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Baseball: Notre Dame readies for recovery in Florida

Chris Masoud | Friday, March 26, 2010

Most teams hope to be peaking as they head into conference play. Yet after a disappointing start to the year, Notre Dame is far from the level of play Irish coach Dave Schrage wants his team to be as it travels to South Florida for a three-game series.

The Irish (8-12) have struggled considerably following a promising start to the season. Wednesday’s 10-5 defeat at the hands of UIC marked their eighth loss in 11 games.

Schrage said the Big East opener against the Bulls, who have had troubles of their own, could play a critical role in the team’s direction for the remainder of the year.

“They’re in the same boat we are,” he said. “They didn’t do so well in the nonconference as they would have liked just like us, so it’s going to be two teams that are fighting for some identity this weekend.”

While the Bulls (8-13) enter the series with similar struggles as the Irish have, their season story has been nearly the opposite of Notre Dame’s. Opening the season with four consecutive losses, the Bulls have had a brutal nonconference schedule that included losses to No. 14 Miami, No. 12 Oklahoma and No. 9 Florida.

But its record is not indicative of the team that will take the field on Friday. South Florida has lost eight games by two runs or less, and has won five of its last six games.

“They’ve got a veteran lineup back,” Schrage said. “We’re going to see three good arms on the mound from them, and they’re pretty tough at home. They’ve got a little momentum here lately.”

Junior captain Brian Dupra (2-1) will make the start in one, followed by sophomore Steve Sabatino (1-2) and senior Eric Maust (0-1) in games two and three. Junior ace Cole Johnson has been sidelined for the last two weeks with a sore shoulder, a major setback to an already depleted rotation.

Dupra has been the lone consistent starter for the Irish, leading the team in wins, innings pitched (28.1) and strikeouts (21). However, lapses on defense have extended a number of opponent rallies and put additional pressure on the pitchers.

“If we continue to play poor defense and walk people, it’s very tough to overcome,” Schrage said. “If we’re going to do anything in our conference and win our conference, we’ve got to cut down on the walks, cut down on the defensive mistakes, and then we’ve got to start knocking some people in with two outs.”

Notre Dame looks to right the ship in Tampa, Fla., Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m.