Mainieri Impressed With Weekend

The Notre Dame baseball team had another impressive weekend improving their record to 6-0 in their young season. The Irish have been playing complete baseball, pitching, hitting and fielding well. Irish Eyes caught up with coach Paul Mainieri to get his thoughts on Notre Dame's hot start.

"It's a lot harder to win college baseball games than people realize," said Mainieri about his team's 4-0 weekend. "To start off 6-0 is quite an accomplishment."

The Irish have been winning games with some impressive hitting. The Irish are hitting .352 as a team with 8 home runs on the season, and scored 53 runs in their four games this weekend. "We can't expect to win if everyone in the lineup gets just one hit. You need somebody to step forward. The San Diego State game, Matt Edwards had a big day. The Winthrop game, Greg Lopez had a big game. The Florida Atlantic game, Edwards hits the two home runs. On Sunday you have Marci, Gaston and Grogan having big days. It's encouraging when you have a different guy doing it."

"That's a sign of a good team and shows balance throughout the lineup when different guys are capable of having a big game," Mainieri added.

Mainieri has been thrilled with his team's hitting and rightfully so. What many consider his 7-9 hitters are among the leaders on the team in hitting right now.

No. 9 hitter Brennan Grogan (.467, 7-for-15, 5 RBI, 5 R, 2B, BB), No. 8 hitter Greg Lopez (.409, 9-for-22, 6 R, 2 2B, HR, 10 RBI, .636 slugging, BB, SB), and No. 6 hitter Matt Macri (375, 9-24, 8 R, 8 RBI, HR, 3B, 2B, 3 BB, SB) have been consistent at the plate fueling the scoring explosion.

Mainieri believes this is a sign of a team that will be very good at the plate. "I think any time you have a good team, you have guys that set the table at the top of the order, your big run producers in the middle of the order, and what separates OK teams from the really great teams is the last third of the lineup. If you have tough outs there, there's no rest for the pitcher."

The Irish pitchers have also been impressive. A 6-0 start is always reason to get excited, but Mainieri warns that the Irish are far from a finished product. "I always felt that the key to our season is going to be these freshmen pitchers and guys like Tom Thornton and Ryan Doherty. Tom Thornton has met the challenge twice in an absolutely fantastic way. He went pitch-to-pitch against an All-American pitcher Saturday night."

"They jockeyed their rotation so they could pitch their All-American against us," Mainieri continued. "I didn't do that because we need to know if Tom Thornton can be that kind of guy for us. He matched him pitch for pitch."

Two freshmen pitchers got their first starts of their career and Mainieri believes both will improve with time. "Jess Stewart did OK. He pitched good enough to win, but he's going to need to be better than he was. With his first outing with the nerves, we thought he did OK, but he'll get better. I would grade Derek Olvey the same way I as grade Jess Stewart. He did OK and will need to continue to improve. The highlight for me was the way Dan Kapala threw and the way Jeff Samardzija threw on Saturday. Those two guys really threw great."

Another concern for Mainieri at the beginning of the year was replacing former closer J.P. Gagne. Sophomore Ryan Doherty appears to be the answer according to Mainieri. "Ryan Doherty has now done the job for us twice now. He really did a remarkable job for us on Saturday night. First of all he gets a strikeout against their big home run hitter. Then in the ninth he gave up a hit to lead off the inning. The umpire, his strike zone got pretty tight there, and Ryan overcame it. He kept battling away and got the guy to hit a ground ball and we got the double play."

The most impressive stat so far has been the play of the Irish defense. Even Mainieri can't hide his excitement about how his team has played defense. "We've made one fielding error by a regular in six games. That's the only play we've misplayed the whole year. Major league teams wish they could field .980."

The Irish will play in two back-to-back tournaments in nine days starting on Saturday. Irish players will be spending their spring break on the diamond with eight games scheduled in nine days.

The Irish host the first tournament in the Alamo City Irish Baseball Classic. Other teams involved include Southern Illinois, Texas-San Antonio and Penn State.

The Irish then play in the Round Rock College Class next Thursday through Saturday against Penn State, Arizona, Texas Tech and Illinois.

"We've got eight tough ballgames down there," Mainieri said. "It's going to be a lot of fun because the kids are out of the school for the week. They'll concentrate solely on baseball. We're going to play in two beautiful AA stadiums. It's should be a fun week."

The Irish were without junior Grant Johnson this weekend who sat out battling a case of tonsillitis. Mainieri said he'll have to wait and see how much he can pitch. "I don't think we'll see him more than 50 pitches. He hasn't been able to throw at all because of his sickness. I don't know where he'll be when he begins throwing again. We'll just have to play that one by ear and see how he's feeling."

Also absent in the final game against Minnesota last weekend was freshman Danny Dressman. "He put a beautiful bunt down on Saturday night and this third baseman from Florida Atlantic made a major league play on it. When Dressman jumped the bag he just caught his ankle wrong. We'll just have to monitor it all week. I don't think it's a serious ankle sprain. We'll just have to see how it is and hopefully he'll be able to go this weekend."

The Irish will be playing a lot of baseball over the next few weeks. Irish Eyes will stay on top of the latest with Irish baseball.

Notre Dame Sports Information contributed to this story.


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