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Notre Dame ready for home opener

| Wednesday, March 18, 2015

With the snow melted away, baseball is back at Notre Dame, as the Irish take on Central Michigan in their home opener tonight.

Although it is chilly outside, Irish head coach Mik Aoki said Notre Dame (14-4, 3-3 ACC) is excited to be back playing at Frank Eck Stadium.

“We’re looking forward to the home opener — that’s for sure,” Aoki said. “It will be better than the polar vortex of last year. Anything would be better than what we had to deal with last year.”

The Irish concluded a month-long road trip to start the season with a series win over Clemson — their first road conference series win since joining the ACC — and are looking to continue their early success tonight against a solid squad from Central Michigan (13-7, 0-0 MAC).

“Central [Michigan] is always [an] incredibly competitive, well-coached team and always a talented team that really, really makes you work,” Aoki said. “So we’re just going to have to go out there and do the same things that we’ve been doing and preaching all year.”

Aoki said the Irish are aware of the attitude a smaller-conference team will be bringing with them in a one-game matchup.

“We don’t think for a second that a Mid-American [Conference] school isn’t coming in here with a giant-killer mentality on their minds,” Aoki said. “They’re coming in here well prepared. … We’re ready to match the effort that they’re going to put forth.”

These midweek, nonconference games are crucial bridges connecting the weekend series, Aoki said, in which the Irish get extra at-bats and the coaches get to see younger pitchers get more innings.

“Baseball is much more of a skill-and-repetition thing,” Aoki said. “We want to be able to continue to get our position players at-bats, and we want to have them be there at a place where they’re seeing live pitching. It would be tough to go weekend to weekend and expect that you’re going to get the same type of skill level being shown. To a certain extent, it’s an opportunity to see some of the arms that just haven’t gotten enough innings yet. We need to get them innings, and we will be able to start to do that.”

After the home opener against Central Michigan, Notre Dame will plunge into the rest of its season, beginning with a three-game series against ACC foe No. 16 Louisville starting Friday. Aoki said his team just needs to keep playing up to the team’s slogan of “competing one pitch at a time.”

“I think the physical improvement will continue to come as these guys get more at-bats and more innings pitched under their belts,” Aoki said. “Especially for some of these younger guys, they’re going to be put into more and more difficult situations, which is hard to believe for some of the situations that some of these young pitchers of ours have gone into and performed so well in.

“But they’re going to; it’s going to happen. When you have the quality of teams that are going to come in and that they’re going compete against, they’re going to be put into really tough spots, and it’s going to be expected that they compete at a high level.”

Notre Dame will take on the Chippewas in its home opener tonight at Frank Eck Stadium, with the first pitch slated for 6:05 p.m.

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