19th-ranked Notre Dame (17-6) took the field on Tuesday night with freshman Tom Thornton on the mound. Thornton (2-0) was coming off an impressive pitching performance (five innings, five hits, one earned run) against Purdue last Wednesday in his first start for the Irish. Thornton struggled early giving up one earned run in the first on three straight hits but settled down in the next four innings allowing only two hits and zero runs.
The Irish did most of their damage in the bottom of the second inning. Matt Macri was issued a walk to lead off the inning followed by Cody Rizzo who reached after being hit by a pitch. Freshman Steve Andres then hit a triple off the top of the wall in center scoring both Marci and Rizzo.
Freshmen Greg Lopez (3-for-5, RBI, run scored) and Brennan Grogan then singled and Matt Edwards (12 RBI in last four games) smacked a double scoring both Grogan and Lopez. Right fielder Chris Billmaier was issued a walk and then sophomore Matt Marci belted a two-run triple off the top of the fence in center.
The Irish plated nine runs in the bottom of the second and three more in the bottom of the sixth when most of the starters had left the game. Freshman walk-on Matt Arminio saw his first action on the mound giving the Irish two scoreless innings of relief and retiring all six batters he faced.
Coach Paul Mainieri was pleased with the way his team played on Tuesday. Mainieri credited his team's impressive hitting with the opportunity to play more games. "I think the more we play, the more you get into a routine, the better your timing gets, the more confident you get," he said. "Once we get to the month of April, you're playing on the weekend, you start playing Tuesday and Wednesday and guys are starting to get more at-bats on a continuing basis and our confidence grows because they see the ball better, their timing gets better and they just get more comfortable."
" I think baseball is the kind of game that you need to play frequently in order to do it well," said Mainieri. "When we were on spring break, we played really well at the end of the week. And then we had a whole week off before we went to Villanova and we struggled with the bats. We came back and had home games in the middle of the week and then we played Georgetown and now we are having mid-week games again and I think guys are really starting to get into a groove. "
Thornton struggled a little early and Mainieri talked about how they plan to use the young lefty in the next week. "He is going to pitch our second game on Sunday against St. Johns. Our intention was only to have him throw about three innings so he would be really fresh for the weekend. We just thought he needed to work. After he pitched that first inning, they were on him pretty good and Brian (O'Connor) and I both thought the he needs to get some pitches. He needs to get some work and some experience out there so we let him go the fourth and fifth inning and I thought his fourth and fifth innings were his best innings. I think it really worked out well and he should be well-rested for Sunday."
Mainieri has received some outstanding play lately from his freshman both in the field and at the plate. Mainieri is excited about his freshmen players. "I have been really excited about the way our freshmen have played. They're continuing to get better on a regular basis. Greg Lopez I thought tonight really swung the bat well and I thought Steve Andres swung the bat well. He hit that first ball off the center field fence, which I thought, was gone and he got another base hit later. I think Brennan Grogan has been doing some great things as well as Cody Rizzo and then Craig Cooper also. We've really got five freshmen that I think have a chance to really do some great things at Notre Dame."
Mainieri seems confident in his team right now. Matt Edwards and Steve Sollmann appear to be filling some big shoes left by the departure of Steve Stanley and Brian Stavisky. "I had two really major concerns going into this year offensively. That was the loss of Stanley and the loss of Stavisky. Stanley at the top of the order made things happen and then Stavisky had the pop in the middle of the order, the big RBI guy. By moving Sollmann to that number one spot, I feel that we've got that scrappy guy that makes that pitcher work and can make things happen. The evolution of Matt Edwards is equally as important to our team. I always thought he could be really good hitter. I just think that right now starting to get his groove. He seeing the ball good and I think the guy is a legitimate hitter. If he can produce RBI's like he is then it's going to make us a good offensive team."
One of the freshman performing well is Cody Rizzo. Rizzo has been playing in the outfield and some catcher as well. The Temecula, California prospect has really come on for the Irish. "I think the playing time that's coming, I'm getting a lot more comfortable," said Rizzo. "Every at-bat it feels like I am learning something new. Every situation, coach is helping us young guys teaching us the right thing to do in every situation. It helps getting the playing time early."
Mainieri has been very aggressive with Rizzo on the bases. Rizzo appears to be grooming for the lead off spot in the future. Is Cody Rizzo the next Steve Sollmann? "I would like to think so. I just want to do anything to help out our team. If I can take the extra base, obviously it's going to help put runners into scoring position and give the batters that are up the chance to get the job done."
Rizzo usually is in the outfield when in but he has been giving Javi Sanchez a breather late in games. Rizzo says he doesn't have a preference as long as he is playing. "I've caught a lot in my career and I've played a lot of outfield too. It really doesn't matter to me where I play. I am pretty experienced in both positions. Playing catcher at the college level is a little different than high school. It takes a little getting used to but it's not too bad right now."
Mainieri has an impressive group of freshmen and they all seem to be blossoming at just the right time. With more at-bats, I expect this class to really play a large role in the team's success late in the year and years to come.
Steve Sollmann continues with a hot bat going 2-for-4 Tuesday. He also has a 66 percent on-base percentage when leading off an inning. His average at the end of Tuesday's game was sitting at an even .400.
Matt Edwards continues to produce RBI with 12 in the last four games.
Freshman Tom Thornton has been impressive this year and was last night as well. His ERA for the season is 1.27 and he has issued only three walks in 21 innings.
The Irish host Valparaiso tonight at Eck Stadium