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Baseball: Big East season to begin with Pirates

Matt Gamber | Friday, March 20, 2009

Notre Dame will host Seton Hall at 5:05 p.m. today in the first of a three-game set that will open Big East play for both teams.

The Irish (12-5) will send sophomore Cole Johnson (1-0, 2.25 ERA) to the mound as they try to extend their season-best win streak to six against the Pirates (8-6) and junior right-hander Sean Black (2-1, 3.43).

Irish sophomore Brian Dupra (2-2, 7.48) will take on Seton Hall’s Keith Cantwell (2-0, 4.10) in Saturday’s Game 2, and Sunday’s contest will feature Notre Dame junior Eric Maust (2-0, 3.30) and Joe DiRocco (1-1, 2.36).

Both weekend games are set to begin at 1:05 p.m.

“You’ve got to protect your home turf and win your games at home if you want to win the league,” Irish coach Dave Schrage said. “Every series now is going to be a big series, and you always want to get off to a good start.”

On paper, this weekend’s match-up appears fairly even. Both squads score 6.5 runs per game and have a team ERA right near 4.3 runs per game.

The difference could lie in the teams’ ability to play consistent defense. The Pirates have made 32 errors through just 14 games, compared to 17 errors in 17 games for the Irish.

Both teams have gotten on a nice roll early in the season.

Notre Dame, picked by the Big East’s coaches to finish third in the conference’s preseason poll, has won eight of its last nine games. Seton Hall, picked ninth, has won six of its last seven.

The Irish swept a pair of non-conference games this week, beating Ball State 5-4 Tuesday and Valparaiso 10-4 Wednesday in front of the home crowd.

“It gave us some good momentum going into this weekend,” Schrage said. “Tuesday was a big day, and with the home opener, we had a great crowd. Any nerves we had, I think we got those out of the way.”

Schrage has continued to fiddle with his lineup, and has used 16 different batting orders in 17 games.

Sophomore left fielder Golden Tate has established himself as a fixture at the top of the lineup, however, and has a .368 batting average to show for it thus far. Tate is the key component in getting the offense going early – and when the Irish score first, they are 9-1 the season.

The Pirates are more of a station-to-station team than the Irish, but when Seton Hall runs, it does so effectively. The Pirates have been successful on 18 of their 21 stolen base attempts this year. But Irish sophomore catcher Cameron McConnell has thrown out eight would-be base stealers this year, after he and former fellow backstop Sean Gaston combined to throw out just six a year ago.