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Baseball: Irish open Big East play at Coveleski Stadium

Mary Green | Friday, March 22, 2013

Fresh off a California trip in which it collected four close wins, No. 15 Notre Dame will begin its final season of Big East conference play this weekend against Seton Hall.

However, the Irish (12-5) will not open this part of the schedule from the familiar confines of Frank Eck Stadium. As a result of recent wintry weather, the team will take the field on the turf of Coveleski Stadium in downtown South Bend, home of the Class-A South Bend Silver Hawks. Irish coach Mik Aoki said the move was the most logical solution for this weekend’s series.

“With the weather the way that it’s been, any natural surface just hasn’t been allowed to thaw out, and so the artificial surface is the surface that makes the most sense in this climate here in South Bend,” Aoki said.

With their logistical issues settled, the Irish can now focus their efforts on facing the Pirates (7-10), who come to town with a three-game winning streak. After dropping its first nine games, Seton Hall has taken seven of its last eight in the midst of a mid-season turnaround. The last five Pirates starters have yet to give up an earned run in more than 26 innings of work.

In the 10 most recent matchups between Notre Dame and Seton Hall, eight games have been decided by one run, so Aoki said he anticipates a close series once more.

“They pitch it really well, and they just compete like crazy,” Aoki said of the Pirates. “It doesn’t matter what their record is, it doesn’t matter what they’ve done in their last few games. We’ve just got to worry about playing as well as we can possibly play.”

Aoki said he specifically wants his team to focus on improving with each game, getting better as the season progresses.

“I think that for us, it’s just a matter of continuing the process of getting better in everything,” he said. “So if we can continue to just improve as a team collectively and individually, I think that’s what we’re looking to do.”

One player who does not have too much to fix is senior right-handed pitcher Adam Norton. Norton enters the weekend with a 5-0 record and 1.25 ERA after being named to the Big East Honor Roll this week with teammate and junior third baseman Eric Jagielo.

Norton will go to the mound Saturday, while junior Sean Fitzgerald and freshman righty David Hearne will start Friday’s and Sunday’s games, respectively. 

The trio will try to stop the recent success of Pirates centerfielder Zack Granite, who was also on the most recent Honor Roll. The junior batted .556 and collected eight steals in his team’s three wins over Massachusetts last weekend.

Aoki said he will look to both his starters and his bullpen to continue their success from California into this three-game stretch and beyond.

“Hopefully we continue to pitch it well,” he said. “If we can do that and continue to get some of that timely hitting, we’ll be in a pretty good place.”

The Irish will begin Big East play against the Pirates this weekend, with first pitch coming at 7 p.m. tonight from Coveleski Stadium.

Contact Mary Green at mgreen8@nd.edu