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Irish prepare for seven-game series over Spring Break

| Thursday, March 7, 2019

On Friday night, the Notre Dame baseball team will match up against Wake Forest in Winston-Salem, North Carolina for its first of seven games over spring break.

The Irish (4-7) are coming off a weekend in which they swept Charleston Southern and got swept by Ball State in South Carolina. The team will return to the Carolinas for a spring break road trip and the start of conference play.

Irish head coach Mik Aoki said his team is excited for the road trip and the upcoming challenge of ACC competition.

“The road trip is fun to a certain extent because you’re on spring break and you don’t have to worry about school,” Aoki said. “The guys really enjoy being around each other.”

Constant travel is the new normal for Notre Dame after playing its first 11 games on the road. Aoki noted the difficulties of being away from home early in the season while South Bend slowly thaws from winter to spring.

“It’s tough because this will be weekend four and five that we’ll be on the road,” he said.

At the end of the road trip, the Irish will have played 18 games on the road, visiting warmer climates of Arizona, Texas and the Carolinas before finally playing their home opener at Frank Eck Baseball Stadium on March 22, when Florida State visits for a three-game weekend.

The Irish will take on a trio of opponents from the Carolinas over spring break, including two conference foes. A pair of three-game series against Wake Forest and Clemson sandwich a lone matchup at Western Carolina.

Aoki said he hopes to find success at the start of conference play, stating series victories over Wake Forest and Clemson would make a statement to the rest of the conference and put his club in a good position before their home opener.

“I think it’s important to play well in every conference weekend,” Aoki said. “The ACC is one of the top one or two baseball conferences in the country.”

The Irish will match up against a Wake Forest club coming off a down year. The Demon Deacons (8-6) slotted in as the No. 9 seed for the ACC Championship a season ago, and were quickly eliminated from pool play after suffering losses to Louisville and Duke.

The Wake Forest offense is off to a hot start, hitting .278 as a team through 14 games, good for fifth-best in the conference. The Irish are coming off a weekend that featured strong pitching performances from sophomores Tommy Sheehan and Cole Kmet and juniors Cameron Brown and Cameron Junker. Aoki said the key to success over spring break is preventing innings from spiraling out of control.

Against Incarnate Word on Feb. 23, Irish pitcher Aidan Tyrell surrendered six runs in the first inning. Sheehan allowed a four-run second inning to Charleston Southern on Friday and Brown gifted a four-run fourth inning to Ball State on Saturday. Aoki said his pitching staff will have to limit big innings to succeed in conference play.

“I think we have pitched pretty well,” Aoki said. “For the most part, I think [our pitchers] can continue doing what they’re doing. They can get ahead in the count.”

After the weekend series in Winston-Salem, the Irish will play one game against Western Carolina (5-5) before a three-game series with Clemson (9-3).

The feast-or-famine Clemson offense presents a dangerous challenge for the Irish pitching staff. The Tigers’ offense has struggled to a conference-worst .257 batting average, but Clemson also owns a league-best 22 home runs. Additionally, the fan environment at Doug Kingsmore stadium will pose a new test for the Irish.

“[Clemson has] really good players,” Aoki said. “They have a really good atmosphere. We have to, probably for the first time this year, deal with a hostile environment.”

Aoki said he expects to hear taunts about the College Football Playoff, and the 30-3 loss that Notre Dame football suffered at the hands of Clemson back in December.

“Not only do we have to contend with an excellent team, but we have to deal with a raucous crowd as well,” he said.

The Irish will have to post their best weekend of the season to contend with ACC competition. The Notre Dame pitching staff owns a conference-worst 5.78 ERA, and the lineup ranks next-to-last in the conference with a .258 team batting average.

“We have to more consistently get our hitting and pitching going on the same days,” Aoki said. “We’re looking forward to the challenge.”

The Irish will take on the Demon Deacons on Friday at 6 p.m. to begin their seven-game stretch.

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