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Baseball: Breaking .500

Andrew Gastelum | Friday, April 20, 2012

It has been a stuck-in-the-middle kind of year for Notre Dame.

At 6-6 in conference play, the Irish sit right in the middle of the Big East standings, while they are also one bad series away from a .500 overall record. But Irish coach Mik Aoki isn’t quite ready to call it crunch time heading into a road series at Georgetown.

“It’s kind of too early for this to be crunch time,” Aoki said. “We are just about at a halfway point in the Big East season. But don’t get me wrong, this is a big series. Georgetown is playing a lot better than in recent years.”

The Hoyas (18-18, 5-7 Big East) started the year by winning six of seven, before plodding through a seven-game losing streak midway through the season.

However, the Hoyas have turned things around of late, winning four of the last five. With a series win against Notre Dame (19-16, 6-6) this weekend, Georgetown could jump the Irish in the Big East standings, and continue its recent surge from bottom-dweller to surprise competitor.

“I think we need to do routine types of things [to beat Georgetown],” Aoki said. “Take care of the baseball on defense, timely hits, solid pitching. Baseball is actually pretty simple. You hit, you run, you throw. We just have to do it well.”

The Irish did just that last weekend against last-place Cincinnati, taking two of three and scoring 18 runs in the three-game series. But now, the Irish face a Hoya offense with four starters hitting above .300, led by junior shortstop Mike Garza, who is hitting .372 with five home runs and 29 RBIs this season. To stop the shortstop and the rest of the Hoya offense, Aoki said Irish pitching must do what it does best.

“We have to get back to doing some things that we had been doing before coming into league play,” the second-year coach said. “[It’s about] attacking hitters with our strengths, and doing a good of a job as we can staying in positive counts. Part of our Cincinnati series was staying in negative counts, and they made us pay for it.”

Meanwhile, Irish sophomore first baseman Trey Mancini is still on the mend following two injuries in as many weekend series. Mancini, who was hit by a pitch on the wrist April 13, is hitting .317 with four home runs and 27 RBIs, and has missed the last two Irish games. The injuries may have kept the sophomore phenom out of recent matchups, but he is expected to be back in the lineup against the Hoyas.

“I think he is fine, he is a really good player, but even good players go through rough stretches,” Aoki said. “He is too good of a player [to let that affect him]. We will put him right back in the lineup, although I might consider [making him a designated hitter] so there is no risk of him banging his wrist. With us having no games this week, he should be good. 90 percent of Trey is still pretty good.”

The Irish will head to the Washington area to take on the Hoyas, with a four-game series starting tonight at 7 p.m.

Contact Andrew Gastelum at agastel1@nd.edu