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Baseball: Irish ready for home opener

Jared Jedick | Friday, March 19, 2010

The Irish are set to host their season home opener this weekend when they meet Michigan State for three games over two days in Eck Stadium. Saturday features an early afternoon double-header followed by the rubber match on Sunday.
“They are a very well-coached team, that is first and foremost,” Irish coach Dave Schrage said. “I think that they are probably the most improved team in the Big Ten this year, and they really have a chance to challenge Ohio State for the Big Ten title.”
Schrage said that his team is enjoying the warm weather and getting some good practices in, and the matchup against the Spartans (9-4, 0-0 Big Ten) gives the Irish an advantage that he appreciates.
“Yeah, it is always good to play at home,” Schrage said. “I think we have always had a nice record there at home. It just feels more normal to you, and the surroundings are familiar. You always play more relaxed and a little bit better. So we are excited to get our home season underway.”
The Irish (7-8) will need that home-field advantage, as they had a rough 2-4 weekend and have gotten off to a slow start this year.
“I think that our team is still a little bit of a work in progress, and we just need to get out and keep playing,” Schrage said. “I think the fact that we were able to play so many days in a row was very beneficial to us, and now with good weather we have been able to get out and have some good practices.”
Notre Dame will send sophomore left-hander Steve Sabatino and junior right-hander Brian Dupra to the mound on Saturday, and senior right-hander Eric Maust will get the starting nod on Sunday.
Sabatino is pitching well for the Irish in his second season with the team, posting a team-low 3.32 era and 16 strikeouts in his 19 innings pitched this year. Maust has yet to earn a decision this year, but he is tossing a respectable 5.19 era in 17 and 1/3 innings pitched.
The real standout lately in Schrage’s mind is Dupra who holds a 4.91 ERA and has recorded 17 strikeouts. Schrage said Dupra is throwing the ball better now than he has ever seen him do.
“I feel like he has had his two best pitching performances since he has been here,” Schrage said. “I have been very, very pleased. He found his new pitch this year, a split-finger fastball that coach Dangler has worked with him on, and I think that has been a big reason for his success. He is throwing the ball hard, he always has, but now he is getting his off-speed over and that has been what’s getting all the swings and misses.”
Leading the offense so far this year for the Irish has been senior first baseman Casey Martin. Martin is leading the team in all the major offensive categories with a .434 batting average, 11 runs, 23 hits, three home runs and 16 RBIs.
“[Casey] is leading us in just about every offensive category, and he is off to a great start,” Schrage said. “He has driven in some big runs, he supplied a lot of power, he has a great batting average and he has been playing good defense at first base. He has definitely been our leader all the way around from an offensive standpoint.”
Schrage said he is worried about the Spartan’s two-pronged pitching attack in AJ Achter and Kurt Wunderlich.
“I think they have two of the better starting pitchers as far as one-two combination,” he said.
The first game of the doubleheader is scheduled for 12:05 p.m. Saturday, with the second game to follow. Sunday’s game is set to start at 1:05 p.m.