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Baseball: Notre Dame heads west for Dodgertown Classic

John Sandberg | Thursday, March 7, 2013

No. 22 Notre Dame travels to the West Coast this weekend looking to improve on its 8-2 record and climb higher in the rankings as they compete in the Dodgertown Classic in Los Angeles.

The Irish will face their toughest tests to date over the weekend, starting with Friday’s opening game against No. 12 UCLA. Notre Dame will take on USC on Saturday before closing out the tournament Sunday against No. 17 Oklahoma.The Dodgertown Classic, which has previously been held at Dodger Stadium, will alternate between UCLA’s Jackie Robinson Stadium and USC’s Dedeaux Field due to Dodger Stadium’s ongoing offseason renovations.

Irish senior outfielder Charlie Markson said this weekend’s competition brings Notre Dame a welcome challenge.

“We’ve experienced some success early and now we’re going in and facing some good teams,” Markson said. “This will be a real test to see where we stand.”

Sophomore outfielder Ryan Bull agreed the Irish will look to build upon their early season success.

“I think we’re playing very good baseball, we just need to stay clean defensively,” Bull said. “Our pitching is outstanding right now. We just need to keep having some good at bats and I think we’ll have a very good showing out in California.”

Notre Dame has swung the bat well as a team and no one has been more consistent than Bull, who leads the team with a .395 batting average through the first 10 games.

Friday’s game pits the Irish offense against UCLA’s experienced pitching staff, which is one of the deepest and most talented in the nation.”We’ve seen some good arms with Virginia Tech and Tennessee,” Bull said. “We know that we’re going to go up there and see some good competition … but I think we have to just go up there and keep battling. I’m sure we’ll find success as long as we play our game.”

On Saturday, Notre Dame will see a young USC lineup that has struggled at times to put runs on the board during the early part of this season. Many of those games came against strong opponents, though. While the Trojans (6-5) may lack some of the star power of UCLA (9-2), the Irish won’t be taking them lightly.

“Especially after last weekend, losing to a team we think we should have beat, we’re going into [this weekend] with the mentality that we think we’re capable of beating anybody, but also anybody is capable of beating us,” Markson said. “We’re not taking anything for granted, but we’re also going in with the confidence that we think we can beat anybody.”

In Sunday’s finale, the Irish will see a well-rounded Oklahoma team that is third in the Big 12 with a team batting average of .299 and fifth in team ERA at 3.46. Over spring break, the Irish will continue their swing through California by traveling up the coast for a Tuesday afternoon matchup against UC Santa Barbara on Tuesday followed by a three-game series at Cal Poly starting Thursday. The California trip will be the longest road trip for the Irish this regular season.

“Obviously, it will be tiring, but everybody else has to play basically the same amount of games we do [because] it’s their spring break trip,” Bull said. “It can be a grind at times, but if we keep our nose to the grindstone and keep on going we’ll be fine.”

Markson said the eight-day California swing will be a time for the Irish to count on the veterans who have been through long road trips before.

“For the older guys, we’ve done these seven- and eight-day trips last spring break in San Antonio and Louisiana,” Markson said. “It is definitely a mental challenge, but aside from the freshmen, everybody has been through it before. That’s the job of the upperclassmen is to help the freshmen and sophomores and make it a little easier for them because we’ve done it before.”

The action kicks off Friday at 9 p.m. ESPT between the Irish and Bruins at Jackie Robinson Stadium in Los Angeles.

Contact John Sandberg at jsandbe1@nd.edu