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Notre Dame looking for turnaround at Tony Gwynn Classic

| Wednesday, February 22, 2017

After a disappointing start to its season last weekend at the Alamo Irish Classic, Notre Dame heads westward this weekend, traveling to San Diego for the Tony Gwynn Classic.

In many ways, Notre Dame (1-3) was its own worst enemy last weekend in San Antonio — over the course of the four games, a win over Incarnate Word and losses to Lafayette and Saint Louis (twice), Irish pitchers issued 29 walks and fielders committed eight errors. Irish head coach Mik Aoki said these problems surprised him, as the team hadn’t shown any indication of them in preseason practice.

Irish graduate student pitcher Michael Hearne throws during Notre Dame's 9-5 victory over UIC on March 22. Michael Yu | The Observer
Irish graduate student pitcher Michael Hearne throws during Notre Dame’s 9-5 victory over UIC on March 22.

“When you look at the number of walks that our pitching staff gave up and the number of errors we committed as a team, we didn’t see any of that in the preseason,” Aoki said. “We had an opportunity to be outside and scrimmage quite a lot, and those things would have reared themselves if that was part of the DNA of our team. … Did we walk some guys? Of course we did. Did we commit a few errors? Of course we did. But it didn’t show up in the bunches that it did this weekend.”

Aoki isn’t concerned about his starting pitchers — junior Brandon Bielak, who’s throwing Friday, junior Peter Solomon, who’ll pitch Saturday, and either graduate student southpaw Michael Hearne or senior Ryan Smoyer, one of whom will start Sunday — since their struggles in the opening weekend do not reflect their career successes.

“For whatever the reason was, we played a little out of character, and we played a little bit out of what we’ve seen out of our pitching staff and our team for the last month in the scrimmages that we’ve played,” Aoki said. “Historically, if you look at the body of work for each one of those guys, it’s really out of character for each of those guys.”

While the level of play was not what he or the team wanted, Aoki said he was pleased with his team’s response to the opening-weekend disappointment.

“I felt like overall, we did a pretty decent job of staying positive through an otherwise-not-our-best performance out on the field,” Aoki said. “I thought our kids did a pretty good job of continuing to stay positive, to stay together, to not fall into blaming or complaining, going negative on things, so I thought that was pretty encouraging.”

Notre Dame will open the Tony Gwynn Classic with one of the co-hosts, San Diego, on Friday, and will either face Oregon or UC-Irvine on Saturday depending on opening-round results. A matchup with one of San Diego State, Seton Hall or Tennessee could await the Irish on Sunday.

Aoki said the field in San Diego is strong, and he hopes the Irish can return to their usual selves for the second weekend of the year.

“Hopefully this weekend, we settle back into who we are,” Aoki said. “We’ve got pretty good tests in terms of our opponent on Friday for sure, and then any opponents we might face subsequently. We have some good teams, so hopefully we can get ourselves squared away.”

Aoki stressed that the Irish Alamo Classic was just one weekend out of the whole season, and that there is a long season ahead of the team.

“Outside of the fact that, yes, it stinks to lose three games, it’s still one weekend of 14,” Aoki said. “And if 13 of these weekends go really well and 10 of our midweek games go pretty well, and we play to who I think we are, this weekend will just be a forgotten thing. And I really think that’s what it is.”

The Irish will look to get their 2017 season back on track Friday, when they take on co-host San Diego (1-2) at 9 p.m. in the Tony Gwynn Classic.

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About Alex Carson

Alex Carson graduated from Notre Dame in 2017 after majoring in Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics and living in O’Neill Hall. Hailing from the Indianapolis area, but born in Youngstown, Ohio, Carson is a Cleveland sports fan convinced that he’s already lived the “best day of his life.” At The Observer, Carson was first a Sports Writer, then served as an Associate Sports Editor (2015/16) and an Assistant Managing Editor (2016/17), before finishing his tenure as a Senior Sports Writer. A man of strong convictions, he ardently believes that Carly Rae Jepsen's 2015 release E•MO•TION is the greatest album of his generation, and wakes up early on Saturday mornings to listen, or occasionally watch, his favorite least-favorite sports team, Aston Villa. When he isn’t writing, Carson spends his time counting down the days to the next running of the Indianapolis 500 and reminding people that the Victory March starts with the lyric, “Rally sons of Notre Dame,” not “Cheer, cheer for Old Notre Dame.”

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