“Both guys played extremely well,” Schrage stated. “It was probably the most contested position we had in the fall. We thought Brett gave us a little bit more range out there. Jeremy was probably a little more consistent with the routine plays, Brett was able to cover a little more ground. Now they may end up playing together anyways if we decide to catch Ross Brezovsky.
When Irish coaches and players found out that starting catcher Sean Gaston was lost for the season (shoulder surgery), it was Brezovsky asking for a chance to be the team’s backstop.
“He came to me and was like I can catch, and I was like I realize that,” Schrage said of his second baseman. “He says give me a good look, so we’ve been working him out there. We’ll see how that unfolds. Ryan Smith and Matt Weglarz could do the job for us back there, but if not I think you have a guy with a big heart that is willing to step in and do it too.”
In his first two seasons in an Irish uniform, Lilley collected all-Big East honors, owning a career .327 batting average. A fixture in the two hole, Lilley certainly has the potential to be an All-American this spring.
The big thing for left-handed hitting Lilley, is that he is finally healthy. He played all of last season recovering from back surgery. He was still impressive, hitting .419 in league play, good for third in the conference.
Lilley was invited to play in the prestigious Cape Cod league this summer, where he struggled. But being around some of the best players in the country was very beneficial to the success he expects to have for the Irish.
“It’s a totally different game,” Lilley stated. “Pitchers are throwing 95 at you all the time, so I had to make a lot of adjustments and I’ve done that this fall. I really think I am an improved player since last year, plus I am healthy, which is a huge.”
The 5-foot-8, 170-pound Lilley played mostly third base in the Cape Cod league, but fielded ground balls at shortstop. This fall was his first time at the position since his senior year of high school.
“It gives me a lot more range and things I can do with what I have,” Lilley explained. “And with my skills and everything, that allows me to make more plays. Third base, you are kind of limited just because you have to make the play and get the out. Shortstop, you’re going everywhere, it’s a lot more interactive in the infield, you are always doing something.”
“We worked together really well in fall practice,” Brezovsky said. “It seems to be going really well so far. Brett has a lot more range than Greg Lopez did last year, so he can do some stuff that is more creative. Gets to a lot of balls.”
While Lilley was struggling with the wood bats and the talented pitching in the Cape Cod league, his double-play partner was putting together a nice summer in the Jayhawk League. Brezovsky played in the Kansas league for the second straight summer, and earned all-star honors, hitting .314 in the wooden bat league.
“Anytime you do well playing in a wooden bat league your confidence goes up,” he said. “I came in this fall and played okay, and hopefully I can bring that into the season.”
The Irish are going to need it. With a pitching staff that lost its three top pitchers from a season ago, and a lineup that doesn’t have much pop, Notre Dame is going to have to produce runs in different ways. Brezovsky and his .295 average from last season will have to be a big part of any success the team has, and whether or not they win a six-straight Big East title.
“He is battle tested, he has played for two years, plays the game hard,” Schrage said. “Has a very good glove at second base. Those two guys up the middle give us good range and experience up the middle. We are going to move Danny Dressman to center field, so we have a senior and two juniors up the middle, and I think that is important to have veteran guys up the middle.”
Before former Irish manager Paul Mainieri decided to leave the program for LSU, he and Brezovsky had talked about him trying to play catcher. When he left, Brezovsky went on like that plan never happened. When Gaston went down, he threw his name in the hat.
The funny thing is, the 5-foot-9, 170-pound Brezovsky said he has never caught in his life. He has been working with every pitcher on the staff.
“It’s been tough,” Brezovsky said. “Just learning how to block, that kind of stuff. Learning how to call pitches, just different things you wouldn’t think about setting up. But I’m learning them and I am having fun doing them, and looking forward to doing it during the year.”
Brezovsky’s four homeruns last season, is the most returning to the lineup this season. However going long isn’t his game, but the thought has led to a few more unwarranted strikeouts. Brezovsky has gone done swinging 74 times in his career, but has really put in the time to be a better contact hitter this season.
“Mainly just hitting early in the count,” Brezovsky said. “Getting my pitch instead of hitting the pitcher’s pitch. Not chasing balls out of the zone. Hitting strikes and mainly just confidence. Confidence going up there knowing I can get a hit no matter the count or who I’m facing.”
“Ross has to get in his head that he is not a power hitter, he has to put the ball in play and be a contact guy,” Schrage explained. “He’s been doing a good job. We’ve worked a lot with him on extension. We’ve worked a lot with him on letting the ball get deeper and going the other way with pitches.”
Lilley and Brezovsky are doing whatever they can to help the team advance out of regionals and all the way to the College World Series. Both think the season could end in Omaha.