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Baseball: Irish open season this weekend with four games

Fran Tolan | Friday, February 22, 2008

It might be hard to believe considering the gloomy Notre Dame weather, but the Irish open their season with four games this weekend.

The squad will leave behind the frigid Indiana winter to compete in the Clearwater Invitational at Jack Russell Stadium in Clearwater, Fla. The Irish are slated take on tournament host Liberty today before playing a double-header Saturday and finishing up against Albany Sunday.

Irish coach Dave Schrage said the event is a good opportunity to gauge his team’s progress since the beginning of spring practice.

“The nice part about coming down here and playing early is, at the end of the three days, you have things to work on and you find out what are some of the things we need more work on,” Schrage said. “It’ll be a good measuring stick to see how far along we are compared to last year.”

Last year was Schrage’s first with the Irish and, despite posting a 28-28 record, he said the season was a learning experience for many of the players.

“I think that having a year under our belt – some of our veteran players have a little more experience, they know our system a little better so it’s been a little bit smoother spring,” Schrage said.

When the Irish take the field in Clearwater, they’ll have their first outdoor action of the season. The team will attempt to readjust to external factors that are not an issue at the team’s indoor practice facilities.

“You work on picking up fly balls in the sun and communication between infielders and outfielders and things like that, things you don’t normally work on,” Schrage said.

Despite the difficulties encountered with playing outside again, Schrage said he expects a good showing from his team this weekend.

“Its always an adjustment, I think, just the depth perception and the background with being outside,” he said. “But I think we’re a lot farther along this year than we were last season.”

In the team’s season opener, the Irish will take on Liberty today at 1 p.m. Schrage said Liberty should be the most formidable team of the three the Irish face in the tournament.

“They’re ahead of everybody a little bit because they’ve just been outside,” Schrage said. “And they’re usually one of the best three teams in the Big South [conference] anyway… They’ll be a good squad.”

The Irish will look to shut Liberty down behind right-handed ace David Phelps, who posted a 1.88 ERA last season.

On Saturday, Notre Dame will play a day-night doubleheader, with a game against Iowa during the afternoon then a nightcap against Albany. The Irish will face Albany again on Sunday.

Schrage said he is not necessarily concerned with the team’s record this weekend, saying instead he hopes the Irish treat the trip as an opportunity to improve.

“We don’t go into it saying, ‘I want to win four’ or ‘I want three,'” Shrage said. “Our biggest thing is just play good and get better every day down here. And get the younger kids, get them some experience, test the nerves out and see where we’re at.”