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Irish look to rebound against Eastern Michigan

| Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Notre Dame will try to extend its undefeated run in midweek games this season when it hosts Eastern Michigan tonight at Frank Eck Stadium.

The Irish (16-10, 3-9 ACC) are also looking to bounce back from a sweep last weekend at the hands of No. 9 Virginia, their second series loss in a row to a conference opponent.

After a 9-1 defeat to open the series, Notre Dame fell in two tough games Saturday night, 4-2, and Sunday, 5-4. In both matchups, the Irish threatened to make a late run for the win but fell short.

Junior infielder Zak Kutsulis swings during a win against Central Michigan on March 18. Kutsulis has stolen five bases this year.Michael Yu | The Observer
Junior infielder Zak Kutsulis swings during a win against Central Michigan on March 18. Kutsulis has stolen five bases in five attempts this year.

Despite the sweep, Notre Dame head coach Mik Aoki said his team is still looking at the positives of what remains of the season, which the Irish are not even halfway through.

“I think the thing is that we have everything sill in front of us,” Aoki said. “We’ve got six series in front of us. We’ve got three of them on the road. We’ve got three of them at home. I feel like every single one of those series is a series that we’re capable of winning and have the ability to win.”

The Irish were outhit over the course of the three games by the Cavaliers (18-8, 6-6), 31-20, and left 22 total runners on base.

“There are some guys who are scuffling — we need to get them going, and they need to kind of get out of their own way a little bit, but I think that they’re pressing,” Aoki said. “But once we get ourselves back on track and just worrying about not pressing and just playing the game the way it’s meant to be played, I think we’ll be fine.”

Aoki said Notre Dame also needs to stick to playing by its mantra this season of competing every pitch and every at-bat against Eastern Michigan on Tuesday and in its next ACC series against Pittsburgh this weekend.

“We’re just going to try to work on being as good as we can from pitch to pitch,” he said. “Hopefully we get back onto the win column, but we’re just gonna worry about being as good as we can be against Eastern [Michigan], and hopefully we’ll come out with a W, and then we’ll go to Pitt and worry about trying to be as good as we can possibly be on every pitch against Pitt.”

Two of the bright spots last weekend for the Irish came from a pair of juniors. Shortstop Lane Richards hit his first career home run and tagged on a double in Sunday’s finale, while first baseman Zak Kutsulis collected an RBI in each game and went 2-for-3 at the plate Sunday.

Kutsulis said the team would try to take a step back to refocus on its day off from competition Monday.

“Coming off a rough last weekend against Louisville and a rough weekend this weekend, Coach said we have to hit the reset button, and that’s kind of what we’re doing,” he said. “We’ll come here [Monday], get our work in and play again on Tuesday.”

Eastern Michigan (9-16, 2-4 MAC) comes to South Bend on the heels of a three-game series loss to Kent State. The Eagles took the first game, 4-3, before being swept in Saturday’s doubleheader, 8-6 and 12-4.

The Irish have defeated their previous two midweek-game opponents, Central Michigan on March 18 and Western Michigan last Wednesday, both by 8-3 scores.

Sophomore right-hander Ryan Smoyer earned those two wins and will face the Eagles tonight, leading an Irish squad hoping to turn around recent woes.

“It’s really tough to do, and it’s just one of those things where you have to go back to the basics — just getting your work in in the cage, and you have to try forgetting about it, and you have to look as if it’s a whole new year starting right now,” Kutsulis said.

Notre Dame and Eastern Michigan will meet at Frank Eck Stadium on Tuesday, with first pitch delivered at 6:05 p.m.

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