Back when he was the skipper at Notre Dame, Paul Mainieri had trouble convincing big opponents to visit South Bend. Now that he's at the helm of arguably the biggest college baseball program, he's throwing a bone to his old stomping grounds with a late season series against the Irish at Frank Eck Stadium.
Last year the Irish made their first NCAA Tournament appearance in nearly a decade, going 1-2 in the Champaign, Ill Regional. This year things are more...grounded for the Irish. Notre Dame is sitting at 26-20 overall and 10-12 in the ACC, a full five games back from Atlantic leaders Florida State and Louisville. The Irish's RPI is sitting at 72, but also has series against LSU, North Carolina, and Clemson ahead so that could stand to be bolstered quite a bit if they do the impossible and take at least six games out the potential eight or so. But that's a mighty large task. The Irish are fresh off of three straight series losses against Florida State, Ohio University of Ohio (OH), and Pittsburgh (yeah, the Pitt that got swept by UNO).
Notre Dame only has five true established starters, the most notable being leadoff batter and second baseman Cavan Biggio and before you ask, yes he is the offspring of Astros great Craig. Biggio leads the team with his .493 (!) OBP and is tied for best average on the team with .331. Cavan is absolutely brilliant at drawing walks, with 47 walks and six hit by pitches in 46 games.
That's not a typo.
Biggio also leads the team in home runs with four, so he can also take it deep.
Tied with the lead for best average is outfielder/infielder/catcher/waterboy/grounds crew member Ricky Sanchez, who sports a sub-Biggio OBP of .372 but has raked 12 doubles and four triples on the year in addition to his three homers.
In addition to the five established starters (Zak Kutsulis, Matt Vierling, and Lane Richards being the others), six other players have started at least 20 games. That's quite a bit of turnover.
"Demoted" Sunday starter John Valek III (LHP, 6-2, 4.36 ERA, 53.2 IP, 7 BB, 41 SO) will be on the bump for the Tigers for game one of the series, and he will square off against RHP Connor Hock who only has six innings of work under his belt for the entire season thus far. In those six frames, Hock has given up five hits, leading to two runs (one earned) while striking out five and issuing two walks. He is likely to not throw very long in game one, meaning we're gonna see some pitching changes.
Both games on the series will start at 5:00 and be broadcast on ESPN3. Hopefully Kramer has adjusted to the climate by then.