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Baseball: Irish garner top-25 recognition for first time

Lorenzo Reyes | Tuesday, April 22, 2008

For the first time this season, No. 24 Notre Dame knows that the nation is aware of its recent success. The club cracked the top-25 for the first time when the newest Collegiate Baseball national poll was released Monday, thanks in part to an 11-game win streak and victories in 12 of its last 13.

After struggling to open the season, going 5-6, the Irish (25-10-1, 12-3 Big East) have hit their stride and taken 20 of their last 25 contests en route to their first top-25 ranking. For Notre Dame coach Dave Schrage, it’s been a season-long goal for his squad – but now, he says the team cannot afford to slip up and lose focus.

“It’s a goal that we’ve been shooting for all season,” Schrage said. “We talked about it last week when we were ranked 29th. We’ve been playing well recently, but now it puts a target on our backs. When teams come in and face us, they’re going to want to knock out a top-25 team, so we have to match their emotions.”

Part of the recent success is due to sophomore pitcher/designated hitter David Mills, who was named Big East player of the week Monday, marking the third straight time a Notre Dame player has taken the award.

Mills hit .385 over this past weekend’s conference series against West Virginia with seven RBIs, and the first two home runs of his career.

Schrage said Mills has been an integral cog in his club’s recent success.

“He’s been a real key to our hot streak,” Schrage said. “He’s enabled the rest of our lineup to fall into place from the No. 2-hole. He’s just done an outstanding job of getting on base. He’s also a team player. He has 13 sacrifice bunts, and just does the little things that make the difference.”

Mills and his teammates will attempt to build on their recent success when they take on Chicago State today.

Freshman right-hander Brian Dupra will take the mound against the Cougars and look to improve on his 1-2 record.

Dupra’s ERA stands at 6.83 as he has given up 22 earned runs over his seven appearances. But his numbers do not reflect recent improvement on his early-season struggles.

For Schrage, Chicago State is not a team to be taken lightly, especially since the Cougars are Notre Dame’s first opponent since the team cracked the rankings.

“Well, the game scares me a little bit,” Schrage said. “They played on our field last week, so they know the park. Their record still isn’t very good but they beat Cincinnati earlier this year. We still can’t take them lightly because they’re very capable of coming in and taking this game from us.”

Now that the Irish are finally ranked, Schrage knows that there is only one place his squad wants to go: higher in the rankings.

“It’s a goal for us to keep moving up,” he said. “We’re taking it each game as it comes. We have a pair of non-conference games this week before our big series against St. John’s. I just don’t want our guys looking ahead of the task at hand.”

The first pitch between the Irish and Chicago State is scheduled for 6:05 p.m. at Frank Eck Stadium.