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Baseball: Climbing the mountain

Chris Allen | Friday, April 15, 2011

 

Something will have to give in Notre Dame’s weekend series with West Virginia as the Big East’s top offense goes head-to-head with the stalwart Irish pitching staff in a three-game set.
Notre Dame (13-16-1, 4-5) enters the game with one of the top pitching staffs in the Big East, but will be put to the test against the Mountaineer lineup. The Irish lead the conference in fewest walks, wild pitches and hit batters and rank third in ERA with a miniscule 2.92 staff mark. Senior captain and right-hander Brian Dupra will start in the weekend opener, as he does every week, against undefeated West Virginia left-hander Marshall Thompson.
The Saturday and Sunday games will feature senior right-handers Cole Johnson and Todd Miller on the hill for Notre Dame. Though none of the three weekend starters have a standout record, they all carry ERAs of below four into the weekend, an indication of the consistent pitching the Irish have put together.
“The pitching has been great all season, pretty much,” senior third baseman Greg Sherry said. “They’ve done a great job and it’s been nice.”
The staff will face its toughest test of the conference slate thus far in a Mountaineer lineup that enters the weekend with a .312 team batting average, a mark that dwarfs Notre Dame’s .243 team mark. The Mountaineers (20-14, 6-3) feature strong hitting from one through nine in the lineup, with seven hitters in their regular lineup hitting over .300 on the season. Designated hitter Jeremy Gum, who represents one of the top bats in the entire conference, anchors the West Virginia bats. The senior is batting .364 on the year and has clubbed three homeruns and a triple, in addition to 11 doubles — a mark good enough for third in the conference.
The Mountaineers’ strong offensive history suggests Notre Dame will likely have to improve upon its early-season offensive struggles. However, the offense, which has averaged four runs per game, broke out in Notre Dame’s last contest for a 14-run outburst Sunday against Connecticut. Sherry said the offense is rounding into form.
“The hitters are starting to get their timing, we’ve been working hard,” he said. “Coach Aoki has been preaching living in the right-centerfield gap. It’s helped us the last two or three weeks and made us better hitters. I think we’re going to get it rolling, we’re starting to play confidently. If the pitching continues at the level [it’s] at, we’re going to be tough to beat.”
First pitch is slated for Friday at 7 p.m. in a game to be televised nationally on ESPNU. Play will resume on Saturday at 4:05 p.m. and the series finale is set for Sunday at 1:05 p.m.