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Baseball: Irish look for Big East series win

Alex Barker | Friday, April 3, 2009

Notre Dame will try to accomplish something this weekend that it hasn’t been able to do in two tries already this season: win a weekend series against a Big East opponent.

The Irish (16-10, 2-4 Big East) will host conference foe Villanova (14-12, 1-5 Big East) this weekend for a three-game set beginning today at 5:05 p.m. at Frank Eck Stadium.

In Notre Dame’s previous Big East matchups, against Seton Hall and Pittsburgh, the Irish took the opener before dropping the final two games.

“The first thing we are focusing on is just getting back to playing good baseball,” Irish coach Dave Schrage said. “Our pitching and defense hasn’t been real solid lately and because of that we have been giving up a lot of runs. We need to focus less on our past performances and more on getting back to playing good baseball.”

The Wildcats haven’t fared any better in the conference, managing a lone victory in three tries against West Virginia after being swept in a three-game series by St. John’s. But past performances are not a concern of Schrage’s right now.

“They are always a well-coached team and right now they have five hitters hitting above .315,” he said. “They are very aggressive on the base paths and have the most stolen base attempts in the league. They create and score a lot of runs and have three solid starting pitchers who have pitched fairly well this season.”

For the Irish, pitching has been has a problem this season. Sophomore right-hander Cole Johnson (3-0), who boasts a 2.75 earned run average, is the lone exception.

“Cole’s had an outstanding year for us,” Schrage said. “He has really established himself as our number one guy and we always play well behind him. We hope that he will continue to perform at a high level for us the rest of the way.”

Not counting Johnson’s two outings in the series openers against Seton Hall and Pittsburgh, Irish pitchers gave up 20 and 29 runs, respectively, in each series’ final two games, all resulting in losses.

Against Villanova’s strong pitching staff, Schrage said he knows that will not get the job done.

“We have got to get three quality starts from our pitchers this weekend,” he said. “We haven’t had that in the first two series and it really hurts us. We gave up a lot of two-out runs because our pitchers struggled to close out innings.”

Saturday’s and Sunday’s games against Villanova are scheduled to start at 1:05 p.m. After this weekend’s series, the Irish will take on the South Bend Silverhawks in an exhibition game Tuesday to be held at Coveleski Stadium in South Bend.