Irish Face Rutgers This Weekend

<P>The Notre Dame baseball team plays a critical series against Rutgers this weekend. The Scarlet Knights (28-15, 15-4) are leading the BIG EAST standings while the Irish (36-12, 14-4) are hoping to unseat Rutgers for the BIG EAST lead. The Irish baseball team finished their final exams this weekend and it's baseball from here on out. </P>

Coach Paul Mainieri knows how important this weekend is for his Irish baseball team. "It's a huge weekend for us. We haven't been able to practice because of finals week until recently. Some players started showing up on Wednesday and we worked with them individually. We know how important this series is to our team and we're hoping to meet that challenge."

The Rutgers rivalry is a legitimate rivalry and these two teams don't like each other. "There is no love-loss between the two teams. We had beaten them nine straight times. Last year we beat them in the championship game in a 10-inning game to win the tournament. It's a hostile environment. There is no love-loss but there is a lot of respect. We know that Rutgers always plays their best baseball at the end of the year and we will have to be ready for them."

The Irish last played on Sunday in a loss to West Virginia 5-1. The loss was damaging as it knocked the Irish out of first place in the BIG EAST Standings.

The Irish have been struggling with their bats lately and probably their confidence. "I am kind of glad that we weren't able to hold full practices," said Mainieri. "It gave me a chance to work with the players individually and to really sit down and talk to them. We've just got to take it one pitch and one inning at a time."

Rutgers is second in the league in hitting with a .311 team batting average—the Irish are tied for fourth with a .304 average. Notre Dame ranks first in ERA with a 3.35 team ERA while the Scarlet Knights are fifth with a 4.69 team ERA.

The magic number for the Irish to get into the BIG EAST Tournament is three. The Irish have to focus on winning three games in their last six conference games to be assured a spot in the BIG EAST Tournament. The Irish will play Virginia Tech (31-17, 13-7) the following weekend and the Hokies are currently in fourth place in BIG EAST standings.

West Virginia (31-14, 14-4) is in second place and will play Villanova (13-26, 5-14) at home this weekend. They finish their conference schedule with a series against Boston College (28-18, 10-8) the following weekend.

Rutgers will face Villanova to finish their conference schedule the following weekend.

The Irish have the most difficult road to travel going into the final two weekends playing both Rutgers and Virginia Tech on the road. Notre Dame will have to find some hits this weekend and hope their pitching holds up to their high standard. Top Stories