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Irish still looking to get in gear

| Thursday, February 25, 2016

Notre Dame travels south still looking to shake off its early season rust when it hosts the ninth-annual Alamo Irish Classic in San Antonio.

The Irish (1-2) dropped the final two games of a three-game series to open their season against Santa Clara last weekend, and they return to San Antonio and Nelson Wolff Stadium this weekend looking to build early season momentum in friendly confines away from the snow-bound Frank Eck Stadium.

“We did have some success [at the Alamo Irish Classic] last year, and hopefully we’re looking forward to a similar kind of success there this year,” Irish head coach Mik Aoki said. “It should be good, we’re looking forward to it. ”

Notre Dame is 18-12-1 in its previous eight Alamo Irish Classics, and since the event’s inaugural weekend in 2008, the Irish have won at least two contests in seven of the eight years. Notre Dame went a perfect 4-0 at the tournament last season, putting together wins over Incarnate Word, Bradley, Texas Southern and Gonzaga.

All four teams return to San Antonio this weekend for the 2016 edition.

Last Friday, Irish juniors, right-hander Ryan Smoyer and left-hander Scott Tully, combined with senior right-hander David Hearne to blank the Broncos, 5-0, on opening day while junior second baseman Cavan Biggio recorded the program’s first inside-the-park home run since David Mills in 2008.

As a team, however, Notre Dame combined for just five hits during Friday’s contest, and was able to take advantage of four Santa Clara errors to plate three unearned runs in the contest.

The lackluster offensive output came back to bite the Irish on Saturday and Sunday. Although in both games Notre Dame put up more hits than it did Friday — with seven hits each game — the Irish scored just two runs combined, which Aoki said was due to his team’s inability to string hits together with runners in scoring position.

Moving forward, Aoki said the Irish need to put last weekend behind them and continue moving forward this weekend and throughout the rest of the early season schedule.

Aoki also highlighted the need for better defensive play. Notre Dame fielded one of the top defenses in the country last season and led the NCAA in double plays turned with 75. However, costly errors by sophomore left-hander starter Sean Guenther and Biggio in the bottom of the first inning led to a pair of unearned runs. The runs proved to be important as the Irish fell 4-2.

Aoki said while he was disappointed in the errors, he knows it’s early in the season.

“I think the big thing for us is just going out there and playing the way that we’re capable of playing, playing at as high of a level as we can and worrying about things that we can control, that we can do,” Aoki said.

Asked what his team’s approach will be this weekend as it prepares for the Alamo Irish Classic, Aoki said he is not worried about the teams Notre Dame is set to face and wants to concentrate on what his team can control.

“Each individual day, obviously, you get different scouting reports and you do some different things, but in general I think we’re just trying to prepare, from a practice standpoint, of trying to get a little better every day and be ready to go on [Friday],” Aoki said.

Notre Dame kicks off the Alamo Irish Classic against Bradley and Texas Southern on Friday at 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., respectively, and then takes the field against Incarnate Word on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. The Irish finish out their tournament against Gonzaga at noon Sunday afternoon. The games will be played at Nelson Wolff Stadium in San Antonio.

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About Zach Klonsinski

A History graduate, Zach spent all four of his years on campus as a resident of Knott Hall. Hailing from Belgrade, Montana, he covered a wide variety of sports in his time at Notre Dame, including Football, Hockey, Men's Basketball, Men's Soccer, Women's Tennis, Fencing, Rowing, Women's Lacrosse and other events around campus. You can contact him in his post-graduation travels and job search at [email protected]

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