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Notre Dame to welcome Chicago State on Tuesday

| Tuesday, April 12, 2016

When Notre Dame takes the field at Frank Eck Stadium on Tuesday night, the Irish will be just a little more than 48 hours removed from their last home game.

But the circumstances will be dramatically different.

Irish junior second baseman Cavan Biggio beats a throw during Notre Dame's 10-2 win over Wake Forest on April 3 at Frank Eck Stadium.Michael Yu | The Observer
Irish junior second baseman Cavan Biggio beats a throw during Notre Dame’s 10-2 win over Wake Forest on April 3 at Frank Eck Stadium.

For one, it will likely not rain for seven innings straight as it did Sunday. The forecast calls for clear skies and temperatures in the mid-40s.

More importantly, No. 1 Miami (Fla.) will no longer fill the visitors’ dugout after hammering the Irish (16-12, 6-7 ACC) for a 10-2 win Sunday.

In the Hurricanes’ place, Chicago State, a team that has lost 13 of its last 15 games, will challenge Notre Dame. According to RPI ratings, Chicago State (7-23, 1-8 WAC) ranks 285th out of 300 programs in the nation, the lowest of any Irish opponent this season.

The Cougars will certainly be a significant step down in competition compared to a Miami program that has College World Series aspirations and future pro players, but Irish coach Mik Aoki said he has cautioned his players against presuming an easy victory.

“We’re playing at a high level. We need to continue to do that,” Aoki said. “We talk about never overestimating an opponent and never underestimating one either. This is a good case-in-point of that. … You play a team like Chicago State, which you could potentially underestimate because they are struggling, but every day is different. Every day presents its challenges.”

Aoki and the Irish will also have to deal with a pitching rotation well off its usual cycle. Last week, Notre Dame was forced to cancel a midweek game against Valparaiso, which was rescheduled for Wednesday, and then two of three against Miami. And when the Irish and the Hurricanes did finally play, sophomore starters right-hander Peter Solomon and left-hander Sean Guenther both pitched.

As a result, Aoki said he plans to trot out several different pitchers in quick succession against Chicago State in hopes of getting them all work.

“We’ll probably give [junior right-hander Ryan] Smoyer an inning or two just to kinda get him back out there. He was kinda the odd man out this weekend,” Aoki said. “Ideally we’d like to be able to get a lot of these guys who haven’t pitched in a while. … We’ll likely do it by some sort of design and then we’ll do what we need to do at the end of the game.”

Among the other pitchers Aoki said he wanted to see on the mound Tuesday, several have pitched fewer than 10 innings on the season, including sophomore right-hander Charlie Vorsheck, freshman right-hander Matt Vierling and sophomore right-hander Jake Shepski.

Vierling and Shepski have still made an impact for the Irish at the plate though. The two are third and fourth on the team in RBIs, respectively, and their offensive firepower has helped Notre Dame to weather the absence of one of its most productive players, junior infielder Kyle Fiala.

After a torrid 2015 in which he led the Irish in batting average, hits and starts, Fiala got off to a rough start in 2016, hitting .175 in the early going before injuring his hand after being hit by a pitch against Louisville on March 12. But he made his return against Miami this past weekend, going 1-for-3 at the plate with a walk while fielding a clean game at third base.

As is the case with any player returning from injury, Fiala’s biggest challenge will be getting back up to speed with the game, Aoki said.

“We just got to get him back in there. He needs to get his timing back. He needs an opportunity to see some pitching,” Aoki said. “[Miami] was his first real game action and I thought he looked good out there. He’ll be fine. Kyle’s a great competitor, and he’ll find a way.”

Tuesday’s game will mark the third straight season and second at Frank Eck Stadium in which Notre Dame has faced Chicago State. The Irish cruised past the Cougars 11-0 last year, with three pitchers combining to three-hit Chicago State. All-time, Notre Dame leads the series 30-2.

First pitch between Notre Dame and Chicago State is scheduled for 6:05 p.m. Tuesday at Frank Eck Stadium, the seventh in an 11-game homestand for the Irish.

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About Greg Hadley

Greg Hadley is a senior from Rockville, Maryland, majoring in political science with a minor in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. He served as The Observer's Editor-in-Chief for the 2015-2016 term and currently covers Notre Dame baseball and women's basketball.

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