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Irish set to open season on the road at Arizona State

| Friday, February 15, 2019

Snow and below-freezing temperatures do not signal the transition from winter to spring or the beginning of baseball season in South Bend, so Notre Dame will hit the road to open the season in the more acceptable temperatures of Phoenix.

The Irish, led by head coach Mik Aoki, open their season with a weekend series against the Sun Devils of Arizona State. Coming off of back-to-back losing seasons, Notre Dame brought in 13 freshmen to load up the roster and provide an influx of talent. The young Irish team is looking for a fast start and sustained success throughout the spring.

“It’s always really helpful to get off to a hot start,” Aoki said. “At the end of the day, you have to be able to sustain a high level of play for 14 weeks to get where we want to get in the postseason.”

A year ago, the Irish got off to the hot start they were looking for, winning the opening series against a well-regarded LSU program. Following the 2-1 start, however, the Irish dropped 29 of their next 51 games to finish the regular season and miss out on postseason play.

“We shocked the world a year ago with a series win against LSU, but we were not able to sustain that success,” Aoki said. “An opening series win is not critical to the duration of the season.”

The Irish will be on the road for the first five weeks of the season, not appearing at home until a series against Florida State the weekend of March 22. Aoki said his team is prepared for the heavy travel at the beginning of the season, but he recognizes that the miles begin to take their toll near the end of the road trip.

“I think, probably for the first couple of weekends, it is not that big of a deal,” Aoki said of the travel. “As we get into weeks three through five, the newness of the season wears off and it can be a little challenging. It can be challenging physically and mentally.”

Aoki hopes his team is physically and mentally prepared for the first series of the season against Arizona State. Entering his ninth year as the Irish head coach, Aoki expects to see growth in the maturity of his pitching staff.

“Our pitching was certainly was certainly our Achilles’ heel last year,” Aoki said. “Our young pitchers have matured as people and matured as baseball players. We’ll see them improve.”

A season ago, the Irish pitching staff accumulated a combined 5.87 ERA over 475 2/3 innings of work. Tommy Sheehan made 14 starts for the Irish in his freshman campaign last year, compiling a 5.74 ERA while walking 41 and striking out only 27 batters. The sophomore will get the ball on Friday night and look to improve in his second year with the Irish. Junior Cameron Brown will get start on Saturday, and junior Cameron Junker will take the mound on Sunday to close out the series against the Sun Devils.

Entering the opening series at Arizona State, Aoki said his team is excited to start the year against a premier opponent. The Sun Devils are coming off back-to-back losing seasons of their own, but the program holds a rich history, featuring stars like former major league outfielder Barry Bonds and current Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia.

“You’re playing one of the name brand institutions as far as baseball goes,” Aoki said. “It’s a great opportunity for us to go out there, compete against a really good team and enjoy it.”

Notre Dame and Arizona State will face off in their series opener on Friday night at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. First pitch is scheduled for 8:30 p.m.

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