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Baseball: Irish Bats come alive

Chris Khorey | Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Notre Dame spent spring break turning around its season.

After a rocky 2-5 start, the Irish (9-6) made the best of nine days in San Antonio, capturing two tournament titles at Wolff Stadium. Notre Dame won four games at the Texas-San Antonio Express Baseball Classic, including a 5-4 upset of Texas A&M March 10, then earning two victories over Iowa by scores of 16-2 and 6-2 March 11 and 13 and defeating Illinois 4-2 March 12.

Later in the week, Notre Dame hosted its own tournament at Wolff Stadium. The Irish Classic has been a Notre Dame schedule staple for ten years now. While the games were played in San Antonio, Irish players were able to use the stadium’s home locker room, creating what Mainieri called “a home away from home.”

“For being on the road it’s as good a situation as we can ask for,” Mainieri said. “For the second half of the week we got to move into the locker room, so it really felt like a home game.”

Notre Dame went 3-1 in the Irish Classic, taking a pair of games from Southern Illinois March 17 and March 19 by scores of 12-2 and 4-0, respectively. The Irish won their third straight game March 16 against the Hawkeyes, 7-5, but could not complete the four-game sweep, falling 10-8 in the second game of a doubleheader March 17.

While playing a non-conference team like Iowa four times in one week was a strange scheduling quirk, Mainieri said facing the same opponent in multiple games during a short period of time is not uncommon in college baseball.

“Typically on a conference weekend we play a team three times,” he said. “It’s not that unusual in baseball to play a team that many times. I didn’t mind playing them because they were a good team and well-coached.”

The Irish had struggled at the plate before their trip to San Antonio, scoring just one run in three games at the Dairy Queen Classic in Minneapolis March 3-5. But the bats came alive during spring break, as the Irish averaged 7.75 runs over the eight games in Texas.

“Baseball is a game where you get better the more you play,” Mainieri said. “Sometimes it takes 30 to 40 at bats to get into the rhythm. Now that we’re in the swing of things, you can see the players’ confidence grow.”

Notre Dame’s pitching staff also played well in San Antonio. Senior Tom Thornton earned two wins, including an 84-pitch, 5-hit complete game shutout of the Salukis. Junior Jeff Manship earned his first win of the season in the 16-2 win over Iowa, and junior Jeff Samarzdija allowed just four earned runs in 13 innings over the course of the week.

“All three of them have really been phenomenal,” Mainieri said of his top three pitchers. “I think they’re trying to outdo each other.”

After opening the season with 15 road games, the Irish begin their home schedule today at 5:05 p.m. against Wright State (7-8) at Frank Eck Stadium.

Wade Korpi will start on the mound for Notre Dame. The sophomore is 1-0 this season, earning a win in the team’s 6-2 victory over Iowa in San Antonio.

“My favorite day of the year every year is the day we play our first home game,” Mainieri said. “It doesn’t matter what the weather is or how many people are in the stands or what the field condition is. It’s just so nice to be back at Frank Eck Stadium and sleeping in our own beds.”


Mainieri said while the Irish have not played Wright State in 12 years, he has a personal reason to want to beat the Raiders.

“My only experience with Wright State was my very first year at Notre Dame where we lost the Midwest Collegiate Conference tournament championship to them [at home],” Mainieri said.

The weather forecast for game time is 34 degrees and cloudy. No rain is forecast.

“It’s the same weather they’re going to have at Wrigley Field and [U.S. Cellular Field] and Fenway Park when the major leagues start up in a week or so,” Mainieri said.