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Baseball: Irish prepare for celebrated pitcher

By Mary Green | Friday, February 22, 2013

Like the many college students who flocked to New Orleans for Mardi Gras festivities, the Notre Dame baseball team will take a late-winter trip to New Orleans. Unlike other students, however, the Irish are not looking to revel in the city’s vibrant nightlife. Instead, the Irish travel to the Big Easy looking to sweep a three-game weekend series with Tulane.

The Irish (2-1) will face the Green Wave (3-1) after earning wins against Florida Gulf Coast and Ohio State in the season-opening Snowbird Tournament last weekend in Sarasota, Fla. Despite failing to complete its rally against Mercer in a close 5-4 ballgame Sunday, Irish coach Mik Aoki said the team aims to maintain the momentum it earned from winning two of three games,

“I think the big thing is that we just continue to play well,” Aoki said. “In spite of losing that game on Sunday, I thought overall we played pretty well.”

Two players performed well enough in the opening weekend to garner early-season conference attention. The Big East named junior third baseman Eric Jagielo and freshman pitcher Nick McCarty to its Weekly Honor Roll on Monday. Jagielo went 6-for-11 with two home runs and eight RBI in the tournament. McCarty pitched five shutout innings of relief to take the 6-5, extra-innings win against Florida Gulf Coast.

The Irish will need solid work from the plate and from the mound again this weekend if they want to return to South Bend with a series victory against a strong Tulane rotation with a 1.54 team ERA and a .167 opponent average. Aoki said he anticipates three hard-fought games against the Green Wave.

“They’re an older team with mostly juniors and seniors, and they’ve got some outstanding pitching so we’re going to get tested for sure,” he said. “This is a really, really good team that we’re going to play.”

Included in the strong Tulane pitching staff is sophomore right hander Tony Rizzotti, who threw a complete-game, one-hit shutout in his team’s season opener against Sam Houston State, a 2-0 Tulane victory.

“Rizzotti’s been the talk of baseball Twitter nation and everything else all week long, and I guess he just pitched outstanding, really great stuff [against Sam Houston State],” Aoki said.

Rizzotti will most likely match up against Irish junior right-hander Sean Fitzgerald on Friday night, while senior right-hander Adam Norton and freshman right-hander David Hearne will head to the hill in the second and third games for Notre Dame.

Aoki said these three pitchers, backed by solid defense, will try to stop the Green Wave’s recently hot bats. The Louisiana offense carried the team to 6-4 and 5-3 victories over Missouri State and Southeastern Louisiana, respectively in its last two games.

“For us, the big thing is that our kids go out and pitch and make sure that we’re throwing strikes, that we’re commanding it,” he said. “The game is set up in such a way that the defense and the pitching have a really big advantage, so as long as you don’t create your own messes, either by defending it poorly or pitching it poorly, I think we’ll be okay. These guys just got to go out and do what they do.”

The Irish will face the Green Wave at Turchin Stadium in New Orleans at 6:30 p.m. today, at 2 p.m. Saturday and at noon Sunday.

Contact Mary Green at mgreen8@nd.edu