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Baseball

Florida Atlantic to host Notre Dame’s opener

| Thursday, February 13, 2014

This weekend, Notre Dame will travel south toward warmer weather to kick off its 2014 season against Florida Atlantic. The Irish will play two games on Saturday followed by a third game on Sunday, all against the Owls.

Irish junior Mac Hudgins (13) celebrates with a teammate during Notre Dame’s 12-2 victory over Connecticut on April 26 last season. Hudgins started 31 games for the Irish last season and had 29 doubles.Oe Kenesey

Irish junior Mac Hudgins (13) celebrates with a teammate during Notre Dame’s 12-2 victory over Connecticut on April 26 last season. Hudgins started 31 games for the Irish last season and had 29 doubles.

“We’re going to get into the warm weather and play games that count right away,” Irish coach Mik Aoki said. “It will be nice, though. It will be a nice respite from playing indoors at Loftus. We played a lot of scrimmages. I think it’s time for us to look at a different uniform and some sunshine while we’re playing, as opposed to fluorescent lighting.”

This will be Notre Dame’s first year competing in the ACC. Last season, the Irish finished 34-24 and their time in the Big East came to a close with a loss to Connecticut in the conference championship game.

Likewise, Florida Atlantic will be competing in a new conference. After spending the last seven seasons in the Sun Belt Conference, the Owls will transition this year to Conference USA. Last season, the Owls went 42-22 and nearly advanced to a Super Regional before losing to North Carolina in their regional final to conclude the season.

“[Florida Atlantic] is a good team,” Aoki said. “They are a team that was one out away from eliminating a national seed in North Carolina to go to a Super Regional last year. I’m sure they’re looking at it as an opportunity missed.”

Irish senior catcher Forrest Johnson takes an at-bat during  Notre Dame’s 10-6 loss to Villanova on April 7th of last season.Observer File Photo

Irish senior catcher Forrest Johnson takes an at-bat during Notre Dame’s 10-6 loss to Villanova on April 7th of last season.

Though both teams are trying to make their own mark in their respective new conferences, Aoki said a non-conference game still holds significant value for the Irish.

“I think for a team that has gone through some transition, this is good for us,” Aoki said. “I think it’s a good test to see where we are and see some of these things.”

With a significant number of returning players, the Owls are projected to finish second in Conference USA by the league coaches’ preseason poll. Additionally, the Owls’ junior pitcher Austin Gomber found a spot on the preseason All-Conference team.

“They return a decent chunk of that team and they’re older,” Aoki said. “They’ve got a lot of junior college guys who are playing in their second year. Those guys have played a lot of baseball and they’re a talented group. I don’t know if there are one or two guys that jump off the page at you, but they’ve got a bunch of guys who are good, solid Division-I, professional-prospect type players.”

Nonetheless, Notre Dame will welcome the challenge early in their season, as the Irish look to compete in a highly competitive conference this year.

“It doesn’t get any easier going into the ACC,” Aoki said. “This is the caliber of opponent we’re going to be facing week-in and week-out. We might as well go ahead and get used to it.”

With a three-game series in store, the Irish will begin their 2014 campaign at 1 p.m. on Saturday in Boca Raton, Fla., against Florida Atlantic.

Contact Aaron Sant-Miller at asantmil@nd.edu

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