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Baseball: Bats propel ND into midweek matchup

John Sandberg | Monday, April 8, 2013

No. 18 Notre Dame will look to bounce back from Sunday’s loss to Villanova as it returns to Frank Eck Stadium today to take on regional rival Michigan in a non-conference matchup.

The Irish (19-10, 4-5 Big East) are coming off a 2-1 series victory against Villanova this past weekend, with wins Friday and Saturday before a loss in Sunday’s finale.

Despite taking two of three from the Wildcats, coach Mik Aoki said the Irish were “really fortunate” to come away with two victories in a series that featured uncharacteristically sloppy pitching from Notre Dame.

One thing that has not been sloppy is the middle of Notre Dame’s batting order. Junior infielders Eric Jagielo and Trey Mancini are batting .398 and .324, respectively. Mancini leads the team with 29 RBIs, and Jagielo is not far behind with 27 of his own.

“They’re a great luxury to have,” Aoki said. “For the past two years, Eric and Trey [have] been great to have hitting three and four. … They’re great players, and even more importantly, they’re really phenomenal kids.”

Sophomore outfielder Ryan Bull has also been hitting the ball extremely well while batting fifth and providing some protection behind Mancini. Bull, who Aoki described as having “come into his own” this season, is batting .325 with 16 RBIs, including five RBIs in Sunday’s loss to Villanova. Bull is also riding a seven-game hitting streak.

At the beginning of this season, Aoki said a key factor in Notre Dame’s success this year would be its ability to win mid-week games. The Irish accomplished that last week, beating Illinois-Chicago and Valparaiso on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.

This week, Notre Dame will look to do the same, starting this evening against Michigan (16-14, 4-2 Big Ten). Freshman right-hander David Hearne is slated to start on the mound for the Irish. Hearne is 0-1 with a 4.40 ERA in eight appearances this season.

“Pitching is always the key in our game,” Aoki said. “[Today] we need for David Hearne to go out there and give us a few strong innings and get the game to the bullpen and manage that.”

The Wolverines have been hot lately, with five wins in a row and six wins in their last seven games. Notre Dame is the first ranked opponent Michigan faces this season, but the Wolverines hold a commanding 85-45 lead in the all-time series against the Irish. The Wolverines and Irish split a pair of contests last season and will also play each other in Ann Arbor next Tuesday.

“[Michigan is] a team we’re fairly familiar with, given that we’ve played them four times over the past two years,” Aoki said. “They seem to be a lot better hitting team than they were a year ago. … They’ve got a good coaching staff and the team has obviously got to feel pretty good about themselves after sweeping an excellent Michigan State team [last weekend].”

After Michigan, Notre Dame will return to the field for another non-conference home game against Eastern Michigan on Wednesday. Sophomore right-hander Matt Ternowchek is scheduled to start against the Eagles (14-16, 4-5 MAC).

The first pitch between the Irish and Wolverines is set for 5:35 p.m. today in Frank Eck Stadium.

Contact John Sandberg at jsandbe1@nd.edu