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Baseball: Irish to test southern weather in tournaments

Fran Tolan | Friday, March 9, 2007

Notre Dame coach Dave Schrage said his team will welcome the opportunity next week in Florida to play eight games outside after traveling back and forth between southern states and frigid Indiana for the first four weeks of the season.

“The main thing that excites me is that we are going to get some continuity outside and be able to stay outside for eight to 10 days, which is something that this team needs right now,” Schrage said.

The Irish have yet to find their rhythm this season, defeating then-No.12 TCU and No. 7 Nebraska while posting a 3-6 overall record.

Schrage noted the team’s need for consistency. He said Notre Dame’s 16-1 win over Nebraska last Sunday might give the Irish confidence heading into this prolonged southern swing.

“We played probably the best game that we have [against Nebraska], and you just hope as a coach that that carries over – the momentum carries over – and we go down there and start winning some games and get on a little bit of a winning streak,” Schrage said. “We are trying to build up our self esteem a little bit and build off that success.”

This weekend in the Clearwater Invitational in Jack Russell Stadium, the Irish will face Sacred Heart on Saturday before playing a doubleheader against Duquesne and Harvard Sunday. The squad will wrap up its stay in Clearwater Monday with a rematch against Harvard, which was added to the official schedule because there’s a possibility that the home opener versus Cleveland State on March 20 will not be played.

Sacred Heart (2-2) will most likely send senior right-hander Chris Howard to the mound in Notre Dame’s first contest. Howard threw seven shutout innings and got the win against Pittsburgh in a 7-0 Pioneers victory Monday. Schrage said his team is concerned with its approach but will not try to adjust its game plan in anticipation of facing Howard.

“Right now I am more concerned with how we’re playing than who we’re playing,” Schrage said. “We need to keep hitting the ball like we did last Sunday and improve our defense and keep getting better.”

Junior left-hander Wade Korpi will try to set the tone for the week as he takes the hill Saturday. Korpi will also look to find his own rhythm against Sacred Heart.

“Korpi needs to get a little bit more consistent with his release point and get the ball down more, he’s pitching to high in the zone right now,” Schrage said.

Irish sophomore David Phelps hopes to retain his form that earned him wins against both TCU and Nebraska, not to mention a spot on the Big East honor roll two weeks ago, Saturday morning against Duquesne.

“Phelps has been outstanding – he’s pitched three really solid ball games for us,” Schrage said.

Senior right-hander Dan Kapala will get the start against Harvard Sunday afternoon. Kapala missed all of the 2006 season with a torn labrum but has looked good so far this year, Schrage said. Sophomore right-hander Brett Graffy will take the mound for Notre Dame Monday in the team’s second game against the Crimson.

After the four games in Clearwater, the Irish will head to Fort Myers to take on Dayton in the Florida Gulf Coast University Invitational. Sophomore Sam Elam is slated to start against the Flyers. Notre Dame will also face New York Tech, Florida Gulf Coast and Harvard in the event. The squad’s probable rotation for those contests is yet to be announced.

Including the eight contests next week, the Irish have just 10 games remaining before they begin their Big East season against South Florida March 24 at Frank Eck Stadium. Schrage knows that his squad must find its form on this trip to Florida.

“When we get back the Big East season will be upon us,” he said. “This is a really crucial time for our team as far as development goes.”