12-1 Irish On The Road This Weekend

The 12-1 Notre Dame baseball team is off to its best start in 94 years. The Irish head to Southern Illinois on Saturday for a two-game series with Southern Illinois. The Irish won a thriller over the Salukis, 12-11 in extra innings, on March 6th in the Alamo City Irish Baseball Classic earlier in the season. This should be another wild weekend for the Irish.

In the earlier game, the Salukis got an early jump on Irish ace Chris Niesel forcing him from the game in just three innings. Niesel (3-0) will get his chance to make amends with the start on Saturday.

"They're definitely as dangerous as they appear," said Irish coach Paul Mainieri of the 2-12 Salukis. "We didn't take them lightly. This is a team that was picked to finish second in the Missouri Valley Conference. I knew they had good talent, but they've just had a murderous schedule early in the season. They came out and hit Niesel around the park last weekend—not too many teams do that. These are going to be some very difficult games for us this weekend."

Niesel will be on the mound on Saturday--Mainieri was not sure who would start the second game of the weekend. "It will be Chris Niesel on Saturday. On Sunday, we're not sure if we're going to start Tom Thornton or Grant Johnson. Thornton will definitely pitch. We're going to save that decision until after the game on Saturday and see how many guys out of our bullpen we have to use for Saturday's game. If we need Johnson to be our closer, we'll let Thornton start the game."

The Irish will then return home and play their first home game on Tuesday. We asked Mainieri if he planned to start freshman Derik Olvey on Tuesday for their home-opener. "We're still not sure yet. Olvey's definitely going pitch either this weekend or Tuesday or Wednesday. We're not 100 percent sure he's going to be our third starter right out of the gate, yet. I think guys like Joe Thaman and Jeff Samardzija have thrown real well, too. We're also trying to continue to groom Grant Johnson and we're taking that slowly. Derik is going to pitch a lot of big innings for us. We're just not sure how we're going to deal with it after this weekend."

The Irish have played all of their 13 games on the road this season. Mainieri says his team will be excited to get back on the field this weekend. "I think our guys are excited to get out there and start playing again. We haven't played since last Saturday so it's going to be a full week off for us. I think the kids are really excited because they see the home stretch of this road trip we've been on. Come Tuesday, we finally get to play a home game."

The Irish are off to their best start in 94 years, but Mainieri isn't booking any flights to Omaha just yet. "I feel very good about our team. The thing that we've shown so far is that we can win a game no matter what kind of game it is. If it's a pitcher's duel, we can win 3-2. If we get caught in a slugfest, we've shown that we're capable of winning those. The one constant has been our defense. We've played really good defense except for one game and I think that keeps us competitive. I guess we've got to be real happy with where we're at, but we've still got a long way to go."

Expect a real battle this weekend against Southern Illinois. The Salukis just earned their first two wins of the season in their last two games against Penn State and Murray State. The Salukis plated 22 runs in their last game against Murray State, and appear to be playing baseball like many expected them to this point. This should be another good test for the Irish this weekend.

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