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McDaniel: Stage set for Notre Dame to make tournament push

| Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Following Tuesday night’s 6-3 win over Chicago State, Notre Dame has played 29 total games. Just nine of those have taken place at home.

That’s tough for any team to overcome, but it’s commonplace for teams who play in climates as unpredictable as South Bend’s.

In the last week alone, one game has been pushed back from last Wednesday to this one, while two have simply been cancelled. An argument could be made the Irish (17-12, 6-7 ACC) caught a break having to face No. 1 Miami only once instead of the scheduled three times.

On the other hand, the Irish were also stripped of two of the games they get to host at Frank Eck Stadium this spring. Two fewer chances to hone their skills against top, live competition. Two fewer chances to don the Irish uniform in front of the home crowd.

The good news for this Irish team, however, is they get 17 of their remaining 25 regular season games at home to close out the year, with weekend trips to Florida State and North Carolina the only remaining conference road games.

With the schedule stacked in their favor to close out the season, the Irish should be able to focus more on winning baseball games and less on the stress of traveling all over the country.

Irish senior first baseman Zak Kutsulis sprints towards third base during Notre Dame’s 6-3 win over Chicago State on Tuesday at Frank Eck Stadium.Kathleen Donahue | The Observer
Irish senior first baseman Zak Kutsulis sprints towards third base during Notre Dame’s 6-3 win over Chicago State on Tuesday at Frank Eck Stadium.

As of this week, Notre Dame sits at No. 64 in the RPI ratings. And while this certainly isn’t a perfect indicator of future tournament success, it does tell us that Notre Dame will likely have to earn its way into the field of 64 if it wants to play in the NCAA tournament and make a run at the College World Series.

More good news: the Irish finally get to work junior third baseman Kyle Fiala back into the fold after he had missed the last month with an injured hand. In just his second game back from injury Tuesday night against Chicago State, Fiala was 2-3 with a walk, an RBI and a run scored.

In the next month and a half leading up to the start of the ACC tournament at the end of May, things will need to go right for Notre Dame if it hopes to make a push into the postseason.

Hopefully with the South Bend weather starting to turn in their favor, the Irish will actually be able to play their scheduled games on a regular basis and develop a rhythm in the second half of the season — a half significantly tilted in their favor both in terms of level of competition and getting to play at Frank Eck Stadium.

They have already gotten through three of the best teams they will see all season in their trips to Louisville and North Carolina State as well as the rain-shortened series against Miami.

Now, with a favorable schedule, the benefit of playing at home, a healthy lineup and better playing conditions, the Irish will get to see what they are made of heading into the summer and their most important games of the year.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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