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Baseball: Big East play kicks off with Georgetown

Andrew Gastelum | Friday, March 25, 2011

To begin a winning streak of their own to jumpstart the season, the Irish will have to break one held by a formidable Big East opponent —Georgetown.

Notre Dame (7-10-1) opens Big East play with a three-game series starting tonight against the red-hot Hoyas (15-7), who are riding a seven-game winning streak after Tuesday’s 10-6 win over George Mason.

The Irish have not played since Sunday’s 3-3 tie against Gonzaga due to inclement weather and rain, which postponed games against Oakland and Illinois-Chicago on Tuesday and Wednesday. But Irish coach Mik Aoki does not expect the extended break to affect the travel-weary Irish, who have yet to host a home game after venturing to tournaments in Florida, South Carolina and Texas.

“It has been a normal week for us getting ready for Georgetown,” Aoki said of the days off. “We would usually have the middle of the week to practice and travel on Thursday, so there isn’t much of a difference. But, yes, it helps to work on [mechanics] and it allowed us to practice on our field for the first time this season.”

As of late, the Irish have struggled to find consistency at the plate. This has translated into a recent skid, as they have gone winless (0-3-1) in their past four contests. The struggling offense averages 3.7 runs per game and features a team batting average of .235. Aoki remains patient though, and said he is focusing on making the necessary improvements as the Irish begin Big East play.

“We are working at getting the bats going,” Coach Aoki said. “We continue to get better at it, but it’s a matter of timely hitting that we have struggled with. Along with that, our defense has been adequate, but not great.”

The Irish could use some timely hitting — and fast. The Hoyas are averaging 7.7 runs per game and boast six players with batting averages above .300 to Notre Dame’s one, freshman first baseman Trey Mancini (.333). The Georgetown bats are led by junior right fielder Rand Ravnaas, who is third in the Big East with a .409 average and second with five home runs. The dual-threat junior also leads the conference in hits (36) and stolen bases (17).

To combat the potent Georgetown lineup, the Irish will send senior right-hander Brian Dupra (2-2) to the hill. The senior has been Notre Dame’s most consistent arm this year, posting an earned run average of 2.38, complemented by 35 strikeouts, third most in the Big East.

But the right-hander struggled in his last start, an 11-2 loss to Iowa Saturday where he gave up six runs —all in the second inning — and 12 hits over five innings. Dupra will face off against fellow senior right-hander Alex Meyer (3-1) in tonight’s series opener.

The Irish bats have the opportunity to break out of their slump against a Hoyas pitching staff that has struggled with control, giving up 13 home runs and 76 walks to go along with a combined earned run average of 4.10.

“Any opportunity to play in the conference is important,” Aoki said. “We have been playing for the past month, so it’s not early in the year anymore, but it is important to continue to improve.”

Notre Dame will host Georgetown at Frank Eck Stadium tonight at 5:35 p.m. and Saturday at 2:05 p.m. The series will conclude Sunday at 1:05 p.m.