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Baseball: Squad has 3-game set with USF

Deirdre Krasula | Friday, March 23, 2007

The three-game series against Notre Dame this weekend could be a cold wake-up call for South Florida. The series – which kicks off today at 5:05 p.m. – is the first time the Bulls will travel out of state this season, as well as the first Big East game for the Irish.

Despite struggling in early non-conference games with a 10-9 record, the Irish have had a strong burst coming into their series against South Florida. Notre Dame defeated Cleveland State 5-3 in its home opener Tuesday and went on to rout Western Michigan 17-9 Wednesday. Notre Dame has won six of its last seven games.

The Irish have a successful history with South Florida, going 4-1 all-time against the Bulls. This season could prove to be more of a challenge as South Florida arrives in South Bend with a 16-7 record, the top in the Big East.

Irish junior shortstop Brett Lilley and freshman A.J. Pollock have led the Irish offensively so far. Pollock and Lilley lead the team with .390 and .370 averages, respectively. Most recently, Pollock had five hits against Western Michigan and Lilley drove in five runs.

After posting a season-high 17 runs against Western Michigan, Notre Dame is prepared to sharpen the defensive end of its game this weekend, Pollock said.

“Going into the Big East, we have to limit teams to fewer base runners,” he said. “Not give them a chance to get runs off or give them errors.”

Irish pitchers David Phelps, Wade Korpi and Dan Kapala will lead Notre Dame from the mound this weekend. Phelps has been a force, boasting a 1.20 ERA in 30 innings. The right-hander helped Notre Dame defeat top teams Texas Christian and Nebraska.

“[Phelps has] been great all season, he’s been the most consistent starter,” Irish coach Dave Schrage said.

Schrage said the team is aware of the strong pitchers they will be facing this weekend. Right-handers Danny Otero, Daniel Thomas and Chris Delaney head up the Bulls’ staff. Thomas leads the three-man rotation with an ERA of 1.27 and is 2-1 in five appearances. Otero has a team-high 32 strikeouts.

“It’s going to be a tough series,” Schrage said. “[The Bulls] have very good pitching. We are going to face some great arms this weekend. It will be a real challenge to our offense.”

Pollock said the team will look to counter South Florida’s strong pitching by focusing on cutting down on errors.

“[Schrage] always stresses less mistakes on defense, don’t give other teams more opportunities to get runs, don’t give them free bases,” Pollock said. “So if we can cut that down we will definitely be a very good team.”

Schrage also noted the advantage Notre Dame will have playing at home. South Florida has yet to play a game outside of the Sunshine State and likely will have some difficulty adjusting to the northern climate. Beyond the weather advantage, the Irish are ready to take on the Bulls and see how they will match up against a top team.

“It will be great for us to open with [South Florida],” Schrage said. “I think it will be a good test to see where we are at.”