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Irish to battle rival Deacons

| Friday, March 28, 2014

This weekend, Notre Dame will play host to newly-minted ACC rival Wake Forest. The series begins Friday at 8:05 p.m., at Four Winds Field in South Bend.

Junior outfielder Conor Biggio barrels into the catcher during Notre Dame's 5-1 victory over Quinnipiac on April 21, 2013Ally Darragh | The Observer
Junior outfielder Conor Biggio barrels into the catcher during Notre Dame’s 5-1 victory over Quinnipiac on April 21, 2013
“They are a team that’s gotten a lot better since my last go around,” Irish coach Mik Aoki said. “They are pitching well and have a winning record in one of the best baseball conferences in the country. Still, I think you see the same things that you do with any other school that you play, a mid .200 team batting average and a low 3.00 team ERA.”

So far this spring, Notre Dame (9-14, 1-8 ACC) has a team batting average of .234, while Wake Forest (16-10, 5-4) carries a team batting average of .253. Sparking more offense has been a focus for the Irish this spring, Aoki said, as the team has employed a variety of line-ups.

“Clearly, it’s still a work in progress, in terms of the way we’ve been struggling at the plate,” he said. “I thought [Wednesday’s game against Valparaiso] was better, with the way we changed the line up all around and moved guys all over the place. At this point, [junior outfielder] Blaise Lezynski and [freshman infielder] Kyle Fiala are the two guys that have been most productive for us from an offensive standpoint. [Sophomore infielder] Lane Richards, by virtue of the fact that he is our best infield defender, continues to be at shortstop. I think anything else could change on any given day.”

Though Wake Forest carries a higher team batting average than the Irish, Notre Dame’s team ERA of 3.27 edges the 3.41 ERA of the Demon Deacons.

“I think our pitching staff has performed pretty admirably, and that’s in light of the fact that we haven’t produced a lot of runs for them,” Aoki said. “They’ve continued to pitch to contact and haven’t come out of that mode. It’s not like they’re pitching to go out there and put up shutouts or try to miss bats. From that standpoint, it’s been pretty decent.”

Additionally, Notre Dame has only 34 errors on the season, while Wake Forest has committed 41.

“By and large, again, I think our defense has performed pretty well,” Aoki said. “If you take out the first weekend against FAU, our errors have been pretty low, and I think that we’ve fielded the ball pretty well. So, when it comes down to it, it’s our ability to manufacture, produce, hit, whatever it is, offense, that has been our Achilles Heel. Hopefully that comes along soon.”

After falling 2-1 to Boston College on Friday, Wake Forest has collected three straight victories, two over Boston College and one over Elon.

“I think Wake Forest is a team that is very good and is playing well,” Aoki said. “They took two out of three on the road at Georgia Tech, so they are not unaccustomed to going on the road and playing well.”

Nonetheless, Aoki said, the team’s focus remains on what the Irish can do themselves.

“We’ll have to play well and do the little things we need to so as to win these games,” he said. “The encouraging thing for us is that, outside of one game against Virginia Tech, I don’t think we’ve ever really played our way out of a game. We just haven’t done the little things we need to so as to come out on the plus side.”

The Irish will begin their series against Wake Forest at 8:05 p.m. at Four Winds Field in South Bend. The teams will then play the second game of the series Saturday at 3:05 p.m., at the U.S. Steel Yard in Gary, Ind., before returning to Four Winds Field for a 1:05 p.m., game Sunday.

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