UNC.
In every game, we became more complete as a team, gained experience and got used to playing outside after practicing indoors all preseason. We knew we had something special brewing, and we were excited to prove ourselves against ACC competition.
The Big Stage
As we arrived in Chapel Hill for our series against UNC, the anticipation built to play in their beautiful stadium, in front of all of their fans and broadcast on ACC Network. Being a freshman, I had become more comfortable in every game we played, all leading up to the start of ACC play. I was looking forward to playing on TV, as I knew I had lots of friends and family members back home tuning in to finally watch me play.
On Friday night, we played an exciting game, building an early lead before UNC came back to come within one run late in the game. As Tommy Vail continued to dominate on the mound to keep our lead in relief, we were able to score some insurance runs late in the game to win the opener, 8-5. It was great as a team to build up momentum and get the first win, knowing we could clinch the series the next day.
TOP 9 | Jack Brannigan scores on a wild pitch!!
ND 8, UNC 4
— Notre Dame Baseball (@NDBaseball) March 6, 2020
Saturday’s game had more of the same excitement, as we built up an early lead before seeing it slip away. As UNC threatened to tie the game in the eighth inning, I moved from third base to the pitcher’s mound to try and close the game down. After UNC tied it, we went to extras after a scoreless ninth. In the top of the 10th inning, Eric Gilgenbach hit a bases-clearing double that gave us the lead before we ended the game in the bottom of the inning, and I received my first career win on the mound.
To win this one meant a lot for us as a group. After winning this back and forth matchup in extra innings, we knew that we had a special team that was able to keep our composure even after giving up a lead late in the game. Everyone on the team was excited to see what we would be able to accomplish over the rest of the season.
Following this win, everyone was ready to complete the sweep, but everything was shaken up for me that night. After heading to bed to rest up for Sunday’s game, I woke up in the middle of the night with a throbbing pain in my foot. I did not know where this came from or how it happened, but I immediately expected the worst.
In the morning, I worked with our trainer, Scott Stansbury, and fully expected to be unable to play Sunday’s game. After traveling to North Carolina’s medical offices for an x-ray, I received a clean x-ray and got taped up to attempt to play for the sweep. As adrenaline began to kick in, my foot began feeling much better and I saw myself in the lineup ready to win the game.
Sunday’s game was no different from the previous two against UNC. After jumping to an early lead, we again saw our lead diminish as UNC fought to avoid being swept. We regained our lead and headed into the top of the seventh inning with a 10-8 lead. After loading up the bases with two outs, I was on third base with Niko Kavadas at the plate. UNC went out for a mound visit and put in a new pitcher. After heading to the dugout for some water, Coach Jarrett called me over to point out the pitcher’s windup.
In his warmup pitches, the new pitcher would go into a slow and methodical windup that included putting his head down while his hands went over his head before he looked home to throw the pitch. After watching this windup, Coach Jarrett proposed the idea of stealing home, but as we began discussing the possibility, the pitcher switched to the stretch for his final warmup pitches. I was warned to look for the pitcher to throw from the windup and be ready to steal home if the opportunity presented itself.
Heading back to third base, I did not think much of stealing home, but as the pitcher got ready to step on the mound, he stood perpendicular to the mound to throw from the windup. Niko immediately stepped out of the box to get the sign from Coach Jarrett, in case he called for a steal of home. At this point, I was so excited to steal home that I could not understand the sign that I had received, but I knew I was able to steal based off of Coach Wallace’s reaction at third base.
I took my lead from third and slowly crept further and further off the base without being too obvious. The third baseman for UNC was shifting away from third base to defend Niko, allowing me to get a larger lead at third. As the pitcher moved his leg to start his windup, I immediately took off for home and did not hear anyone announcing my steal. After sliding into home safely without a throw, I did not think much of this feat until I got to the dugout and saw everyone celebrating my steal.
The play you all want to see again!
— Notre Dame Baseball (@NDBaseball) March 8, 2020
I immediately was mobbed as I entered the dugout. I knew that this was the kind of thing that did not happen much but could be considered as one of the most exciting plays in baseball. This steal of home effectively ended any chances of a UNC comeback, as they seemed defeated after this play. We ended up scoring three more runs in the following inning to solidify our weekend sweep with a 14-8 win.
Making Some Noise
After this win, our team knew we had a special team that would make a lot of noise in the ACC this season. What followed this game was potentially more overwhelming for me as I began receiving texts from friends back home that saw the steal and were congratulating me, including thousands of people seeing the video of me stealing home.
The highlight of these reactions had to be a tweet from former Notre Dame Baseball and Football standout Golden Tate, who enjoyed the play and gave the team a shout-out. All of this excitement was crazy for me to see as a freshman and really made me acknowledge how amazing the experience of playing for Notre Dame is.
I see ya boys!!!! Take full advantage https://t.co/AR6j9G22Ai
— Golden Tate (@ShowtimeTate) March 8, 2020
After a midweek game in Radford, Virginia, we arrived in Louisville for a weekend series when we received word that our season was postponed, and then later canceled, in response to the Coronavirus outbreak. We were on our way to a practice at Louisville when we received this news, and immediately turned the bus around to go back to the hotel and schedule trips back to our hometowns. In no way was anyone expecting to lose this season after such a promising first month, but after a few weeks, our focus shifted immediately to next season.
My first month of Irish baseball was memorable one, with each weekend more fun than the one prior, and I was looking forward to completing the rest of our season and making noise in the ACC. I learned so much from everyone on the team, and the experience I gained will be extremely valuable for the seasons to come.
After seeing our team grow and mature from opening weekend until now, we know how good we can be next season as we work with Coach Jarrett, and we know that next season will be just as exciting as this shortened season was.
As a team, we are looking forward to getting back to work this summer with our individual teams, and then grow as a team next fall and winter in preparation. Notre Dame Baseball will be back and better than ever next season, and we look forward to making a lot of noise come June 2021.