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Baseball: Heated rivalry

Bill Brink | Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The animosity between the two teams certainly doesn’t run as deep as it does in football, or in this day and age hockey, but junior pitcher Eric Maust, for one, hates Michigan.

“You don’t see any signs in here that say we hate Michigan, but I guarantee if you ask anybody nobody really likes Michigan,” Maust said. “I can’t stand them. There’s a few teams that I really cannot stand at all, and Michigan and USC are up there, easily in the top three.”

The Irish travel to face the Wolverines tonight at 7:05 p.m. at the Wilpon Baseball Complex in Ann Arbor, Mich. Michigan will make the trip to Eck Stadium Wednesday for the second game of the home-and-home series.

Junior A.J. Pollock said he thinks placing more emphasis on one opponent than another can be dangerous in a sport like baseball.

“If we put more emphasis on this game than any other game it goes against what baseball is all about,” Pollock said. “It’s not like football where you have a week build-up and pep rallies and all that.”

Both Pollock and Maust said the length of the baseball season makes it difficult to play up one opponent over another. And after the weekend the Irish had, they’re looking to continue their momentum no matter whom they face.

Notre Dame (22-14, 8-7 Big East) got drilled 19-3 by West Virginia Friday, but took both games of Saturday’s doubleheader, 8-6 and 3-0. Maust pitched a complete-game shutout in the second game and allowed only five hits.

“If you dwell over one loss and have that carry over into the next games you’re not going to do too well,” Maust said. “You’ve got to be able to bounce back and be resilient.”

The Wolverines (21-16. 5-7 Big Ten) are 4-7 in their last 11 games. They beat Michigan State 9-2 Sunday. Ryan LaMarre leads the Wolverines in batting average (.364) and on-base percentage (.473). He also has hit 10 home runs and has 45 RBIs. The team as a whole hits .296

“The thing about Michigan is they have a solid athletic program,” Maust said. “It starts with the fact that you have to respect your opponent. But also, beyond respect you can’t give them anything else.”

The Wolverines have been at home for 12 of their last 14 games and only had to travel to East Lansing to face the Spartans for the other two. After a series at Cincinnati, Notre Dame was home this weekend and will travel to Louisville next weekend.

Maust said that to be successful against a tough opponent like Michigan, the team needed to break the game into nine one-inning games. That way the task seems more manageable.

“They have good hitters, good pitchers, and it may look like it’s too much to handle, but if you break it down and focus on the process and try to take it inning by inning, break that big thing up, then it’s very … achievable,” he said.

To continue the success the Irish had Saturday, Pollock said, the team must play loose.

“The pressure was off on Saturday. We lost 19-3, what’s the worst that could happen?” he said. “The pressure’s off, have fun, enjoy yourself. If you have fun I’m sure you’re going to be winning a bunch of games.”