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Baseball: New season begins with Aoki at the helm

Chris Allen | Thursday, February 17, 2011

Throughout his playing and coaching career, new Irish head coach Mik Aoki has found himself at strong institutions, including Davidson, Boston College and Columbia. But when Notre Dame came calling in the offseason and asked Aoki to replace former head coach Dave Schrage, the new Irish skipper could not turn the offer down.

“When you look at Notre Dame, it’s a place that’s capable of attracting great kids,” Aoki said. “It has a niche, being the premier Catholic institution, and it has one of the strongest academic traditions in not only the United States but the world, in addition to having a great athletic tradition, including one in baseball.”

Aoki takes the reins of a program that has been mired in a down period after a run of success in the early to mid-2000’s. In 2010, Schrage’s final season, the Irish went 22-32 and failed to make the Big East tournament. Aoki was hired to replace Schrage after building up the Boston College program during his four-year tenure as head coach. In 2009, the Eagles made their first NCAA tournament regional appearance in 42 years and nearly knocked off national power Texas in a 25-inning game that would have sent Boston College to its first super regional appearance in school history, but the Eagles fell short. Aoki and his staff will seek to revitalize the Irish, and thus far he believes the transition has been well-received.

“It seems to me that me and my staff have been well-received by the players, and I think they’ve done a good job thus far,” Aoki said. “I think it’s been a pretty good transition for all of us. The administration has been very supportive, and the alumni as well as the people in the community I have met.”

Senior shortstop and captain Mick Doyle echoed the coach’s sentiments, citing Aoki’s energy in practice.

“The biggest difference between Coach Aoki and Coach Schrage is coach’s energy in practice,” he said. “It really helps get us up for practice.”

Engineering the turnaround this season will be a balanced and young roster led by Doyle and fellow captain and starting pitcher Brian Dupra. Though Aoki has not finalized his starting lineup, he said that Doyle, sophomore second baseman Frank DeSico, center fielder Charlie Markson, and freshman infielder Eric Jagielo would likely see time in the starting nine. Aoki said his team will feature strong pitching and defense.

“Our strengths are going to be pitching and infield defense,” he said. “We have some older pitchers who know how to throw strikes and execute a gameplan.”

The coach added that in order for his team to achieve success this season, they would need to stay healthy.

“Our only glaring weakness is depth. I’ve been saying to people that we can win 35-plus games, but if we suffer the wrong injury we could struggle to win 15. So hopefully the luck of the Irish is on our side with injuries.”

The Irish begin their 2011 campaign this weekend in Florida, for three games in the Big East-Big Ten Baseball Challenge against Michigan State, Purdue, and Penn State. In a glimpse of the winning attitude he is bringing to the program, Aoki made his goals very simple for his first weekend at the helm of the Irish program.

“I want three wins,” Aoki said. “These games count on our record. What I want out of the weekend are three wins.”

The Irish play the Spartans at 4 p.m. Friday, Purdue Saturday at 4 p.m. and Penn State at 10 a.m. Sunday.