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Irish travel to Florida to face 3 top 25 teams

Chris Federico | Friday, February 27, 2004

After a successful opening weekend that saw Notre Dame go 2-0 against San Diego State and Southern California, the Irish travel to Boca Raton, Fla., for the Florida Atlantic University Classic.The Irish have their work cut out for them as they will play four games in three days and face three teams – Winthrop, Florida Atlantic and Minnesota – ranked in the top 25 in various national polls.”We’re really excited about going down to Florida,” Irish coach Paul Mainieri said. “I think a lot of people underestimate the teams we’ll be playing down there this weekend. Teams like Winthrop and Florida Atlantic – people don’t recognize them because they don’t have big football programs – but these are some very excellent baseball teams we’ll be playing.”Notre Dame will also play an extra game with Florida Memorial Saturday afternoon to make up for last weekend’s rained-out contest with Louisville.Mainieri was excited about the opportunity to schedule the extra game with the Lions over the weekend because it gives him a chance to test the depth of his pitching staff.”I’m happy we got a chance to schedule Florida Memorial this weekend, because we were very upset about the rainout against Louisville last Sunday,” Mainieri said. “But now with this game, we’ll have to use a bunch of pitchers this weekend in the four games. The younger guys really need to get some experience on the mound in a real game situation, and these games should provide that.”The Irish begin play today at 1 p.m. against Winthrop (4-1), who moved into the latest National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association poll this week at No. 25.The Eagles are led offensively by second baseman Matt Matkovich, who boasts a .450 batting average and seven RBI. As a team, the Eagles are hitting .314 this season, while holding opponents to just a .209 batting average.Junior right hander Chris Niesel, who opened the season for the Irish last weekend with a nine-strikeout performance in a 7-1 win over San Diego State, will likely get the start for Notre Dame. His counterpart on the mound for Winthrop should be lefty Chase Edwards, who is 1-0 on the year and did not allow a run in 5.2 innings pitched.After a 2 p.m. meeting with Florida Memorial on Saturday, the Irish turn around quickly for a 7 p.m. matchup with host Florida Atlantic. The Owls are 10-0 this year and boast the nation’s longest current winning streak. They are ranked in the top 25 in all four major college baseball polls and are ranked as highly as 12th by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper.The Owls have a trio of batters in centerfielder Tim Mascia (.486), infielder Derek Hutton (.435) and outfielder Rob Horst (.429) with batting averages that surpass the .400 mark. As a team, Florida Atlantic is batting .338, while opponents are only hitting .215 against them.Sophomore left hander Tom Thornton, who was named Big East Pitcher of the Week last week for his performance in allowing no earned runs in six innings against the USC Saturday, will likely be the starter for the Irish. He will face senior left hander Randy Beam, who is 2-0 for the Owls with a 2.57 ERA this season.The Irish conclude play Sunday against Minnesota, who will be playing its first game of the season today in the tournament. The Golden Gophers are ranked 25th by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper.In that contest, Irish freshman Derik Olvey will likely get his first career start and will face junior Matt Loberg.After the two good wins against the Aztecs and Trojans last weekend, Mainieri is hoping his team can carry that momentum into the Florida Atlantic Tournament.”To see how we played in our first game on the field was really encouraging,” Mainieri said. “We hit the ball well, our pitchers pitched well, and we never mishandled balls in the field or made bad throws. The [opening] weekend provided two really good outings for us to get a springboard into the season.”