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Baseball: Irish return to Florida

Joe Meixell | Friday, March 2, 2007

After starting 2-4 against a slate of purely southern opponents, Notre Dame will face two northern schools, Nebraska and Iowa, as well as the hosts in the Stetson Invitational this weekend in Deland, Fla.

The Irish have struggled out of the gate this season, winning just one game in each of the previous two weekends. Notre Dame has scored just 24 runs in six games this season, with 15 of those coming in the season opener against Texas State.

“We’re going through some growing pains, but we’re trying to keep the guys positive,” Irish coach Dave Schrage said. “We’re just going to keep teaching and trying not to let them get discouraged.”

Notre Dame is hitting just .228 as a team this season and has stranded 48 runners on base. One of the few bright spots this season at the plate has been pitcher/first baseman Mike Dury. Dury is hitting .364 so far this season and is yet to allow a run in three innings on the mound.

But Schrage said he feels that success like Dury’s will get the Irish back on track as the season progresses.

“I’ve always believed hitting is contagious,” he said. “Once a few guys start doing it, it’ll spread to everyone.”

One of the reasons for Notre Dame’s problems this year is the schedule. All of the teams the Irish have faced so far are from warm climates, which means they’ve had more outdoor practice and, in some cases, many more games.

That won’t be the case this weekend as Notre Dame takes on Iowa and Nebraska, two northern schools facing similar limitations on their outdoor practice time.

The Cornhuskers, who face Notre Dame Saturday, are 5-2 this season. They are led by shortstop Thad Weber, who is hitting .389 this year

The Hawkeyes, who the Irish play Sunday, are 1-1 after splitting a pair of games with Arkansas-Pine Bluff to open their season last Friday and Saturday. Iowa was led by shortstop Jason White, who went 3-for-6 at the plate and scored two runs in the series.

But before the Irish can play their northern brethren, they have a final tough southern game to play today – against Stetson, the host of this weekend’s round-robin.

The Hatters are 9-3, including two wins over former Notre Dame coach Paul Mainieri and LSU. Despite Stetson’s success this year, Schrage said if the Irish can put the ball in play, they should be able to score some runs.

“Stetson is not a good fielding team,” he said. “They kick the ball around a little bit.”

Even if this isn’t the weekend his squad gets its season on track, Schrage is still confident it will start playing well before the Big East season begins after spring break.

“Once we start playing midweek games along with the Friday, Saturday, Sunday games, we’ll get in a little bit of a groove,” he said.

Notre Dame will head to Florida over the break for seven games in seven days, and then move into a five-games-a-week routine for the rest of the season. The Irish open their conference slate March 23 against South Florida at Eck Stadium.