Baseball: No. 22 ND challenges Sycamores
Ken Fowler | Thursday, February 23, 2006
For the first time since losing to Florida 23-3 in an elimination game in the NCAA regionals last June, the preseason No. 22 Irish return to the diamond at 4 p.m. today in their 2006 season opener against Indiana State in Millington, Tenn.
“Last year … we didn’t do quite as well as we would have liked,” Irish head coach Paul Mainieri said earlier this month. “Hopefully [my] 12th season will bring us more fond moments.”
The game is the first of four at USA Stadium for the Irish, who finished 2005 with a 38-24-1 record – the first time the team did not win 40 or more games in a decade. Indiana State finished 30-20 in 2005 and did not make an NCAA regional. The Irish also will play games on Friday against Air Force, Saturday against Memphis and Sunday against Oklahoma in the Service Acadamies Classic.
Mainieri will hand the ball to senior southpaw Tom Thornton this afternoon to shut down the Sycamores, who have a lineup that includes star junior catcher Nevin Ashley. Ashley batted .328 with one home run and 41 RBI last season. Outfielder Tim Brewster will protect Ashley in the lineup. Brewster hit .317 with two homers and 22 RBI in 2005.
The precise Thornton enters the game with a career ERA of 3.74 with 146 strikeouts to just 57 walks in more than 250 innings pitched. He will be the first pitcher in a rotation that includes right-handed juniors Jeff Samardzija (8-1, 3.89 in 2005) and Jeff Manship (2-1, 3.97) and sophomore lefty.
“Our veteran pitching rotation … will be a key to our success,” Mainieri said at the team’s Opening Night fan event on Monday, Feb. 6.
Sophomore 6-foot-5 right-hander Ryan Tatusko will deal to a balanced and veteran Notre Dame lineup that includes cleanup first baseman and two-time Big East batting champion Craig Cooper and catcher Sean Gaston, who hit .293 with 28 RBI and 27 runs scored in 2005. All nine probable starters for the Irish saw started for at least a substantial portion of last season.
The Observer was unable to contact Mainieri for this article.
Indiana State leads the Irish 7-5 in the all-time series. The two teams last met on March 27, 1996, a 5-4 victory for Notre Dame. The Irish are 7-1 in their last eight season openers.