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Irish prepare to open ACC play against Miami

| Thursday, March 8, 2018

After falling to Seattle in final game of the Kissimmee Irish Classic, Notre Dame will head to Florida once again this weekend to open up ACC play with a three-game road series against Miami. The Irish head to Florida with an offense that has put up 24 runs in its last three games and a starting pitching staff that has struggled to find its groove in the strike zone.

Elizabeth Greason | The Observer
Irish junior shortstop Cole Daily runs to first base during Notre Dame’s 8-3 win over Toledo on April 12 at Frank Eck Stadium.

Irish head coach Mik Aoki has emphasized the need for some of the younger players for Notre Dame (6-4) to fully settle into the transition into college baseball. Despite this, he is pleased with the performances of many of the squad’s younger position players.

“I think you just want to continue to grow as a team,” Aoki said. “There are things that — I think there are a lot of things that — some of these young guys need to continue to make the transition to college baseball and trust in their ability, I think probably more so on the mound rather than anywhere else.

“I feel like our younger position players are doing really, a pretty good job. I mean, there have been some ups and downs, but I think guys like [freshman catcher David] LaManna and [freshman infielder] Niko Kavatas, [freshman infielder] Jared Miller, [freshman outfielder] Ryan Cole, [freshman infielder] Spencer Myers, I think they’ve all made a pretty good transition.”

Pitching remains a point of emphasis moving forward for the team, and Aoki has highlighted the importance of pitching consistency amidst the volatility of college baseball. For Aoki, pitching success will come when the younger members of the staff begin to really trust their abilities.

“From a pitching standpoint, I think our kids — the younger guys — just need to understand that they need to just trust their abilities and trust their strengths and not give the hitters too much credit and not think as much,” he said. “They need to sort of be a little less cerebral and a little bit more instinctual in terms of the way that they pitch and compete.”

That being said, Aoki feels the veteran members of the squad have stepped up for the Irish so far. Aoki was impressed with the performance of some of the team’s older members early on in the season.

“Overall though, I think our older guys have played really, really well,” Aoki said. “I thought [junior infielder] Matt Vierling had a good weekend. [Junior infielders] Nick Podkul and Cole Daily continue to play at a really high level, getting some contributions from a guy like [senior outfielder] Alex Kerschner, so I think [junior first baseman] Daniel Jung has been much improved.

“ … [Junior outfielder] Eric Gilgenbach, he’s another one, [senior outfielder] Jake Johnson. I think all the veterans have played really, really well and so, I mean, we kind of knew that we would have to be patient with this group, with as many of the young kids who are playing and pitching in particular, so we’ll continue to be patient. Try to help them grow and try to help them get better and try to adjust to the college level and I think probably more than anything, mentally making that transition will continue to help us a lot.”

Miami (5-6) may not have earned a bid to the NCAA tournament last season, but Aoki still regards the Hurricanes as a very talented team.

Regardless of Miami’s struggles so far this season, Aoki and his squad know that the team they will be facing this weekend is not one to be overlooked.

“I mean, first things first, we’ve got a Miami team who is obviously one of the storied names in college baseball, regardless of how last year went for them, or how this year thus far has gone for them,” Aoki said. “So, we pay attention to Miami, that’s the next thing on the schedule and then we’ll go from there.”

Still, for the Irish, the approach remains the same every week. Aoki stressed attitude and energy in articulating his expectations for the team moving forward. Notre Dame may be a young team, but they’ve clearly shown promise, Aoki said.  

“I think the expectation for us, week in and week out is the same things: for our kids be great teammates, for our kids to show great attitude, for our kids to come with their very best energy and effort and I think the performance will be driven if they do those things at a really high level,” Aoki said. “We’re a young team, but I think we’re a good team, so some days there’s going to be some ups and downs and some days we’re going to look like a really good college baseball team, so hopefully we get the latter showing up more than the up and down part.

“But I feel good about our team and I feel good about our kids and they’ll show up and they’ll play hard at the end of the day. That’s one of the few things you can control in athletics. If it’s good enough, we’ll win some games; if it isn’t, we won’t and we’ll go back to the drawing board and do it all over again the next day.”

The road series for the Irish will begin Friday at 7 p.m. in Coral Gables, Florida at Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field. Their road trip continues with a two-game series against St. Joseph’s (PA) and a three-game series against No. 4 Florida State.

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