Baseball: Junior-powered squad cracks top 25
John Sandberg | Wednesday, May 15, 2013
In baseball’s history, the game’s fascination with numbers has always shone through. Fitting then, that in Notre Dame coach Mik Aoki’s third season, a trio of juniors shone brightest for the Irish.
Junior infielders Eric Jagielo and Trey Mancini powered the offense and regularly sat among the offensive leaders in the Big East. On the mound, junior right-hander Dan Slania was everything as advertised in the closer’s role, leading the Big East in saves throughout much of the season en route to breaking former Irish closer Kyle Weiland’s school record of 25 career saves.
“I think … when it’s all said and done, there’s going to be a huge buzz about [all three of] them in June,” Aoki said at the start of the season. “They’re phenomenal kids who’ve worked their rear ends off. … I’d probably be foolish to think we’ll have them for their senior year, but it’d be nice if we did.”
Aoki, of course, was speaking in reference to June’s MLB Draft. Jagielo, Mancini and Slania have all been mentioned by the national media as potential early-round draft picks.
While talk about bright futures might have distracted some teams, Notre Dame had a demanding schedule to keep it busy.
The Irish began the season by winning two of three games in Fla. on Feb. 16 and followed with a sweep of Tulane in New Orleans. Notre Dame then won three of four games at the Irish Baseball Classic in Cary, N.C., before hitting the road again over spring break for a weeklong trip throughout California. Through the first month of the season, Notre Dame rose as high as No. 15 in the national top-25 rankings.
In March, the Irish began Big East play with series wins against Seton Hall and Villanova, but suffered road sweeps to Louisville and Pittsburgh. Notre Dame finished April on a hot streak by winning eight of nine games, including a home sweep of Connecticut.
On May 3, Irish fans witnessed history as South Florida and Notre Dame battled for 19 innings before Notre Dame ultimately fell to the Bulls, 8-2. The matchup tied for the longest game in Big East history and was the longest game in the history of Frank Eck Stadium.
Aoki praised the six seniors on his team for “doing things the right way” throughout their time at Notre Dame.
“Academically they are a very high-achieving class and on the field they’re a very high-achieving class,” Aoki said. “They’ve taken the steps to help this program get back to where we all want it to be, back to that 2002 College World Series.”
Maybe no senior has been more impressive in his final season than Adam Norton. The right-hander ranks among the best Big East starters with a 9-2 record and 1.96 ERA.
Aoki said Norton will be especially missed after this season.
“He’s a great kid and a ton of fun to be around,” Aoki said. “Regardless of the wins and losses we’re really going to miss that kid.”
The Irish conclude regular-season play with a game against Cincinnati and will look toward the Big East tournament, which begins Wednesday in Clearwater, Fla. Aoki said with the amount of talent Notre Dame has, the key will be for his players to maintain the right mental approach.
“We need to go out there to play to win rather than playing to avoid losing,” Aoki said. “Just constantly attack the other team. … If we do that we’re talented enough to make a run at [the Big East championship] and make it into the NCAA tournament and make a run at that.”
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