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Baseball: Aoki expects continued improvement in year two

Vicky Jacobsen | Tuesday, March 6, 2012

When Irish coach Mik Aoki replaced former coach Dave Schrage after the 2010 season, he inherited a team with a 22-32 record, a pitching staff that had given up nearly six earned runs per game and a squad that had missed the Big East tournament for the first time in 15 years.

Aoki also did not inherit was an offensive juggernaut, as four of the five best Irish hitters from the 2010 squad graduated after that season.

But in Aoki’s first season, the Irish found their way back to the Big East tournament with a 13-13 conference record. Notre Dame also finished the season with a slightly improved overall record of 23-29-1.

Aoki said his expectations for the squad have risen significantly in his second season.

“No doubt, I think that this team is capable of doing more than last year’s team did,” Aoki said. “I’d be disappointed if we didn’t.”

Aoki, who coached at Boston College before coming to Notre Dame, said he felt he had a good handle on his new team in his first season with the Irish, but the intervening year has shown him what it’s like to coach at Notre Dame.

“What I learned along the way is that there’s a way that Notre Dame does things versus how other schools do things, and there’s a pressure that a Notre Dame student is under,” Aoki said. “My last stop was at Boston College, so I think that there are differences in the way that the kids are [there]. I think I have a little better feel for that.”

Aoki also said he expects the team to run more smoothly now that he and the players are more familiar with each other.

“I think I have a little more of an understanding of each kid, and more than anything I think the players are much more comfortable with me than they were a year ago,” Aoki said. “I think they know what to expect: how I’m going to manage a game, or the way that I’m going to react to the games. I think that might have caused a little consternation, especially in the minds of the players. I hope, anyway, that that sort of thing is water under the bridge.”

Aoki said he has sensed a change in the team atmosphere since he took over, which he thinks will translate into wins.

“I think that that’s inevitable with any coaching change, because any coach has their own ideas of the way things need to get done and has their own expectation for the way that players should practice or prepare and play and all of that,” Aoki said. “In my eyes that change is positive — I guess you have to ask the players as to whether or not that’s true. I think I’ve really changed the way this group has gone about its work, and I think they’re doing a good job.”

Although Aoki said the Irish won’t be able to overpower their opponents with superior talent, he still has big plans for them. Notre Dame sped off to a 5-1 record in the first two weekends of the season before suffering a three-game sweep at the hands of Texas State last weekend.

“I would hope that we would have a number of more wins, [I] hope that we can be above .500,” Aoki said. “I hope that we can really compete to be in the upper-half of the Big East and potentially get into a regional. I think we have a long way to go to achieve that level of play, but I certainly feel like it’s within the realm of what this team is capable of doing.”

The Irish face Michigan in Baton Rouge, La., in their first game of the LSU Baseball Tournament at 2 p.m. on Saturday.

Contact Vicky Jacobsen at vjacobse@nd.edu