That's what it'll take for the young Irish team this season. After struggling earlier in the year, Notre Dame appears to be hitting their stride under first-year head coach Dave Schrage. The Irish have won nine of the past 11 contests. Included in this run were league series wins over Georgetown and West Virginia, both at the friendly confines of Frank Eck Stadium. Notre Dame took two of three in each set.
This weekend should tell a lot about how far the Irish have come in their recent surge. Notre Dame travels to Piscataway, New Jersey to take on conference leader Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights are 24-14 overall and 12-3 in the league. Rutgers holds a game lead in the Big East over Louisville and St. John's, both of whom sit at 11-4. Notre Dame has yet to win a conference series on the road, losing to Pittsburgh and the Cardinals. On the year, the Irish are just 2-7 in true road games away from Frank Eck Stadium. Notre Dame will find out where they stand in the league pecking order after tackling Rutgers on Saturday and Sunday.
With an at-large berth out of the question, Notre Dame needs to focus on qualifying for the end-of-the-year tournament. This season's league tournament is in Brooklyn, New York at Keyspan Park, home of the Brooklyn Cyclones. The top eight seeds make it into the field. Currently, the Irish's 6-8 mark in conference action places them in a tie for seventh position with West Virginia.
The Irish better watch out. Notre Dame holds a slim one game advantage over three teams. Villanova, Connecticut and Seton Hall are all at 5-10 in the Big East. The Irish battle the Pirates next weekend at Frank Eck Stadium and end the year at home with Connecticut. Entry into the league tournament is in the hands of Notre Dame.
***Sam Elam has had a memorable week. The sophomore left-hander threw nine innings of shutout ball back on April 25th against Purdue. Elam allowed his first hit in the eighth inning and Notre Dame eventually beat the Boilermakers 1-0 in ten innings on Danny Dressman's RBI single. If there could be a negative to nine innings of one-hit ball, it was that Elam walked six Purdue batters.
The control problems surfaced again on Wednesday in the 7-3 victory over Ball State. Elam pitched 4.1 innings, allowing only one run on four hits. But the sophomore walked four more and hit another two batters. Reliever Tony Langford got Elam out of a bases loaded fifth-inning jam by striking out the two Cardinal hitters in a row. Despite the wildness, in his last two starts Elam has pitched 13.1 innings, surrendering only one run on two hits while striking out ten.
"Against Purdue, he seemed to pitch out of some jams but he wasn't able to (vs. Ball State)," Schrage said. "The other thing was that we wanted Sam available this weekend to throw. Our idea was only to throw him 70 pitches (vs. Ball State) so he could be available to use this weekend."