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Baseball: Six sign letters of intent

Chris Federico | Friday, November 21, 2003

Irish head coach Paul Mainieri announced Thursday the signing of six high school seniors to letters of intent with Notre Dame during the early signing period.The group includes four pitchers – right handers Tony Langford and Joey Williamson and lefthanders David Gruener and Wade Korpi – and a pair of infielders in Ross Brezovsky and Brett Lilley.This recruiting season marked Mainieri’s first without former associate head coach and recruiting coordinator Brian O’Connor, who took a head coaching position at Virginia in July. But Mainieri was pleased with the work of his assistants, David Grewe and Terry Rooney, who is in his first year with the Irish after serving as pitching coach and recruiting coordinator at Stetson University.”David Grewe did an unbelievable job, while basically he was the only one doing the recruiting, at the time when Brian [O’Connor] was deciding whether or not he would go to Virginia,” Mainieri said. “Then when Terry Rooney came aboard – people get a chance to meet him and realize he’s a very high-energy guy. He loves to recruit and he works hard at it, so when he got here, he hit the ground running. “Between the two of them, we really didn’t skip a beat to be honest with you. I feel like we got the guys that we wanted, and we did a good job.”The fact that the Irish had such recruiting success in the talent-laden southern states such as Florida and Texas – in this class, Brezovsky, Korpi and Williamson are all from Florida and Langford hails from Texas – points to Notre Dame’s emergence on the national collegiate baseball scene. In past years, it has been difficult for northern schools like Notre Dame to out-recruit traditional southern powers such as Florida State, Texas and Rice, but with currently five players on the Irish roster – not including the current recruits – that hail from Florida and Texas, Notre Dame is showing it can compete on this level.”It’s funny how things run in cycles for you, but we have kind of a rich tradition in bringing in kids form Texas and south Florida,” Mainieri said. “This particular year, those were the players that we identified, and they just happened to be in warm weather areas and areas that had been good to us.”Mainieri’s continuation of Notre Dame’s streak of 15 seasons with 40 wins or more, which is the third longest active streak in the nation, combined with his team’s 100 percent graduation rate of four-year players over his nine-year tenure, has attracted some of the top recruits in the nation.”I think what has happened in recruiting is that the prospects have become so much smarter now in how they analyze their options,” Mainieri said. “Getting a quality education, playing in a program that has proven it can get to the College World Series, and they see that every one of our players graduates, and then they get a chance to meet our players and they see what a wonderful group of kids they are, and they want to be a part of it.”Also, the baseball facilities near Frank Eck Stadium, considered some of the best indoor facilities in the nation, and the fact that the Irish travel to the south for nearly the first quarter of the season make the wintry conditions of South Bend not as much of a factor for the recruits in the decision-making process.”It’s amazing how over the last few years, the weather has not been as big of an issue with recruits as it once was,” Mainieri said. “If you look at last year’s class, [Irish freshman] Jeff Manship was the best player coming out of the state of Texas. So if you can take the best kid out of Texas, I think you can get just about anybody.”The Irish recruited a pair of teammates for the first time during Mainieri’s coaching regime in Korpi and Williamson, who were on the same pitching staff at Santaluces High School in Florida. In the 2003 season, Korpi posted a 1.06 ERA and 14.5 strikeouts per nine innings while Williamson notched a 1.35 ERA with 18 strikeouts per nine innings.The Fort Worth, Texas, native Langford will bring a great deal of versatility to the Irish, as the right hander not only logged a 6-2 record with a 2.25 ERA last year, but also hit .338 while seeing time in the infield.The fourth pitcher, Gruener, posted a 1.75 ERA and near 9-to-1 strikeout-to-walks ratio as a junior at Life Christian High School in Washington.The two infielders, Brezovsky and Lilley, will add depth to an Irish infield that could lose a pair of starters after the 2004 season in second baseman Steve Sollmann and shortstop Matt Macri, who may choose to enter professional baseball. Brezovsky batted .425 as a junior and is listed as the 65th best player in Florida by Perfect Game/Baseball America. Lilley was named the top second baseman in the state by The Buckeye Scout.Mainieri hopes that the recruits will come in ready to contribute in 2004-05, as the Irish stand to lose at least six players to graduation and possibly more to the draft. “You always hope that they come ready, but the reality is that some freshmen come more ready than others,” he said. “We recruit them because we need them. I have a lot of courage when it comes to playing freshmen. “I’m always going to play the guys that deserve to play the most whether they’re freshmen or seniors. If these guys come in and do a good job and that’s where our needs are, they’re going to be plugged right in there.”