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Baseball: ND overcomes slow start in Big East play

Chris Masoud | Thursday, May 13, 2010

Following a dismal start to the regular season, Notre Dame needs to win seven of its last eight games to finish the season above .500. In a year plagued by injuries and misfortunes, Irish coach Dave Schrage said the seniors have taken it upon themselves to salvage the remainder of the season.

“I feel like they’ve known that their backs are against the wall,” Schrage said. “Two weeks ago they found themselves at the bottom of the Big East, and we’re climbing. They’ve really responded over the last couple of weekends.”

The Irish (21-26, 6-15 Big East) began the season with a weekend sweep of Mississippi Valley State on the road to open the season. But after posting a 5-16 record during a four-week stretch, Notre Dame’s dreams of its first conference title since 2006 and an appearance in Omaha quickly evaporated.

But after spending time with hitting instructor and assistant coach Scott Lawler, the hitters regained their form midway through the season.

“We got back to the process of taking the pitch up the middle, hitting everything back up the middle, moving runners, hitting behind runners, hitting and running,” Schrage said. “When we do that we’re a very, very good offensive club.”

After opening the conference season with a 1-5 mark, the Irish proceeded to win seven of their next 12 Big East games, earning series victories over Seton Hall and Cincinnati, before a recent slide against St. John’s and West Virginia. Schrage believes the squad has taken a short-term approach to the season, which has made all the difference.

“I know it’s cliché, but we’ve just been focusing on getting better every day and trying to be the best team we can be,” Schrage said. “We told our guys we don’t want to talk about Omaha or winning the Big East. We want to talk about getting better every day.”

The seniors led Notre Dame’s resurgence on the mound and at the plate. Ryan Connoll has been the most consistent hitter, leading the squad with a .367 average, 11 home runs and 36 RBIs. Senior David Mills has contributed in just about every facet of the game, from driving in game-winning runs to shutting down the opposition in critical situations.

“He’s done a tremendous job on the mound,” Schrage said. “He’s had some clutch hits. I don’t think you can ask much more of a player. He’s done a great job in relief, and now he just continues to get some big hits for us — just having a great season.”

Sitting in the bottom half of the Big East standings after a five-game losing streak, including a three-game sweep at the hands of West Virginia, the Irish will have to make a late push in order to secure a top seed in the Big East Championship, which begins on May 26.

Nevertheless, Schrage is confident his seniors can right the ship and finish the season on a winning note.

“We talked that they had a month left in their careers and they want to make something happen, and they’re going out and doing it,” Schrage said. “They have a lot invested in this program, and they want to make their last year special. I’m expecting them to step up again.”