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Baseball: Strong rotation leads Irish into weekend

Mary Green | Friday, April 5, 2013

While the professionals have just begun their season, No. 20 Notre Dame is entering the heart of its schedule as it prepares to face Villanova in a three-game series this weekend at Frank Eck Stadium.

The Irish (17-9, 2-4 Big East) enter riding a two-game winning streak, collecting victories over Illinois-Chicago and Valparaiso earlier this week. Those momentum-building wins came at just the right moment after the team dropped all three games against Louisville in its last Big East series, Irish coach Mik Aoki said.

“It was nice to be able to get a couple of wins after obviously a tough weekend down in Louisville,” he said. “So it was nice to get back on that, feeling good about ourselves and getting back to some winning ways.”

On the other side of the diamond lie the Wildcats (8-19, 0-3), who have yet to pick up a conference win. Despite their lackluster season thus far, Aoki said the Irish will not count them out before the series is over.

“They’ve struggled a little bit more than they did last year, but they’ve got a couple of good arms,” he said. “It’s like any Big East weekend, I think. You’ve got to make sure that you play well in order to come out with the results that you want.”

On the heels of a two-game winning streak itself, Villanova enters the series after picking up close wins over Pennsylvania and La Salle. In the Wildcats’ 3-1 victory over La Salle on Wednesday, sophomore left-hander Jeff Courter pitched 8.1 innings of one-run baseball in his first career start. Another second-year southpaw for the Wildcats, Josh Harris, leads the team with a 2.09 ERA in spite of a 2-4 record.

Those two will look to match up with a strong Irish rotation this weekend, when two Notre Dame sophomore right-handed starters will make their home debuts. On Friday, Pat Connaughton will take the mound, and Matt Ternowchek will get the nod Sunday. In conjunction with Saturday’s “Fear the Beard” night, senior right-hander Adam Norton will head to the hill with his 6-0 record and 1.39 ERA for the series’ middle game.

With the recent turn towards spring weather, Aoki said he hopes to see plenty of Notre Dame students at this season’s first home weekend series.

“We’d certainly love to fill up the Eck,” he said. “[With this weekend’s promotions] I think it should be a lot of fun.”

Following a pregame tailgate beginning at 4 p.m., the Irish will take the field for Game One of their series with the Wildcats at 5:35 p.m. tonight at Frank Eck Stadium.

Contact Mary Green at mgreen8@nd.edu