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Baseball: Irish host UConn in three-game series

Andrew Gastelum | Friday, April 8, 2011

The Irish have found a good time to start scoring runs, considering that they will face their toughest challenge of the year thus far when they host Connecticut for a three-game series this weekend.

After dropping the first two of a three-game series at Pittsburgh last weekend, Notre Dame (12-14-1, 3-3 Big East) has taken two in a row — including a 6-2 win Wednesday against a balanced Western Michigan team.

The Irish bats have shown signs of catching up to the stellar starting pitching over this recent stretch, which comes as a sign of relief to Irish coach Mik Aoki, who has preached timely hitting to his team since day one.

“We have a certain philosophy in the way that we approach the plate mentally and physically,” Aoki said. “The players have been working hard towards that and have been incorporating, assimilating that into game situations.”

The Irish are averaging over five runs per game in their last five games after previously averaging a little over three per game, including an early-season 19-run showing against Purdue.

In its current two-game winning streak, Aoki’s squad has notched 14 runs on 20 hits, including four hits and five RBI from freshman first baseman Trey Mancini. Recruited by former Irish coach Dave Schrage, the freshman sensation is batting .326 with 17 RBI and a .565 slugging percentage so far this season.

“Trey was recruited here based on the fact that he’s a really good offensive player. As coaches, we’ve reaped the benefits of that. He’s a worker. He’s one of the guys who’s done a good job of buying into the things we’ve been talking about and bringing that into game situations.”

But the Irish face a tough test in dealing with Big East opponent Connecticut (15-10-1, 5-1), who is riding a five-game winning streak during which the team averaged over eight runs per game. The Huskies have only lost once over their last nine games, and most recently defeated Massachusetts 7-1 Wednesday night.

The Huskies are led by all-time hits leader and senior first baseman Mike Nemeth, who brings a batting average of .340 and 20 RBI into the contest. Junior right-hander Matt Barnes (5-2) is slated to take the hill. Barnes has paced the Huskies pitching staff this year, as the Connecticut ace has an ERA of 1.00 and averages seven strikeouts per game.

“They have a couple of players that are projected first-rounders [in the 2011 MLB First-Year Player Draft],” Aoki said. ” We’re going to have our hands full this weekend with players like Barnes.”

The Irish look to build on their winning streak by breaking that of Connecticut’s starting Friday at 5:35 p.m., continuing Saturday at 2:05 p.m. and concluding Sunday at 1:05 p.m.