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Baseball: Rocking the Rockets

Jack Hefferon | Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Notre Dame’s win over Toledo on Tuesday night was straight from the heart.

Sophomore third baseman Eric Jagielo, sophomore first baseman Trey Mancini and junior catcher Joe Hudson ­­‑ the heart of the Irish batting order ‑ continued to build on their strong start to the year, coming up with the timely hitting their team needed in a 7-3 win over the Rockets (12-15, 3-3 MAC).

After Irish junior starter Patrick Veerkamp surrendered three runs on just four hits, the Irish (17-10, 4-2 Big East) found themselves in a 3-2 hole. In the bottom half of the fifth inning, Jagielo stepped up to the plate and changed the momentum with one swing of the bat. With the bases empty and two men gone, the sophomore crushed a solo homer well over the right field fence.

After battling inconsistency as a freshman, Jagielo’s moonshot showed another glimpse of his remarkable potential.

“I know [Jagielo] struggled from time to time last year, but I think he’s coming into his own a little more this year,” Irish coach Mik Aoki said. “I just think that the sky is the limit for that kid. He has such easy power, and as he really learns how to hit a little bit more and learns his swing a little bit more, I think he’s going to be one of the best hitters in the country.”

Jagielo’s homer brought the Irish even with Toledo, and the bullpen shut the door from there. Toledo was held to just one hit in its last four innings – a collaborative effort from several different Irish arms.

For a unit that has had its share of ups and downs early in 2012, Aoki said he was pleased with the solid performance from his relievers.

“I thought [the bullpen] did a good job,” he said. “[Senior] Steve Sabatino came in and threw strikes. [Freshman] Matty Ternowchek got his, and [sophomore] Danny Slania did a nice job too.”

After junior outfielder Charlie Markson helped spark a two-run rally in the sixth, the heart of the order stepped up again for Notre Dame in the eighth to put the game away. Toledo chose to pitch around Jagielo, loading the bases for Mancini. The sophomore first baseman worked a full count, then hit a two-run single to center to cement the final scoreline.

For Aoki, the core of Jagielo, Mancini and Hudson – who’s hitting .402 on the year – has been the key to Notre Dame’s offensive production early on this season.

“The middle of our lineup has done it all year long,” Aoki said. “Our three-four-five guys are hitting .350, .350, and .400-something, and they’ve all got over twenty RBIs. I don’t know how much more you can expect out of the middle of the lineup, and they’ve been doing it all year.”

After the non-conference victory, the Irish will head east for a three-game conference series at Seton Hall, starting with a Holy Thursday doubleheader. The Pirates (13-14, 2-4 Big East) boast one of the strongest pitching staffs in the Big East, and should pose a challenge to Notre Dame’s hot bats.

“Seton Hall is a team that can pitch the heck out of it, and of course they’re the defending Big East tournament champs,” Aoki said. “They’ve struggled a little bit at the plate, but their pitching is so good that they’re in every game. They’re a really competitive, hard-nosed group, so we’re really going to have to go in there and really be our best in order to come away with a result.”

First pitch of the series will be thrown at 1 p.m. Thursday in South Orange, N.J., with the second game scheduled for 4 p.m. The Irish close the series at 1 p.m. on Saturday.

Contact Jack Hefferon at [email protected]