Blue and Gold Illustrated

May 2021 Issue

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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40 MAY 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED ND SPORTS BY ANDREW MENTOCK A stout 6-1 and 235 pounds, Niko Kavadas is the ideal size for a mod- ern-day middle linebacker, but with an old-school ferocity. From under his golden helmet, he often glares at his opponents who are intimidated by his brute power and watchful eye. Yet, the left-handed slugger inflicts pain on opponents from within the batter 's box at Notre Dame's Frank Eck Stadium, rather than on the grid- iron. Kavadas is a senior captain, first baseman and the cleanup hitter for the 2021 Notre Dame baseball team. Thus far, he's served as the heart and soul of the program's resurgence, leading with a keen eye and game- changing swing. Through April 5, the Granger, Ind., native led the nation in home runs per contest (0.611) among players with a minimum of 10 games played and is well on his way toward obliterating the school's single-season record. In just 18 contests, he smacked 11 ding- ers and was on pace for 26 in a 43- game regular season. In 1991, Irish first baseman Frank Jacobs hit a program-record 20 home runs over the course of 61 games. In addition, Kavadas' defensive abilities at first base have also im- proved significantly. Plus, he was hit- ting .333 despite the infield shift op- ponents have employed against him. "When he gets his pitch, he's disci- plined enough and he doesn't come out of what he's trying to do," second- year Notre Dame head coach Link Jarrett said. "With some power guys, you see them get pull-oriented when they're hunting a pitch or a zone and they think they're going to pull it. "He obviously doesn't do that. He's hit home runs to every part of the park, and probably more of them to center and left field." One-third of the way through the season, Kavadas has helped Notre Dame garner national recognition. According to the seven different col- lege baseball polls as of April 5, the Irish were a consensus top-15 team and were ranked as high as No. 10 in the land. The Irish won 12 of their first 17 ACC games and jumped out to a 13-5 overall record. Their hot start includes a 5-3 win over No. 7 Louis- ville March 27, which came on a walk- off home run from senior outfielder Ryan Cole. It was his second walk- off dinger in as many weeks, and it snapped the program's 20-game los- ing streak to the Cardinals. Another major contributor for the Irish has been left-handed pitcher John Michael Bertrand, a graduate transfer from Furman and the older brother of Notre Dame sophomore linebacker JD Bertrand. In his first six starts, Bertrand posted a 3.07 ERA with 33 strikeouts and just 12 walks. More importantly, he averaged just less than seven in- nings per appearance and threw a complete game against Duke. His long outings have been a major aid to the Notre Dame pitching staff, which is without ace Tommy Sheehan and top relief pitcher Tommy Vail due to season-ending arm injuries. There's still plenty of baseball left for the Irish to play this season, but they're in excellent position to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015 and to possibly host one of the 16 regionals — a team goal heading into the season. "First and foremost, we want to host a regional," Kavadas said. "That's been our goal as a senior class ever since we set foot here. We want to give ourselves the best opportunity possible to play in the Super Region- als. "Once you are hosting a regional, you've done everything you can and everyone's into the tournament, then it's really about who's playing their best ball at that time. "We want to get to that point and make sure that we're hot headed into the NCAA Tournament." Strong Start Vaults Irish Baseball To Consensus Top-15 Status Senior first baseman Niko Kavadas racked up 11 home runs in Notre Dame's first 18 games this season, which tied him for third in the nation as of April 5. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS

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