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Baseball: Irish focus on fixing flaws in non-conference matchup

Vicky Jacobsen | Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Notre Dame’s game against Toledo on Tuesday won’t be a matchup of undefeated or top-ranked teams. It’s not a renewal of a geographical or historical rivalry. It won’t show up on either team’s conference record.

But Irish coach Mik Aoki said the Irish (16-10, 4-2 Big East) are taking the contest as seriously as any other game on the schedule.

“The danger that you could run into is that the players think that the game is less important because their team is not in our conference,” Aoki said. “That’s one of the things we have to make sure we stay on guard about because every single game counts. It’s really important in order to make the NCAA tournament at the end of the year, so we have to make sure that regardless of who the opponent is, conference or non-conference, we bring the same intensity and attention to detail to every game.”

Although the Rockets (12-14, 3-3 MAC) have been a respectable team in recent years, Aoki said he’d rather focus on fixing Notre Dame’s flaws than worrying about Toledo’s strengths.

“It’s kind of the same old song and dance for us – we need to make sure that we’re worrying less about the opponent than we are worrying about ourselves,” Aoki said. “[We need to make sure] that we’re ready to compete at a high level.”

For Toledo coach Cory Mee, the game will be something of a homecoming. Mee was a four-year starter for the Irish from 1989 to 1992, playing catcher, second and third base. He also served as a volunteer and assistant coach for the Irish before he became the Rockets’ head coach in 2003.

Mee will send freshman Alec Schmenk to the mound to face his alma mater. This will be Schmenk’s second start; the right-hander has put together a 4.38 ERA and 0-1 record in seven appearances this season.

His opposite number will be right-handed junior Patrick Veerkamp, who is 2-0 with a 4.80 ERA in 15 innings this season.

Although the Irish bullpen was taxed against USF over the weekend, Aoki expects most of the pitchers to be ready to go if need be.

“The only guys who would be unavailable are the three starters and then [freshman] Patrick Connaughton. Everyone else would be available,” Aoki said. “They were used in small bursts here and there, except for [Connaughton], and threw five or maybe six pitches or something like that. Outside of [senior Will] Hudgins, [junior Adam] Norton, [sophomore Sean Fitzgerald] and Connaughton, we should have everyone in our bullpen available, so we’ll try to get guys in there as the situation dictates.”

Aoki said a midweek win also improves the team’s trajectory as they head into their weekend series.

“It helps your team to feel good about itself,” Aoki said. “It either continues or starts hopefully a little bit of momentum, a little something to build upon.”

Veerkamp will throw out the first pitch against Toledo at 5:35 p.m. Tuesday at Frank Eck Stadium.

Contact Vicky Jacobsen at vjacobse@nd.edu