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Irish head to San Antonio to begin season

| Friday, February 17, 2017

Starting this weekend in San Antonio, Notre Dame will kick off its season at the Alamo Irish Classic.

The opening campaign will be the 19th time since 1995 that the Irish have made the trip to San Antonio with Irish head coach Mik Aoki having taken the team in all but one year over the course of his tenure. Coming into this year’s Classic, the Irish will be looking to defend their reign as back-to-back champions of the tournament. Aoki said he has confidence that he has another strong team this year both on and off the field, as the season gets underway.

“I like where we are,” Aoki said. “We had a really productive fall and I think our freshman became very much assimilated into the team, and I think our upperclassmen from our sophomores all the way up through out seniors and captains did a really good job of doing that. I thought our lifting and conditioning went really well and our practices from September through November were really productive. From an academic standpoint, we had our best semester since I’ve been here.”

Coming into this season, there is a mix of both familiarity and questions with the team. As has been the case in most years under Aoki, the Irish pitching staff is primed to be one of the biggest strengths for the team, with many of the arms from last year returning for this season. Recognition for Notre Dame’s pitching has already begun before games get underway, as junior Peter Solomon has been named a Preseason All-American by Baseball America in addition to being named to USA Baseball’s Golden Spike Award Watch List.

At the other positions, things are less certain. One of the bigger questions comes in the infield where, among other things, the team lost second baseman and lead-off hitter Cavan Biggio to the MLB draft. Even beyond this, Aoki admits the depth chart is not entirely figured out.

“If I had one question mark, it probably related to our infield defense, and that’s not to say that I don’t think it’s going to be good,” Aoki said. “It’s just when you lose a kid like Zak Kutsulis and Lane Richards, and you lose Cavan Biggio, you’re replacing three of your four infield pieces and those guys played it at a pretty high level. We have new guys stepping in and it’s their opportunity to rise to the occasion. I certainly think they’re capable of doing it, but they’re just not quite as proven.

“I think our outfield will be pretty solid, although I’m not sure that the personnel at each place has been figured out yet. … We also have to kind of settle on what our weekend rotation looks like and who’s going to fill out the bullpen behind them.”

In this year’s tournament, Notre Dame will be joined by three teams with which it has a history, including Lafayette, Saint Louis and Incarnate Word. While the Irish have not played Lafayette since 1967 and Saint Louis since 1994, they have faced Incarnate Word as recently as last year’s Alamo Irish Classic, a game which Notre Dame took by a score of 13-2.

Play this weekend gets underway on Friday as Notre Dame looks to get started on the right foot. Aoki said he believes his team can do big things, but it just has to take it one day at a time.

“I think at the end of the year, when we look back at the tangible outcomes … I think everything is in play for this team,” he said. “We just have to worry about on a daily basis being as good as we can possibly be, and if we do that, I like our chances of going pretty far.”

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