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Baseball: Operation offense

Andrew Gastelum | Tuesday, April 19, 2011

After Notre Dame continued its Big East troubles in a series loss to rival West Virginia Sunday, the Irish will welcome the opportunity to face a non-conference opponent as they take on Toledo this evening.

The Irish (14-18-1, 5-7 Big East) have struggled lately, dropping four of their past six games all at home against Big East opponents. Yet their season-long offensive concerns seemed to vanish as they averaged over six runs per game heading into Sunday’s rubber game against the Mountaineers (22-15, 8-4).

But Notre Dame only managed one run on three hits in Sunday afternoon’s 8-1 loss, which continued Notre Dame’s April slumber, as it has yet to win a series this month.

Irish coach Mik Aoki sees his team’s struggles as a function of multiple lacking areas in his team’s performance.

“I think offensively we have made some progress,” he said. “It is just something that is going to happen and there are stretches where you will struggle with it. It is an ongoing concern of trying to show offensive improvement. But we also need to get back to a mindset of playing defense with a blue collar mentality of just grinding and getting a job done.”

Throughout the season, the Irish have constantly put themselves in a hole with defensive gaffs. Two crucial errors by sophomore second baseman Frank DeSico and freshman center fielder Eric Jagielo led to a four-run fifth inning that turned a two-run Mountaineer lead into a 6-0 advantage Sunday. In its last four contests Notre Dame has committed eight errors, an area the Irish will need to improve in order to overcome an upstart Toledo (19-17, 8-4 MAC) squad.

The Rockets are led by their talented duo of junior center fielder Ben Hammer and senior shortstop Chris Dudics, who have carried the MAC squad offensively. In Toledo’s 7-4 win Sunday over Bowling Green, Dudics had a career day, going four for five with two runs and a solo shot. Hammer leads the team with a .368 batting average.

Meanwhile, the Irish have a bright spot of their own in freshman first baseman Trey Mancini, who continued his success at the plate with a solo home run Sunday for Notre Dame’s only run of the game. The Florida-product leads the Irish in all major offensive categories including batting average (.342), home runs (6) and RBI (23).

“Trey has been great,” Aoki said. “He puts up quality at-bats. He has hit in really big situations and in situations where the game was out of hand. He is a kid with great offensive ability. His approach at the plate has been outstanding, and he makes some good adjustments. With that approach and his willingness to use the entire field, he really gives himself a good chance every at-bat.”

The Irish welcome Toledo to Frank Eck Stadium tonight at 5:35 p.m. as they look to continue their non-conference success.