After being blanked in two straight games two weekends ago in Minneapolis, the Irish hitters left their silent bats at home and delivered in the clutch last weekend.
“I knew we were capable of hitting better than we were hitting,” Irish coach Paul Mainieri said. “This happens every year. I keep telling everyone; ‘don’t panic.’ History tells us that we’re slow starters with the bats and eventually we’ll get it going.”
Notre Dame’s fortune shifted with a critical win over then No. 15 Texas A&M in the first game of the UTSA Tournament.
“We had a heck of a game against Texas A&M,” said Mainieri. “We were down 4-1 in the eighth inning and we put together a tremendous rally. We got two clutch hits and took the 5-4 lead, and then our freshman closer, Kyle Weiland, held them off and it was a tremendous victory for us. It gave our kids a lot of confidence. The next day against Iowa we went out and scored 16 runs and continued to play well. I’m really happy with where we’re going, but we’ve still got a long way to go.”
A lot of coaches speak of defining moments for their season. Was the victory over A&M a defining moment for the Irish?
“It just might be our defining moment,” Mainieri admitted. “It’s obviously early in the season. I did tell our team after the game that we became a team that night. We played that way the next three games. They’ve played with a lot of confidence. We’ve pitched well, we’ve played great defense, and hopefully we’ll continue on that path.”
The Irish, known for their pitching, dominated their opponents last weekend posting a 2.50 team ERA with 31 strikeouts and just 14 walks in 36 innings.
“I’ve felt all along that our starting three, (Jeff) Samardzija, (Jeff) Manship and (Tom) Thornton, would give us solid outings and so far they’ve done that,” the Irish skipper said. “The big question was going to be our fourth starter and our bullpen. Wade Korpi has given us two tremendous starts as a fourth starter, and Kyle Weiland has done a great job as a closer. Now we have guys who are starting to settle into roles as our set-up men. I think the sky is the limit for our pitching staff. I just feel we’re going to continue to get better and better.”
The Irish hitters also did the job ending the week with a team batting average of .348 and scored 31 runs in four games. Junior Danny Dressman was red hot at the plate finishing the tournament 9-for-17 with nine RBI and being named Big East player of the week.
“He might have the most consistent swing mechanics on our team,” Mainieri said of Dressman. “He’s not going to be a power hitter, but he’s going to get good contact on every swing. He’s been a real spark plug for us so far. He deserves to play and that’s why he’s playing. I’m going to give him a chance to prove that he’s an every day player for us.”
Notre Dame will now play two games a piece against Iowa and Southern Illinois this coming weekend. Mainieri believes the Irish must have a good weekend if they want to build a case for a NCAA berth at the end of the season.
“It’s real important for us to finish this week strong,” he said. “You want to have a good record so that you put yourself in position for an NCAA bid. These games are all winnable games for us. We’re playing very solid teams in Iowa and Southern Illinois, but they are Midwestern teams. We’re playing on a neutral field so nobody should have an advantage. These are winnable games for us and we need to win them all if we can.”
The Irish rotation will have a change this weekend with freshman David Phelps scheduled to make the first start of his Notre Dame career.
“We’re doing that for a couple of reasons,” Mainieri said of starting Phelps in Friday’s evening game. “We wanted to give Tom Thornton an extra day of rest early in the season rather than try to push it and bring him back on four days rest.
”I wanted to get Phelps a start. We want to give him the ball and not feel like one mistake is going to cost us the ball game, and give him a chance to get some innings under his belt....get some experience and hopefully develop into our fifth starter. Hopefully he can show he can be a weekend starter for us next year.”