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Baseball: Irish to face Red Storm

Chris Masoud | Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tuesday’s rainout gave Notre Dame an additional day of rest before the team travels to Queens, N.Y., for a three-game set against St. John’s. But after dropping four of its last six games at Frank Eck Stadium, the team also lost a chance to improve its overall record through a nonconference contest against MAC foe Toledo.

After showing signs of life in a 14-4 outburst against Connecticut April 10, the offense has gone cold once again, averaging just over three runs in its past four games. Irish coach Mik Aoki remains positive and believes Notre Dame (14-18-1, 5-7 Big East) can be a threat in the conference tournament given continued development in practice.

“The key for us is to just continue to improve, especially offensively,” Aoki said. “I really feel that this team is built almost for a tournament type of format than the grind of the regular season. If we can get that fourth, fifth, sixth seed in the Big East tournament, I think we can be a really tough out.”

Tied for second in the Big East standings, St. John’s (19-13, 8-4) has positioned itself for a top-seed in the conference tournament on the back of its outstanding defense. The Red Storm have committed just 32 errors all season, good enough for the conference’s best fielding percentage at .974.

St. John’s also features one of the conference’s premiere hitters in shortstop Joe Panik. The shortstop has amassed a .395 batting average, 31 RBIs and a conference-best 27 walks, leading the Red Storm to a team batting average of .272 compared to Notre Dame’s .239, the lowest mark in the conference.

“We can really pitch it. That’s the strength of the team,” senior infielder Mick Doyle said. “The hitting has been kind of a process for us. Coach has a few things we’ve worked on consistently since the beginning of the year. I think it’s getting there. Hopefully we can get real hot at the right time, make a little run at the Big East championships.”

Senior infielder Greg Sherry echoed his teammate’s sentiments.

“The pitching has been great the whole year,” Sherry said. “The hitters are starting to get their timing. Coach Aoki has been preaching living in the right-center field gap, which has helped us the last two, three weeks. We’re going to get it rolling. We’re starting to play confidently.”

Confidence will be key as Notre Dame looks to improve upon its 2-5 record on the road. Aoki will tap his trio of senior right-handers Brian Dupra, Cole Johnson and Todd Miller to subdue the Red Storm offense.

“We can be a team that not a whole heck-of-a-lot of people want to play, especially if we can make some improvement offensively,” Aoki said. “We’ve pitched it pretty well and we’ve defended it for the most part pretty well. At some point, these one and two-run games should start going our way if we can improve.”

The Irish will play at St. John’s this weekend in a three-game series.