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Irish ready to compete in Texas tournament

Chris Federico | Friday, March 5, 2004

Even 1,300 miles away from Notre Dame and Eck Stadium, the Irish will have a “home” game as they host the Alamo City Irish Baseball Classic in San Antonio.No. 7 Notre Dame (6-0) kicks off an eight-game, nine-day spring break Texas road trip with four games against Southern Illinois, Texas-San Antonio and Penn State beginning Saturday.The event – which had been called the Irish Baseball Classic in past seasons – is put on every year by the Notre Dame Club of San Antonio. All four games will be played in San Antonio’s Wolff Stadium, a double-A minor league ballpark.The following weekend, the Irish travel to Round Rock, Texas, for four games against Penn State, Arizona, Texas Tech and Illinois.With the break from classes, Irish coach Paul Mainieri is excited for his team’s opportunity to get so many games under its belt.”I’m like a little kid this week. It’s nothing but baseball,” he said. “It’s eight games in nine days and usually the weather is beautiful. “We play in two beautiful ball parks, and we play against a bunch of outstanding teams. If you love baseball and college baseball, then this is what you live for.”Even without the strain of trying to balance classes, studies and baseball, Mainieri is aware of the challenge his players will face heading into the week’s games.”Its great for [the players], because they get a break from school, and they can just concentrate on baseball,” Mainieri said. “But it’s also a new challenge, because all of a sudden, you’re playing eight days out of nine, so physically there’s a new challenge there.”The probable starting rotation for the Irish this weekend will feature junior right hander Chris Niesel against Southern Illinois Saturday, sophomore lefty Tom Thornton on the hill Sunday against Texas-San Antonio and freshman righty Derik Olvey slated to start Monday against Penn State.Offensively, the Irish have been on a tear through the first two weekends of play, batting .352 as a team and averaging 10.5 runs per game. Shortstop Greg Lopez leads regular Irish starters with a .409 batting average and 10 RBIs. Backup freshman catcher Sean Gaston was named National Co-Hitter of the week by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association and Big East Player of the Week for beginning his Irish career 10-for-12 at the plate last weekend.Outfielder Brennan Grogan has started the year 7-for-15 for Notre Dame, and first baseman Matt Edwards is batting .400 with three home runs and eight RBIs.Mainieri is hoping that Notre Dame’s hot hitting and strong play will continue during its trip to Texas this week.”Traditionally, we play very well during spring break week,” he said. “So considering the start that we’ve had, if we can go down there and play well, we will have given ourselves a good head start before we’ve even come home to play a home game.”

Notes:u Junior pitcher Grant Johnson, who missed Notre Dame’s four games last weekend with tonsillitis, will likely return to action this weekend with the Irish.”Johnson is feeling better. He threw [Wednesday], and he’s feeling really good,” Mainieri said. “We’re hoping that he’s going to pitch this weekend, probably not Saturday, but hopefully by Sunday or Monday he’ll get back on the mound.”