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ND looks to get back on track

| Wednesday, March 25, 2015

After three close losses at the hands of No. 16 Louisville over the weekend at Frank Eck Stadium, Notre Dame will try to get back on track when it hosts Western Michigan tonight.

The Irish (15-7, 3-6 ACC) managed only four runs in 36 innings of play against Louisville (18-6, 8-1). Notre Dame didn’t score runs in shutout losses Friday and Sunday, and the Irish fell 6-4 in 18 innings Saturday.

Irish sophomore pitcher Ryan Smoyer delivers a pitch in Notre Dame’s 8-3 win over Central Michigan on March 18.Michael Yu | The Observer
Irish sophomore pitcher Ryan Smoyer delivers a pitch in Notre Dame’s 8-3 win over Central Michigan on March 18.

Notre Dame head coach Mik Aoki said the weekend’s series showed how difficult it is to win in the ACC. Notre Dame is currently 1-2 in its conference series this season — the Irish won two of three games at Clemson and lost two of three games at Georgia Tech, both earlier this month.

“You’ve got really good teams in this conference, really good arms in this conference,” Aoki said. “It’s a difficult league, it’s a challenging league, that’s for sure. It doesn’t get any easier next week with [No. 9] Virginia.”

Aoki cited the recent absences of senior outfielder Ryan Bull and freshman outfielder Jake Johnson as part of the reason for the Irish offensive struggles. Bull, who sports a .386 batting average and .481 on-base percentage, has missed the team’s last four games due to injury, and Johnson, who reached base in the first 19 games of the season, did not play in the last two games of the Louisville series due to an oblique strain.

Nonetheless, the team has enough talent to successfully compensate for injuries in the lineup, Aoki said.

“You certainly don’t want to make excuses, but it doesn’t help that two of your better offensive players are out, one with Ryan [for] the entire weekend and Jake Johnson in two out of the three games,” he said. “We’ve got to be good enough to overcome that. Everyone’s going to overcome a little injury adversity.”

Notre Dame was scheduled to play at Illinois-Chicago on Tuesday, but the game was cancelled due to snowy weather in the Chicago area. The Irish decided to fill in their newly open midweek slot by adding Western Michigan (8-11, 1-2 MAC).

Sophomore right-hander Ryan Smoyer will get the start tonight for Notre Dame, making his third midweek start of the season. Smoyer earned the first win of his college career last Wednesday, giving up seven hits and one run in 4 1/3 innings against Central Michigan.

The Irish will face Broncos sophomore left-hander Keegan Akin, who has a 1-1 record and 4.50 ERA in six starts this season. Akin started Sunday for Western Michigan, only lasting 2/3 of an inning and surrendering four runs, three of them earned, on four hits.

Despite Akin’s struggles Sunday, Western Michigan avoided the sweep in its conference-opener series against Miami (Ohio) with a 9-5 victory. Junior infielder Hunter Prince paced the Broncos with two doubles and three RBIs, and junior infielder Kurt Hoekstra added two hits and two RBIs in Sunday’s win.

Hoekstra currently leads Western Michigan with a .416 batting average, .489 on-base percentage, 16 runs scored, 32 hits, four triples and 21 RBIs. The next-highest batting average on the Broncos belongs to junior catcher Brett Sunde, who sports a .299 mark.

Aoki said it will be key for the Irish to play with a renewed energy and focus, something he admitted they lacked at different points against Louisville.

“I think the big thing is for the first half of [Sunday’s] game, I wasn’t all that enthused with where our energy level was,” he said. “I think the important thing for us is that we show back up on [Wednesday], and our engagement and compete level are back to where it’s been. I thought in the latter half of the game we did that.

“We will get back to who and what we are, and the wins and losses will take care of themselves. We just have to worry about us trying to be as good as we can, both individually and collectively, and keeping that one-pitch-at-a-time mentality.”

Notre Dame and Western Michigan will meet tonight at Frank Eck Stadium. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.

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About Brian Hartnett

Brian Hartnett is a senior marketing major and journalism, ethics and democracy minor. The Carroll Hall resident hails from Clark, New Jersey and covers Notre Dame football, as well as other University topics.

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