The Irish started off the season strong with two wins over Indiana State (3-0) and Air Force (8-2) last weekend, but Notre Dame struggled in the late innings of the final two games of the tournament, losing leads late in the game to Memphis (7-6, 10 innings) and Oklahoma (4-3).
While Irish skipper Paul Mainieri said he was very happy about a lot of what he saw from his team last weekend, he knows his team will have to learn to close out games to have the kind of successful season they're used to.
"I feel great about how played. I just feel bad that we didn't win more than two games," Mainieri said. "At minimum we should've beaten Memphis on Saturday night. We have a 5-0 lead and really should've won the game going away. We kicked a double play ball in the sixth inning that allowed them to get back in the game at 5-4. With two outs in the ninth inning we give up the game-tying hit and lose it in 10 innings.
"Those are the kind of games that we have to win, and I hope over the course of the season we will win those games. I believe we will. That game was a heartbreaker. It was a tough loss. It's a game where we had it in our grasp and we didn't finish the job."
Losing late to Memphis also hurt Notre Dame's chances to win the next game against Oklahoma according to Mainieri.
"I didn't want to use Kyle Weiland on Saturday night but was forced to," he said. "Consequently, he wasn't available for Sunday's game. We ended up blowing the 3-2 lead against Oklahoma and ended up losing 4-3. They were two tough losses. We need to learn to win those games."
We learned earlier that freshman pitcher Kyle Weiland would be counted on heavily in a relief role in 2006, and Mainieri said the future star right-hander pitched very well in his first few outings.
"I was extremely pleased with how he pitched," Mainieri said of Weiland. "Even the one pitch you mentioned, the homerun in the 10th inning against Memphis. That was a 91-mile per hour fastball that was about letter high. Hitters aren't supposed to be able to hit that pitch, and Roy Hobbs I guess stepped up there and smoked it out of the ballpark. I don't know how he hit it to this day.
"I was thrilled with the way Kyle Weiland threw on the weekend. He showed tremendous poise in both games. This kid is really going to be something special for us."
The Irish will now head to Minneapolis to face some strong competition in a tournament this weekend. The Irish will start the tournament playing one of the top teams in the entire country in Nebraska. They'll also face Minnesota on Saturday, and close out the tournament with a game against traditional power Arizona on Sunday.
"We're going to be playing some of the better teams in the country this weekend, and it's going to be a tremendous challenge for our team," said Mainieri. "Anybody who loves challenges should be excited, and I hope our guys are as excited as I am.
"Nebraska is one of the very best teams in the country. I think they're ranked fourth in one poll, and we'll be going against one of the top pitchers in the country in Joba Chamberlin. He'll be pitching in the major leagues someday real soon."
Mainieri said Chamberlin should give the Irish hitters quite a challenge in their first game of the tournament.
"He throws in the mid to upper 90s," he said of the Nebraska ace. "He's supposed to have this tremendous breaking pitch and tremendous poise on the mound. He's a preseason All-American. We've got our work cut out for us. I can't imagine it will be a high scoring game. Hopefully Tom Thornton will be up to the task for us, we can play some great defense behind him, and we can get some guys swinging the bats. We'll need all three to win."
While this weekend's games should give Irish fans some insight into how well the Irish will stack up against the better teams in the country, Mainieri said he's not going to be overly excited or worried with the results either way.
"I'm not going to put too much stock on this weekend," he admitted. "We'll be facing some extraordinary competition this weekend and some outstanding pitching. Traditionally, in the 11 years that I've been here, we've started slow with the bats and have gotten better as the year has gone on.
"I want to see our team competing hard and playing smart baseball. I'd like to see the bats start to heat up a bit, but we're facing some great teams this weekend. As long as we pitch well and play great defense, we should be in all of the games this weekend. Hopefully we can finish the games and come away with some wins.
"I can't get too excited if we win these games and I can't get down if we drop a game. This is a long season and we usually play our best baseball later in the season. I really hope we compete well and play smart baseball. If we do that, we should have a chance to win all three.