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Baseball: Irish host ‘Cats in home opener

Joe Meixell | Tuesday, March 22, 2005

For the first time this season, the Irish will sprint to their respective spots on the natural grass at Frank Eck Stadium when they take on the Cincinnati Bearcats (8-8) tonight at 5 p.m.

Which nine players will make that first sprint, however, is up for debate. There are 29 players on the Notre Dame roster, and coach Paul Mainieri has gone to his bench often already.

“I’m just debating a lot of things right now – what the best way to go into this week would be,” he said. “Certainly we need to make some changes, because we just did not play good baseball this weekend at Evansville, so I just got to look at the big picture here and make a decision on who we want to go with.

“I just feel that we might need to shake things up this week and give some other guys a chance.”

The Irish are happy to be home after finishing 7-9 in the first 16 games of the young season.

“I can’t even describe how good it is to be home after being on the road for five straight weekends – our first sixteen games of the year on the road,” Mainieri said. “We’ll finally get a chance to play at home where traditionally we’ve played very well. Hopefully it’s going to be just what the doctor ordered. We just need to settle in a little bit, play well at home and get things going in the right direction.”

The meeting with the Bearcats marks the first game of a seven-game home stand for the Irish. This weekend, the Irish open Big East Conference play with double-headers against Georgetown on Thursday and Seton Hall on Saturday.

Cincinnati is coming off a winless effort in three games against Conference USA foe Louisville. Prior to those losses, the Bearcats had some quality wins. They are 4-2 against ACC opponents Duke and Wake Forest. One of those losses was a 12-inning, one-run defeat to the Demon Deacons.

Cincinnati is led by shortstop Mark Haske, who is batting a team-leading .359. Third baseman Jon DeLuca has 16 RBIs. On defense, the Bearcats’ pitching ace is right-hander Tony Maynard, who has a 2.95 ERA and an unblemished record. Maynard – the Bearcats’ workhorse – has already thrown 39.2 innings.

With eight players at seven or more RBIs, Notre Dame’s offensive production continues to climb. But the defensive and pitching efforts continue to slide – which is why Mainieri feels the need to mix things up.

“Some guys just haven’t played very well,” he said. “Some guys that have been here in the past and have done well just are not doing well at this point.”

Undecided on the starting outfielders as well as on the starting pitcher, Mainieri said it will be a game time decision.

“I honestly don’t know,” he said. “We are actually going to pitch at least six or seven different guys tomorrow. They’ll all pitch an inning, so that we can have them all ready for the conference weekend.”

With conference play looming, the Irish simply hope to find the most effective starting nine in time.