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Baseball: Irish excited to play at major league park

Heather VanHoegarden | Friday, March 3, 2006

Despite his Notre Dame squad’s 2-2 finish at the Service Academies Classic last weekend, Irish coach Paul Mainieri is looking for much of the same from his team at this weekend’s Dairy Queen Classic in Minneapolis, Minn.

“I think if we play just as well as we did last weekend that we have a chance to be successful,” Mainieri said this week. “We just need to take more advantages of our scoring opportunities this weekend.”

The Irish start the weekend this afternoon when they face Nebraska (5-2), ranked as high as No. 4 by College Baseball, at 12:15. Senior lefty Tom Thornton (1-0), who gave up no runs in seven innings in his first start last weekend, will take the mound for the Irish against Nebraska’s Joba Chamberlain (1-1, 1.93 ERA). Thornton was named the Big East Pitcher of the Week after his seven shutout innings against Indiana State on Feb. 23.

Saturday, Notre Dame sends Jeff Samardzija to the mound to face Minnesota’s Dustin Brabender for the 6:35 p.m. matchup.

The tournament concludes Sunday as Notre Dame squares off with Arizona at 11:05 a.m. Jeff Manship will pitch for the Irish against the Wildcats’ Brad Mills (2-0, 1.86 ERA).

All of the tournament’s games will be played in the Metrodome, the home stadium of the Minnesota Twins. This year the Golden Gophers are set to play 24 of their 26 home games there. Last season, Minnesota played 19 games there, going 11-8.

Mainieri said playing in a professional dome where weather is not a factor is a good experience for his team.

“It’s a much different atmosphere than we’re used to,” he said. “But it’s an exciting thing because you’re playing in a Major League stadium, you don’t have to worry about getting games cancelled due to weather, and you don’t have to worry about factors like wind and wetness affecting anything – so that’s all fun.”

After this weekend, Notre Dame has one more tournament on the road before coming home March 21 to face Wright State.

The Big East season starts March 25 on the road when the Irish face Georgetown. For this reason, Mainieri said it is imperative for his team to play the best teams it can now.

“There’s no question that we’re playing the toughest teams that we can find,” Mainieri said. “You’re not going to beat them all. You try to beat them all, and you hope that your team just keeps getting better so that when you get to conference play your team has really gelled.”

But, he said, the Irish are always better later in the season than now, when they have to play on the road for a month before having any home games because of the South Bend weather.

“We have to play quite a few games on the road to start the season, and our team’s always a better team in April and May than we are in February and March because we’re playing so many road games and we’re just getting the season started,” Mainieri said. “When we finally get to play some home games, it really helps our team quite a bit. We’re going to go out there this weekend and just try to improve in every facet of our game, particularly in taking advantage of our scoring opportunities.”