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Baseball: Team to head south for break

Chris Allen | Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Irish bats have gone cold in their past six games, but the team will head to warm climates and try to get hot at the plate as they play eight games in nine days over Spring Break.

Notre Dame (4-6) will compete against UAB, No. 24 Coastal Carolina and Kent State in the Caravelle Resort Classic in Conway, S.C., and against Iowa and Gonzaga in the Irish Classic in San Antonio. The team will also face off against Texas-San Antonio in a regular game between the two tournaments.

Irish coach Mik Aoki said it would be beneficial for his team to hit the road and play in warm climates over the break.

“It’s really great. Just as the average student enjoys the break from schoolwork and the academic element, it gives the players a chance to get away,” Aoki said. “Also, it gives us a chance to experience, hopefully, some nice weather which we don’t see a lot of in South Bend.”

The Irish are coming off a weekend at the Winthrop Invitational in Rock Hill, S.C. during which the team went 1-3 against foes Winthrop and Manhattan. For the second straight weekend, the Notre Dame offense failed to find the firepower it possessed during the season’s opening weekend. Though freshman first baseman Trey Mancini’s .323 batting average to go along with five extra-base hits — including two homeruns — has been a bright spot, the team’s batting average has dipped to .242 on the season. Aoki said the team is working hard in practice to get back on track at the plate.

“I think you have to stay pretty optimistic. The guys have been working hard at it, trying to make a few adjustments here and there,” he said. “Obviously, the at-bats were pretty good against Purdue and Penn State the first weekend. Then the next weekend against Seattle we struggled. It’s very much a work in progress.”

One constant for the Irish thus far has been the pitching of weekend starters Brian Dupra, Cole Johnson and Todd Miller — all seniors. Each member of the trio carries a sub-4.00 earned-run average into the upcoming weekend. As a group, the staff has displayed phenomenal control, walking just six batters in more than 60 innings of work, something Aoki said the staff has learned with experience.

“I think it’s just that they are older guys who understand the importance of throwing strikes,” he said.

The slate of games will be a test for the Irish, highlighted by a game with ranked Coastal Carolina March 12. The Chanticleers (7-4) are coming off a dream season for the program in which the team went 55-10 before falling to eventual champion South Carolina in the NCAA Super Regional. Aoki said the stretch features a strong overall level of competition.

“The level of competition is pretty darn good. First you have UAB, which is a team that’s on a long winning streak. Coastal Carolina is a team that’s fresh off playing in a super regional last year and they started the season with a ranking in the teens. Kent State is a team with a bunch of solid players, and UTSA just gave [No. 12] Texas all they could handle in a game [Tuesday night],” he said. “I’d say it’s a pretty good level of competition.”

The team first takes the field at 11 a.m. Saturday against UAB, before facing Coastal Carolina later that day at 2:30 p.m. The Invitational wraps up with a matchup against Kent State at 11 a.m. Sunday.