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Baseball: Capitol Cuts

Kyle Cassily | Friday, March 24, 2006

The big three in the Notre Dame pitching rotation – Jeff Manship, Jeff Samardzija and Tom Thornton – will hoist the resin bag in a three-game series with Georgetown this weekend in Bethesda, Md.

The weekend series marks the opening of 2006 Big East conference play for the Irish, who boast a 10-7 record on the year, all in non-conference games. Georgetown holds a 10-12 record and will host the series – as well as all of its home games – at Povich Field. Povich Field is the home of the Bethesda Big Train, a Cal Ripken, Sr. Collegiate Baseball League team.

Irish head coach Paul Mainieri said he will not limit the workload of any of his three starters, other than the 110-pitch ceiling he rarely allows any of his pitchers to exceed.

“They’re in midseason form, and their endurance is good,” he said. “Within reason, we’re going to let them go. We would watch pitcher’s counts closely, anyway.”

Thornton, a senior left-hander, was named the Big East pitcher of the week on Monday for his complete game, five-hit shutout of Southern Illinois in the championship of the Irish Baseball Classic last week in San Antonio. It was the fifth time – the second this season – that Thornton has received the award, placing him second all-time in most Big East pitcher of the week honors.

Thornton threw only 84 pitches – 64 of them for strikes – and didn’t walk a batter in the nine-inning blanking against the Salukis on Mar. 18.

“I’d take a few more of Tom Thornton’s 84-pitch shutouts,” Mainieri said of his hopes for his starters’ workload this weekend. “If any of them want to give us one of those, I’d be happy to accept it.”

Georgetown first baseman and designated hitter Ryan Craft brings the big stick off the bench in the Hoyas’ lineup. Craft has three home runs and 15 RBIs with a .453 batting average on the season and was named to the preseason all-Big East team.

Manship, a junior righthander, Samardzija, a junior righthander, and Thornton must also deal with junior catcher Brandon Davis, who has been a strong plate presence for the Hoyas this season. He is batting .403 with one home run and 17 RBIs.

“First of all, anytime you go on the road, it is tough in-conference,” Mainieri said. “Second of all, Georgetown got our attention last year by beating us here. I think they’re going to be tough games, and hopefully we’ll play well in all our phases and get off to a good start.”

Getting off to a good start against the Hoyas is only the beginning of a tough 27-game Big East schedule. Mainieri and his Irish nine have plans not only to make the newly-expanded eight-team Big East tournament, but to win the regular season.

“If you win the regular season championship, it gives you an inside track to a NCAA bid,” Mainieri said.

A fifth straight Big East title and seventh straight NCAA tournament bid are Notre Dame’s long terms goals, but for this weekend, only the Hoyas are in the sights of Manship, Samardzija, Thornton and the rest of the Irish bats.