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Baseball: Irish head south for inaugural Baseball Classic

John Sandberg | Friday, March 1, 2013

Fresh off a three-game sweep of Tulane in New Orleans last weekend, Notre Dame gets back on the field today in the inaugural USA Baseball-Irish Classic in Cary, N.C.

The No. 22 Irish (5-1) take on Massachusetts (0-0) at 3 p.m. and will face off against Tennessee (3-5) in the nightcap of a doubleheader at 6:30 p.m

This weekend’s tournament gives Notre Dame an early season opportunity to defend its top-25 ranking. The Irish haven’t been ranked among the nation’s top-25 teams since 2006

Junior first baseman Trey Mancini is well aware of what the ranking means for the team.

“It’s been seven years since we’ve been ranked, so it’s a big deal for the program,” Mancini said. “We’ve kind of been stuck in neutral for a while so it’s finally good to get a higher ranking now.”

That’s not to say the Irish have reached their peak, he said. 

“We were in a meeting [Tuesday] and our coach just told us not to get too hung up on the ranking because we are only six games into a 56-game season,” Mancini said. “So we’re excited, but we’re still really focused on trying to not make this the high point of the season. We still have a lot of work to do.”

Mancini will be key for Notre Dame’s offensive success this weekend. Through six games he has provided the type of consistency the Irish expect in the middle of their order. Mancini is batting .346 with one home run and five RBIs and had a three-hit game last Sunday against Tulane.

“I hit best when I don’t try to do too much,” Mancini said. “Sometimes I can get over aggressive and swing too hard and that’s when I start going downwards. So far I’ve been trying to focus on one pitch at a time and picking good pitches to hit.”

Notre Dame will have two more games over the weekend, squaring off against No. 25 Virginia Tech (8-1) at 6 p.m. on Saturday and will finish out the tournament against Rhode Island (0-8) at 11 a.m. on Sunday. All games will take place at the USA Baseball National Training Complex. 

The Irish Classic was announced by USA Baseball in early November of last year. It features five teams in addition to Notre Dame, with the Irish taking on all of them except for Ohio. 

While this is the inaugural year for the Irish Classic, Notre Dame is no stranger to USA Baseball. Eight Notre Dame baseball alumni have been members of college, under-18, or under-16 national teams. The Irish also had the chance to play a three-game series against Hofstra at the National Training Complex last season. 

Several Irish players and coaches recognize the unique relationship between Notre Dame and USA Baseball.

“For USA Baseball to have a partnership with us is really an honor,” Mancini said. 

The pristine National Training Complex was built in 2007 and features three training fields and a stadium.

“It was awesome,” Mancini said about playing at USA Baseball’s complex last year. “The fields were in tip top shape. … It was just a really cool place and they did a great job with it. It’s just a state of the art facility all the way around.”

Today, the Irish will look to place top-25 rankings and all other distractions aside as they try to win both ends of the doubleheader and improve their season win total to seven. Mancini cited the team’s core of veteran leaders and high level of confidence as determining factors in doing just that.

“We know that none of the teams we play this weekend care what our ranking is, they’re just going to play hard against us,” Mancini said. “Our goal for this weekend is to win our own tournament which would be awesome. I think if we do that it will really make a statement and verify that [top-25] ranking.”

Massachusetts will throw out the first pitch of the USA Baseball-Irish Classic in Cary, N.C. at 3 p.m. today.

Contact John Sandberg at
jsandbe1@nd.edu