Latest Team Rankings
Free Text Alerts
|ShopMobileRadio RSSRivals.com Yahoo! Sports|
|College Teams||High Schools|
May 14, 2012
The Notre Dame baseball team (27-23, 13-11) may not be ready to crack the upper echelon of the Big East. But the Irish continue to take care of business against those most vulnerable, thus securing a spot in the eight-team Big East tournament with one weekend remaining in regular-season play.
Sunday, the Irish rode the right arms of freshman Pat Connaughton, sophomore Sean Fitzgerald and senior Dan Slania en route to a 2-1 victory over Rutgers (28-22, 13-11) to win two out of three in the series.
That’s the fourth series won by the Irish in the last five. Notre Dame has beaten up on the lower portion of the conference, winning 12 and losing three against Rutgers, Villanova, Pittsburgh, Georgetown and Cincinnati. Those five schools have a combined 46-74 mark in Big East play.
On the other hand, the Irish are 1-8 versus first-place St. John’s, second-place South Florida (tied with Louisville) and fourth-place Seton Hall.
“We’re capable of beating anybody in the country, but we also capable of losing to anyone in the country,” said Irish head coach Mik Aoki. “It’s just predicated by how we play.”
The Irish have played well enough to win two out of three at Villanova and at home against Rutgers in the last two weekends to forge a sixth place tie with Rutgers with one weekend remaining - at No. 5 Connecticut.
Prior to losing all three games against first-place St. John’s, the Irish swept the Hoyas at Georgetown and won two out of three at home against last-place Cincinnati, which came on the heels of three losses to Seton Hall.
“By and large, outside of those weird stretches where we kick five balls in a game like we did (Saturday in an 11-6 loss), I think we’ve played pretty well,” Aoki said. “We’ve pitched very consistently all year long. Our lineup has had more consistency during that stretch after scuffling through the Seton Hall series. I think we’re in pretty good shape.”
Six of Aoki’s every-day players are hitting above .300: catcher Joe Hudson (.363), third baseman Eric Jagielo (.323), first baseman Trey Mancini (.318), rightfielder Alex Robinson (.306), centerfielder Charlie Markson (.304) and second baseman Frank DeSico (.302).
Almost all of Notre Dame power/run production comes out of the three-four-five holes where Jagielo (10 HRs, 39 RBI), Mancini (10 HRs, 40 RBI) and Hudson (6 HRs, 36 RBI) have hit 26 of Notre Dame’s 30 home runs.
The three-man right-handed rotation of Will Hudgins, Adam Norton and Connaughton has been, for the most part, stingy. Hudgins (4-2, 2.21) is allowing opponents to hit just .239 against him while striking out 81 in 85 1/3 innings pitched. Connaughton (4-3, 2.02) is allowing opponents to hit just .231 against him while striking out 34 in 35 2/3 innings pitched.
Connaughton picked up the victory Sunday against Rutgers.
“I thought Pat was really good,” Aoki said. “He needs to work a little bit more ahead in the count. But outside of that, he’s got a little more margin for error than most guys with as hard as he throws and with as good as he can be. I thought he was excellent.”
Aoki also relies heavily on Fitzgerald, a member of the three-man rotation before Connaughton joined the baseball team following the basketball season. Fitzgerald (5-3, 4.40) is Aoki’s top choice to eat up middle relief innings. And then there’s 6-foot-5, 275-pound closer Dan Slania (3-0, 1.93, 11 saves), who’s been money just about every time out.
“Fitz was really key to bridge the middle of that thing, and then Danny goes in there and closes it out,” Aoki said. “I like the fact that we won the game (despite) committing two errors, which didn’t effect us. We kept attacking, we kept trying to win the game rather than defending and going into a prevent defense.”
The Irish can rise as high as fifth in the Big East by winning two out of three at Connecticut this weekend. But Aoki wants to be careful with his three starters, who have logged heavy innings in winning four of the last five series.
“It would be nice to finish the regular season with 30 wins,” Aoki said. “We’re within striking distance of that. We’ll get some of our starting pitching squared away for the tournament, probably scaling back Hudgins’ and Norton’s pitch count a little bit. Part of why Pat came out when he did (Sunday) was that he had gotten to 90 and we wanted to start to scale him back a little bit as well. Hopefully, we go in (to the Big East tournament in Clearwater, Fla.) healthy and playing well.”
What you see is what you get from the Irish.
“You look at our body of work and the stats are pretty reflective of who we are,” said Aoki, whose team is hitting .282 with 30 home runs and 50 stolen bases. “We pitch it pretty well. We swing it fairly well. As long as we field in pretty well, we’re in pretty good shape.
“We just need to continue to play clean and do a really good job of responding to the mistakes that we make because (mistakes) are inevitable. The way in which we respond to them will really dictate how we do.”
Notre Dame NEWS