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Baseball: Fitzgerald leads squad to exciting environment

Vicky Jacobsen | Friday, March 30, 2012

The Irish are heading back to the Sun Belt for a weekend series against conference foe South Florida. But although the games will be played in Tampa, the atmosphere will be miles away from spring training.

“There are very few venues in college baseball that are quite as electric – [maybe] LSU,” Irish coach Mik Aoki said of USF Baseball Stadium. “We were able to go down [to LSU] and really played our most complete game of the year and got that win against them, so hopefully we can build on that and have a little confidence from it, and play well all weekend.”

The Irish will be following their regular weekend pitching rotation of senior Will Hudgins, followed by junior Adam Norton and sophomore Sean Fitzgerald, who will close out the series on Sunday afternoon. Aoki said he doesn’t expect the usually rocking house at South Florida (18-8, 3-0 Big East) to faze any of his pitchers.

“They’re good pitchers, they’re good competitors, they’re really good kids,” Aoki said. “They’re kids who have been in hostile environments and done a good job, and they’re not going to get carried away with the moment.”

Although Hudgins and Norton can boast matching 3-1 records, Hudgins holds a sparkling 1.08 ERA, while Fitzgerald has had rougher results in his first six starts, earning a 5.72 ERA in 28.1 innings.

“Fitz [Fitzgerald] has had a bit of a struggle to this point, and I hope that he’s able to be more like the pitcher he was when we played LSU,” Aoki said. “I don’t really have any reason to believe that he won’t be, because I think his separation has been good this week. So I’m looking forward to getting out of Fitz what we would have anticipated getting out of him at the very beginning of the year.”

Aoki also said he would like to see tighter fielding from his players after Wednesday’s 8-5 loss to UIC – which saw three more errors from the Irish – but overall, the coach was confident in Notre Dame’s chances going into the weekend.

“In comparison to the way we’ve played against UIC the other night, I’d like to get us back to taking care of the baseball a little better than we did,” Aoki said. “Offensively, we’ve been fairly steady all year and I’d like to be able to see that. I’d like to see a little more production out of whoever we’re playing at shortstop, but overall I just want us to go down there and do a really, really good job of competing and playing hard.”

Aoki said senior outfielder Alex Robinson will be returning to the Irish lineup over the weekend. Robinson, who is batting .344, has been out with injury and last played in Notre Dame’s 12-4 home-opening victory over Eastern Michigan.

Aoki said the Irish will have their work cut out for them against the Bulls’ starting pitching. Junior right-handed pitcher Joey Lovecchio took a no-hit bid into the eighth inning on March 12 against Yale, and the Bulls have already thrown four shutouts this season.

“Their strength certainly lies in their starting pitching, but they’ve got some guys who swing the bat pretty well,” Aoki said. “They’re a solid all-around team, and so we’re going to have to play quite well in order to try and win the series.”

Friday’s first pitch will be thrown at 7 p.m. in Tampa, Fla. Saturday’s game will begin at 6 p.m., and the series finale will start at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

Contact Vicky Jacobsen at vjacobse@nd.edu