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Baseball: Team looks to quiet Pitt

Isaac Lorton | Friday, April 12, 2013

The No. 22 Irish hit the road to take on conference rival Pittsburgh for a three-game series this weekend. 

Last season, Notre Dame (19-11, 4-5 Big East) swept the Panthers (21-9, 3-3) in a three-game series, but the Panthers are off to a hot start and look to be a competitive force this season, Irish coach Mik Aoki said.

“We had good results against them last year, but they are a much improved team,” Aoki said of Pittsburgh. “From midway last year, they picked up their game and continued on into this year. Pittsburgh will be a formidable opponent.”

The Irish are coming off of a hard-fought 4-1 loss to Michigan on Tuesday and are on a two-game losing streak. Pittsburgh is riding a one-game win streak, as the Panthers routed Youngstown State 24-7 on Tuesday. 

The Panthers’ attack is led by junior outfielder Casey Roche. On Tuesday, Roche hit for the cycle and had 10 RBIs, including a grand slam. This season, Roche is hitting .376 with six home runs, 47 hits and 43 RBIs. 

“Casey Roche is a great player,” Aoki said. “He has got to be up there in the consideration for Big East Player of the Year. Luckily, he is one guy in a lineup of nine.” 

Notre Dame, however, has its own response to Roche. In the middle of the lineup, junior third baseman Eric Jagielo and junior first baseman Trey Mancini have been blasting their way through this season as Jagielo is hitting .392 with 40 hits, 28 RBI and seven home runs, while Mancini is batting .321 with 35 hits, 29 RBI and four home runs. Both are in contention for the Big East Player of the Year award and can make their respective cases this weekend, Aoki said. 

The Irish pitching staff will look to shut down the bats of the Panthers, primarily focusing on stopping Roche, Aoki said. 

“[Roche] is a guy you don’t want to beat you,” Aoki said. “If there is a situation where there’s runners in scoring position and a base open, we might opt to pitch to someone else. The game doesn’t necessarily allow you to do that all of the time, so we must be careful when and how we pitch to him.”

Notre Dame’s starting rotation this weekend will consist of sophomore Pat Connaughton (0-1), junior Adam  Norton (7-0) and sophomore Matt Ternowchek (4-1). Norton, who has a 1.72 ERA for the season, will look to keep his unbeaten streak alive. After rough outings against Villanova this past weekend, the staff should return to its usual high performance, Aoki said.  

“I hope we get back to the body of work which our pitching suggests,” Aoki said. “We got back to that Tuesday, I think. Last weekend we hope was more of a fluke than who we actually are.”

On the hill for the Panthers will be juniors Matt Wotherspoon (4-1), Ethan Mildren (5-2) and Rhys Aldenhoven (5-0). Aoki said the Panthers’ arms are solid, but Notre Dame’s lineup will match up well with the three righties.

“Mildren and Witherspoon are both good arms and good starters,” Aoki said. “They did well against us last year, and I expect nothing different from them this year.  Runs are going to be hard to come by this series. I would expect the games to be extremely competitive.”

First pitch is set for 5 p.m. Friday at Charles L. Cost Field in Pittsburgh. The Irish and Panthers will also meet Saturday at 3 p.m. and Sunday at 12 p.m.

Contact Isaac Lorton at ilorton@nd.edu