Appropriately lost in the wash of reportage springing from the passage of Fr. Ted is the fact that Notre Dame baseball is off to its best start since 2004. At 10-1 with a bullet, Coach Mik Aoki‘s Irish are three more wins from besting 2004’s 12-1 start. If the weekend series’ performance in the Mercer Baseball Classic is any indication, this may be the club to do it.
Good teams find a way to win games and better teams win games, and tournaments, on walk-off wild-pitches. That is what the Irish did in Saturday night’s finale against Akron, turning a triple and a wild-pitch in the bottom-of-the-ninth into a come-from-behind 5-4 victory. The morning’s game, an 8-2 romp over Mercer, was notable for the four Irish moon-shots, the most in a game in eight years.
Coach Aoki calls it “creating separation.” Whatever you call it, run production has been a key element to 2015’s winning formula. In the ten wins, the Irish are averaging 8.1 runs per game. Pitching, and defense, combine to hold opponents under three runs (2.9) per game. In Notre Dame’s lone loss, to Oklahoma back on February 13, 2015, the Irish were blown out, 6-1.
Baseball is too-often distilled down to a syrup of sentiment and nostalgia. For these Irish, though, the baseball lineage on the lineup is very much worth mentioning. The sons of Astro’s great and Hall of Famer Craig Biggio, Cavin, a sophomore, and Conor, a senior, have added key hits and defense throughout their careers. Now, the son of Twins’ great possible future Hall of Famer Torii Hunter, Torii Hunter, Jr., is poised to join them and Coach Aoki’s squad.
Like basketball, men’s and women’s, Notre Dame baseball’s travel schedule provides more-than-ample opportunity for fans to watch the Irish. With baseball, too, South Bend’s horrific early-season weather gets them on the road, with the first Irish home game not coming until St. Patrick’s Day. Before that, Coach Aoki will do his best General Sherman impersonation through upcoming stands in Atlanta (March 6-8), Savannah (March 11), and Clemson, South Carolina (March 13-15). Future road trips include Pittsburgh (April 3-5), Winston-Salem (April 24-26), and Boston (May 14-16). The ACC tournament kicks off on May 19 in Durham, North Carolina. Though conference play hasn’t started, the Fighting Irish are currently in first place, ahead of Florida State (7-3) and Clemson (6-3). Expect Virginia to be the toughest conference foe this season.
In this, Coach Aoki’s fifth season at the helm, the Irish should be poised for solid runs in both the conference and NCAA tournaments. The roster returns 23 starting players from last season and their experience, production, and leadership account for a lot of Notre Dame’s blazing start. Those same attributes, combined with roster depth, should help stave off any losing streaks, such that this could be a season for the record books.
A herald of spring, baseball still has the ability to turn the sports-fan’s thoughts from cold winter and, for the Notre Dame community, loss. With their quick start to the 2015 season, the Fighting Irish could have Notre Dame fans thinking of tournament titles into the summer.