"We have to come back for five days because of classes," head coach Dave Schrage joked about the trips to the Sunshine State. "We have 10 games down there. What we really need is some continuity. We need everyday reps. I'll be excited when we can play Tuesdays and Wednesdays so our guys can play five games in a week. We need to get into a routine."
The 2-4 Irish have lost two of three games in each three-game set the first two weekends. On Friday, they'll start to erase that trend. Notre Dame will play host Stetson in the Stetson Invitational and follow it up on Saturday with a doubleheader. They'll take on Iowa first and then end the day battling against No. 7 Nebraska.
Last week, Notre Dame worked on stopping the opponents on the base paths from stealing. The hard work paid off as the Irish limited TCU and Coastal Carolina over the weekend. This week, Schrage has his team working on another critical aspect: situational hitting. Even with a win over the Horned Frogs, Schrage said Notre Dame should have won by a wider margin than the 4-1 victory but couldn't deliver with men on base. He hopes that the work in practice once again pays off.
"We've scored 24 runs but left 48 runners on base in six games," Schrage said. "We need someone to come up and get the big hit and drive in some runs. You try not to put too much pressure on them because then they start pressing. Usually it takes one guy to get a big hit and everyone relaxes. We have enough veteran guys on this team that someone will do it. Once that happens, hitting is contagious and we'll get going."
First up is Stetson and first pitch is set for 7 PM on Friday night. They'll be hosting the invitational and come into the weekend with a 9-3 record, including winners of four of their last five. The Hatters have not left Deland, Florida this year, playing all 12 of their contests at home. Stetson is led on offense by Braedyn Pruitt, who is hitting .422 with 13 RBI's and two home runs. Shane Jordan chips in with a second-best .413 average and 11 RBI's. The Irish will be facing right-hander Cory Kluber. He has a perfect 3-0 record on the year with a 2.16 ERA. Kluber is allowing opponents to hit just .172 off of him. Notre Dame will counter with Joey Williamson (0-0), who has not allowed a run in six innings of work.
On Saturday, the Irish will have their toughest challenge against the 7th-ranked Cornhuskers, who are 5-2 on the season with losses coming to Rice and New Mexico. First pitch is scheduled for 4 PM. Thad Weber leads the team in hitting at .389 as they average eight runs a contest. Left-hander Drew Bowman is slated to go against Notre Dame. He's 1-0 on the year with a 3.00 ERA. Bowman has struck out seven in nine innings of work. Notre Dame will send out David Phelps (1-0). The sophomore right-hander is out to a blazing start this year, allowing one earned run off of a home run. He's struck out 12 in 11 innings pitched.
Before the Cornhuskers contest on Saturday, the Irish will play Iowa. First pitch is slated for noon. The Hawkeyes have less playing experience this season than Notre Dame. Iowa is 1-1 on the year, splitting a pair of contests versus Arkansas-Little Rock. Wes Freie is hitting .429 with four RBI's and has a slugging percentage of .857. The Irish will see right-hander David Conroy on the mound. In his one appearance this year, Conroy (0-0) allowed two runs in 3.1 innings of work. Wade Korpi (1-1) will battle him on the mound. The Irish junior left-hander has a 3.72 ERA in two starts this season. He's struck out eight but also walked eight. Notre Dame was scheduled to face Iowa on Sunday but Nebraska's travel plans were disrupted, thus forcing the doubleheader on Saturday. If the Cornhuskers don't make it down to Florida, the Irish would more than likely play the Hawkeyes on Saturday and Sunday, both at noon.