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Baseball: Squad ready for first home contest

Chris Allen | Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Irish coach Mik Aoki has waited more than eight months since his official hiring date on July 13, 2010 for his home debut at Notre Dame. As the rains fell hard in South Bend Tuesday, it was clear that Aoki would have to wait one more day for his first game at Frank Eck Stadium.

The Irish home opener against Oakland slated for Tuesday night may have been rained out, but Notre Dame (7-10-1) will take the field tonight against Illinois-Chicago (6-10) to begin the 2011 home schedule.

Aoki’s squad is returning from a long road trip over spring break that saw the team go 3-4-1 in eight games. The team struggled on offense throughout the trip, failing to score more than five runs in any game. Aoki said he was disappointed in the team’s showing at the plate.

“I was disappointed in the quality of our at-bats,” he said. “Guys were pressing. Guys sort of came out of who they were a little bit. It comes from a good place. They wanted to win. They were trying like crazy. I think in baseball sometimes, there comes a point where you can try too hard at the plate. There’s times where you just have to let the game come to you, and I didn’t think that we handled that all that well.”

The Irish will likely have a chance to improve the quality of their at-bats against a Flames staff that brings a 5.28 ERA after 16 games.

Freshman first baseman Trey Mancini has been a standout at the plate for Notre Dame, batting .333 with two home runs and nine RBIs over the course of the season. Aoki said he has noticed a gradual improvement in the quality of his team’s at-bats.

“By and large, our at-bats are better,” he said. “But the improvement is coming slowly.”

Freshman pitcher Anthony McIver was slated to start on the mound for the Irish in Tuesday’s rained-out game. The young southpaw is 0-1 on the season for Notre Dame with a 3.38 ERA.

McIver has demonstrated excellent control in his 16 innings of work, walking only four batters. Strong control has been a trademark of the Notre Dame pitching staff thus far into the season, a quality that Aoki said is extremely important.

“If there’s any one thing that I can point to on our staff that has led to the improved numbers overall from what each of those kids have done in years past, it’s the ability to throw strikes,” he said. “I hear it from coaches all the time: the value of strike-throwers in this new era of college baseball with the new bats, it’s just off the charts how important it is to throw strikes.”

The Irish will take on the Flames tonight with first pitch slated for 5:35 p.m.