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Baseball: Notre Dame heads south to take on No. 7 Rice and others

BIll Brink | Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Irish will get a tough test this weekend when they face No. 7 Rice, one of three teams Notre Dame will play in Houston, Texas, but Irish coach Dave Schrage said he’s not concerned about who his team faces.

“Right now, we’re concerned more about how we’re playing than who we’re playing,” he said. “We only really get three days of practice and then we’re on the road again traveling.”

Notre Dame (3-3) will play Oral Roberts Friday, Rice Saturday and Washington State Sunday. Because of warmer weather, the Irish have practiced outside more this season than in the past, but sporadic indoor practices prevent the team from practicing fly balls. When indoor on the football field at the Loftus Sports Center, the team practices fundamentals and footwork.

“We can take a lot of ground balls, and I think that’s shown in our infield defense,” Schrage said.

Despite the fact that the team hasn’t spent much time outside, some players have started the season hot at the plate. Sophomore infielders Mick Doyle and Greg Sherry lead the team in hitting with averages of .438 through the first six games.

“[Doyle] didn’t play much last year as a freshman but he’s off to a great start,” Schrage said.

Junior A.J. Pollock and sophomore Golden Tate have also had success at the plate. Tate is batting .385 with a .429 on-base percentage from the leadoff spot.

“I think Golden has matured as a player,” Schrage said. “Very similar to football, where he had a little better second year. A lot of that is experience and getting comfortable in your environment.”

Pollock said Tate adapted well to the indoor practices because he can still manage to crank up his skills during games.

“I know Golden will be in here and strike out a bunch of times, then go out and get four hits,” Pollock said. “He’s just a gamer.”

Pollock has hit .333 and is 4-of-4 in stolen base attempts. He said slow starts in previous seasons motivated him to play well early this season. To help him achieve that, Pollock said he’s taken more batting practice to work on getting game-ready rather than working on fundamentals with a batting tee.

Pollock also said his team has speed, and will begin to utilize it soon.

“We’ve done a pretty good job, I think we’re going to start turning that on the next couple of series,” he said.

The team knows what they have to do to win, Pollock said.

“It’s not so much the high average, it’s going out there and being willing to be the guy to drive in the run,” he said.

Schrage said the team is closing in on a lineup after playing most of the team in the first two series to get everyone some live at-bats. He also said the pitching staff has battled injuries, which makes the search for a closer difficult, but he’s happy about the depth of the staff.

“That’s fun as a coach, we can manage the game,” Schrage said. “We have lefty-righty matchups we can use.”