Baseball: Notre Dame wins two of three
Chris Masoud | Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Making their season debut at the annual Big East/Big Ten Challenge in St. Petersburg, Fla., the Irish dropped their opener to Michigan State on Friday before rattling off consecutive wins against Purdue on Saturday and Penn State on Sunday.
Although the offense struggled to find its rhythm in the first game of the year against the Spartans, Notre Dame came out swinging against Purdue to the tune of 19 runs and 25 hits, both tournament records.
“We were probably just one two-out hit at the right time from being able to sweep the weekend,” Irish coach Mike Aoki said. “I think the way that we pitched, in particular our starters, and the way that we swung the bats the last two games — I thought we did well.”
In his first season with the Irish, Aoki faces the perennial challenge of preparing his team for the regular season in a harsh outdoor environment. Limited to the batting cages for most of the offseason, the Irish (2-1) looked cold at the plate in stranding seven runners in scoring position in a 2-1 loss to Michigan State (3-0) on Friday.
Senior Brian Dupra threw seven innings and gave up two runs but was outdueled by the Spartans’ Kurt Wunderlich, who yielded only one run in seven innings.
“I think that’s a mix of things — that’s going to happen because hitting is a fickle type of deal,” Aoki said. “Sometimes you have it and sometimes you don’t. I try to judge them on really giving an eye test to the types of at-bats we’re having in those types of situations. You have to give Wunderlich a lot of credit.”
The Irish bounced back in a big way Saturday, crushing Purdue (2-1), 19-2, for Aoki’s first win as the Irish coach. Junior centerfielder Alex Robinson went five-for-five at the plate with three runs scored and an RBI, while senior pitcher Cole Johnson picked up the win after allowing two runs in six innings.
The Irish backed up Saturday’s win with a convincing 8-5 victory over Penn State (3-1) Sunday. Freshman first baseman Trey Mancini went three-for-five with a home run and a triple, while senior Todd Miller tossed 6 1/3 innings and struck out six.
“I think all three starters, all three of them were outstanding,” Aoki said. “All three of them had stretches where they got six or seven or eight batters in a row retired. In situations where they had some runners in scoring position against them, I thought they made some big pitches.”
Although conference play does not begin until late March, Aoki said he is confident in his team’s ability to take the field and compete at the Big East level in February. Nevertheless, this weekend provided the coaching staff with a glimpse of Notre Dame’s potential.
“I think it’s always a work-in-progress,” Aoki said. “I’m glad that we’re not opening up in conference right away, because I think the big thing that you’re trying to do is figure out your personnel. I think this weekend went a long way into telling us who our core guys are.”
Notre Dame will travel to Seattle, Wash., this weekend to face Seattle University in a three-game series.