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BASEBALL: Team to face Dayton at HoHoKam Park

Tom Dorwart | Friday, February 25, 2005

Despite a week of midterms looming, the No. 20 Irish baseball team is revved up for its weekend trip to Arizona. The Irish (3-1) face the Dayton Flyers (3-2) in a three-game series – and not just in any old ballpark. The teams square off at HoHoKam Park, the spring training home of the Chicago Cubs, in front of Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry and a handful of scouts. “How can you not be excited to play in a major league ballpark?” coach Paul Mainieri said. “I’m sure the players are going to be excited to go out there and do their best.” The series gets underway Saturday with a 2 p.m. game, which pits Notre Dame ace Tom Thornton (0-0) against Dayton right-hander Craig Stammen (1-1). At 5:30 p.m., sophomore Jess Stewart (1-0) will take the mound for the Irish in the second nine-inning game of the day. Flyers’ ace Luke Trubee (2-0), who has already tallied a team-leading 13 strikeouts and two wins, will try to continue his early-season dominance. To top off the weekend, Irish sophomore Jeff Samardzija (1-0) gets the call for a noon Sunday game. Thornton is coming off a solid five-inning outing last weekend in the first game against Central Florida. Stewart allowed an unearned run in the second battle against UCF and nabbed the win. Samardzija picked up his victory against Florida A&M. He pitched five strong innings and allowed an earned run in the third. For the Flyers, Stammen and Trubee lead an experienced rotation. While Dayton might be an oft-forgotten northern team around the nation, Mainieri realizes his ball club faces some stiff competition. “We’re expecting some really great competition down there. Dayton is one of those programs from the Midwest that maybe doesn’t have a national reputation, but their kids are very hard-nosed players. They play good baseball.” “We play teams from the Mid-American Conference on a regular basis during the middle of the week, and every time we play those teams we have dogfights. Dayton is not in the Mid-American Conference, but they’re like one of those teams.” Mainieri believes the Irish need to be hard-nosed themselves. “If we get some base runners, we’re going to put our runners in motion and try to put a lot of pressure on the other team. That’s our game, and whether it’s against Texas A&M, Dayton or anybody else, we’re going to play the game the way that we play it.” After Thursday surgery for a hand injury suffered in last weekend’s opening game, junior DH Matt Bransfield is out for at least the next couple of weeks. Shortstop Greg Lopez, still recovering from a hamstring injury that limited him solely to a defensive role last Sunday, should be ready to go come Saturday. “[His hamstring] is still a little bit tender,” Mainieri said. “He’ll be ready to play. We’re just not sure how much.”A team of great depth, the Irish turn to junior outfielder Alex Nettey, sophomore DH Danny Dressman and junior utility man Eddie Smith for major contributions. “Certainly Alex Nettey and Danny Dressman are going to get a significant amount of playing time this weekend, especially with Bransfield being out, and, then of course Eddie Smith being in this position of filling in for any of our infielders. Depending on what we do with Greg Lopez, how his hamstring is healing, it’s quite possible that Smith could get another start,” Mainieri said. Nettey, who leads the team with a .571 batting average in seven at-bats and owns a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage, provided a spark on the opening trip last weekend. He and Dressman combined for clutch hits, while Smith turned key double plays at shortstop. Whatever the nine-man combination might be, there are certainly no easy outs in the Irish lineup and no drop offs in the Irish defense. “I think it’s the sign of a good team when you can count on a lot of different players and that you use your entire roster. We just need everybody ready to go in there, so that when we call on them, everybody can count on them doing the job,” Mainieri said.