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Baseball: New faces bring optimism

Lorenzo Reyes | Tuesday, February 19, 2008

In baseball, each spring represents a chance at redemption.

For Notre Dame, the upcoming season will be just that – an opportunity to reclaim its position as one of the Big East’s elite squads. Coming off of a middling 28-28 season in his first year with the Irish, coach Dave Schrage said there is an emerging sentiment of renewal and resolve in the locker room.

“I think there’s a lot of pride in the clubhouse,” Schrage said. “There are some players here who have won Big East championships and they want to bring them back. Our work ethic this off-season has been excellent. There’s a sense of purpose around here.”

With the new season comes a group of fresh faces, and many of the Irish coaches are excited about the incoming freshman class. Several recruiting Web sites labeled the class one of the top-five in the nation.

Freshman influence

“We got a little bit of everything in this group,” Schrage said. “We needed to improve our team rather quickly and this class is going to help us do that. We got some power pitching with [Brian] Dupra, some speed with [Golden] Tate, and some power with [Matt] Scioscia.”

Schrage said several freshmen could play early in the season. One of the names he mentioned was that of infielder Mick Doyle, who could spell some of the veterans because of his solid defensive technique and his ability to hit for contact.

Freshman catcher Cameron McConnell probably will contribute early because of the need to have a rotation of backstops. He looks to fill in for fifth-year senior Sean Gaston.

But with youth comes a price: The Irish count only seven seniors on the roster.

“We’re very inexperienced,” Schrage said. “Any time you have to pitch four freshmen, who knows what will happen. This group is very talented though, and has been featured in national showcases in high school. We’re just excited to see how they do out there.”

The group of seniors has taken it upon themselves to turn this youth and inexperience into something that can be harnessed as a positive on the field, Schrage said. In particular, Schrage credited his three captains – Gaston, outfielder Ross Brezovsky and catcher Chris Soriano – with providing strong leadership for the freshmen.

Pitching

While much of the roster is young, the Irish pitching staff is deep with returning starters. Junior David Phelps returns after a breakout season in which he became only the second Irish hurler to record 100 strikeouts (102) and post an ERA under 2.00 (1.88) in the same season.

Paired with Phelps is senior ace Wade Korpi, who brings a change of pace to the mound as a southpaw. Although Korpi struggled with his consistency last season, his fall workouts showed promise.

“We’re a balanced team,” Schrage said. “Last year we didn’t have a lot of depth, but this year we do. It helps our team get better because there’s always someone pushing you to perform your best. Our pitching is pretty deep. I’d say that’s definitely our strength.”

Notre Dame also returns junior closer Kyle Weiland. The junior made some mechanics adjustments to minimize throwing across his body. He features a fastball that ranges in the low-90s, but fools opposing batters with his biting breaking ball.

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Schrage is pleased where Notre Dame stands heading into the season.

“We’re a little under the radar now,” Schrage said. “All of the coaches in the Big East picked us to finish fifth. I think that’s just fine, because I know that we have the determination and pride to bring the trophy back to South Bend where it belongs.”