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Baseball: ND set for series with St. Johns

Jack Hefferon | Friday, April 27, 2012

Fans at Frank Eck Stadium will be in for a treat this weekend, as two of the Big East’s top teams will square off in a key midseason series.

The Irish (22-17, 9-6 Big East) currently sit fourth in the Big East standings after winning five of their last six games in conference. They will host conference-leading St. John’s (25-16, 11-4) for a Friday doubleheader and a series finale on Sunday.

Irish coach Mik Aoki said that he thinks his team may have begun to hit its stride in conference play, and hopes it can continue its solid run of league play against the Red Storm.

“I thought that at Georgetown we had turned a little bit of a corner there,” Aoki said. “Between the Cincinnati and Georgetown series we had won five of six so [we’ve] started to feel a little more positive about ourselves.”

Despite its recent dominant play in the Big East, Notre Dame will come in with something to prove after a loss to Central Michigan on Wednesday. The Irish jumped out to a 3-1 lead after the first inning, but the Chippewas (18-24, 7-8 Mid-American) stormed back and shut down the Irish lineup en route to a 9-4 win.

Aoki said his team will need to improve in nearly every aspect of the game after such a disappointing defeat.

“We have got to play a hell of a lot better,” he said. “We have got to pitch a lot better. We have got to defend a lot better. And we have got to hit a lot better. So that probably covers it.”

In addition to their own issues, the Irish will also need to deal with the Red Storm’s depth. St. John’s has seven regular players batting over .300, and also boasts the reigning Big East Pitcher of the Week, junior Kyle Hansen. Hansen led St. John’s to a sweep of Cincinnati last weekend through a dominant complete-game shutout on Sunday, in which he walked no batters and had a career-high 16 strikeouts.

With such a tough opponent, Aoki said that the Red Storm will not allow the Irish to succeed if Notre Dame repeats Wednesday’s mistakes.

“We have got to play better than [we did against Central Michigan] in order to be where we want them to be at the end of the year,” he said. “And if we play like that, we are not going to be. If we play like that this weekend we are going to lose three games.”

The heated conference matchup will begin at Frank Eck Stadium with a doubleheader on Friday. The first game will start at 2:35 p.m., with the second following 30-40 minutes after the final out. The rubber match is slated for Sunday, where first pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m.

Contact Jack Hefferon at wheffero@nd.edu