Hot Start for Bransfield

Hot Start for Bransfield

An early trip up north to Minneapolis for the Notre Dame baseball team was not productive. In fact, the Irish were as cold as the harsh winter weather. Three games equated into three losses by a combined margin of 21-1. Senior Matt Bransfield felt they were a step behind the competition.

"In Minneapolis, we played three real good teams," Bransfield said. "Teams were probably a little ahead of us in their progressions. We're just trying to figure everything out and get a lineup that can go on the field and consistently produce."

The remedy for Notre Dame? A jaunt down south to San Antonio for some warmer weather and a week full of games. The Irish might be just as hot, winning six of seven games going into today's contest against Southern Illinois. Bransfield can see the team gelling and putting the bumpy start of the season behind them.

"Everything has been great," Bransfield said of the San Antonio trip. "We've had nice weather. It's hot. Our team is starting to come together and play as a team. We're getting better each day. Our pitching has been there for us all season but we came together as a team down here. We've got team wins and good effort down here while in San Antonio. We've kind of made a home down here the last three years."

Bransfield, in particular, has been getting it done at the plate. The senior is hitting .380 with two home runs and 11 RBI's. In Friday's 12-2 win over Southern Illinois, Bransfield went 3-for-4 with three runs scored and an RBI. He fell a homer short of hitting for the cycle. Bransfield currently is third on the team in RBI's and likes this role of driving in runs in crucial situations.

"I definitely consider myself a RBI guy," Bransfield said, who led the Big East in this category as a sophomore. "We don't have a guy in our lineup that's going to go out there and hit 15-plus home runs. We all try to square in on the ball and get ahead. I'm one of those guys that's trying to get the two-out RBI anytime that we have a runner in scoring position. A good situational hitter."

Game days are a little different this season for Bransfield. He mostly occupied the designated hitter spot in the three previous seasons with solid hitting success. Bransfield came into the year with a .308 career average, 12 home runs and 84 RBI's. Now, he must flash some leather as well. Bransfield has been playing out in left field and has not committed an error in 14 games for the Irish. The transition from DH to an everyday regular was a welcome one.

"Anytime you can get onto the field, you feel in the game," Bransfield said. "You are a little bit one-dimensional from the DH position because you have to stay focused on just hitting. It's tough because that's all you're doing. In the field, I can help the ball club in another way. That's been a great change for me. I can throw a runner out or make a great play to pick us up."

Bransfield has had to overcome some adversity. As a junior, he broke a bone in his hand that caused him to miss 18 games. It was a freak occurrence. Bransfield checked his swing on an inside pitch and followed through. The ball didn't hit him but the damage was done. Bransfield said it's a common injury for baseball players. This, coupled with the mid-season struggles of the Irish last year, did not make the situation easy for him.

"We struggled as a team last year," Bransfield said. "Things kind of went south on us early and we struggled. It was real tough to be supportive and brighten up everyone's day. It was tough to come to the ballpark because I knew I wasn't going to be able to produce. I couldn't go through the wars and we were getting our butts kicked."

The fortunes for Notre Dame improved and the team pulled together to win the Big East Tournament, securing their spot in the NCAA Tournament. The 2005 season ended with a loss to Florida in the Gainesville Regional. Bransfield finished the year by hitting .313 with an on-base percentage over .400. But the bad taste of another loss in the regionals fuels the desire to get past this road block in 2006.

"We've been to the regional final the past three years and that doesn't sit well with us," Bransfield said. "We want to get past that hump. Of course, we have to take it one step at a time and qualify first. Eventually we'd love to get past that regional final and have a two-out-of-three scenario to get to the mecca of college baseball in Omaha."

An interesting biographical note: Bransfield went to same high school as former Irish star and Houston Astros closer Brad Lidge. Both attended Cherry Creek High School in Englewood, Colorado and the Irish are certainly pleased for the pipeline to South Bend. Bransfield got a chance to train with Lidge a few seasons back and the experience of seeing a major league baseball player prepare for the wars was worth the expended energy.

"I don't speak to him regularly," Bransfield said about Lidge. "But when I went home in the summer after my freshmen year, I worked out with him at a health club. It was very intense. Brad is a horse. He's a huge guy. He's leg pressing a ton more than I was. It was a tough workout but I wanted to get with a guy who has made it and also where I am from."

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