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Aoki, Irish look forward to second season in ACC

| Monday, January 26, 2015

Excitement for the upcoming season was on display Monday as the Irish hosted their annual Meet the Team Dinner featuring guest speaker Craig Biggio.

“I’m really excited about this team,” Irish head coach Mik Aoki said. “Last year obviously was challenging at a lot of different levels, but this team has been great. We’ve had a phenomenal fall. I like where they are in terms of their attitude, and their outlook is really, really good.”

Irish sophomore infielder Cavan Biggio, son of Hall of Famer Craig Biggio, stands in awaiting a pitch during a 2-1 win against Clemson at Eck Stadium on May 9.Michael Yu | The Observer
Irish sophomore infielder Cavan Biggio, son of recently-elected Hall of Famer Craig Biggio, stands in awaiting a pitch during a 2-1 win against Clemson at Eck Stadium on May 9.

The team — including two of Biggio’s sons, sophomore infielder Cavan Biggio and senior outfielder Conor Biggio — faced weather-related obstacles last season. The delayed melting of layers of snow postponed installation of new field turf, forcing the team to travel as far as Gary and Chicago for home games.

Aoki said he looks forward to avoiding that problem this season.

“I’m … excited about the fact that we’re not going to have to travel 45 minutes or two hours for a home game,” Aoki said. “That’s pretty cool. I’m really looking forward to this season.”

Last season, however, did end on a high note, Aoki said, as Notre Dame won five of six games on their new turf at Frank Eck Stadium on campus. Two of those wins came against No. 22 Clemson, and in their final game, the Irish defeated Pittsburgh, 5-4, on a walk-off home run from then-junior outfielder/first baseman Ryan Bull.

This upcoming season, Notre Dame has 25 home games scheduled. It will be the first full season on the new turf for Notre Dame and its second in the ACC.

“Thinking back to my experience at [Boston College moving from the Big East to the ACC], I think that’s definitely the case,” Aoki said of the learning curve in a new conference. “I think it took us two or three years to sort of get that comfort level. … I think as they are like, ‘Hey, we belong, and we’re O.K. in this thing,’ we’ll continue to progress, and so I think year two will be great. I think year three will be that much better.”

Aoki highlighted Notre Dame’s mix of experienced and young talent for the 2015 season. The Irish will field a majority upperclassman squad but have 14 freshmen and sophomores on the roster.

“We’ve got some older guys that are going to be able to help, but we’ve got some really, really talented, young players that, if they can pitch to who they are or play to who they are, I think we’ve got a chance to be pretty good.”

Aoki also said he anticipates Notre Dame’s top-to-bottom strength playing a key role this season.

“I think this team is as talented a team as we’ve had since we’ve been here in terms of its depth, one through 35,” Aoki said. “… I don’t know if we have — I don’t know that we don’t — but I don’t know if we have any kids that are going to be first-team All-Americans or first-round type of guys this year. But I feel like every guy on the team can help us win a game, and I don’t know that I’ve ever felt that way since I’ve been here.”

As the season approaches, Cavan Biggio said the Meet the Team Dinner helps players start their season by giving them the perspective of an MLB veteran.

“It’s a good event to get the season going,” Biggio said. “Everyone comes together. We get a special speaker, who’s like my dad or some other baseball player that’s been through all this, been through college and made it to the big leagues, which we all dream about, and kind of motivates us to our goal to win a championship this year.”

The Irish start their season Feb. 13 at Oklahoma and will play their first home game March 17 against Bethel.

“We’re really itching to get it going,” Aoki said. “I think that our kids feel like they’re ready.”



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