Up Next: Louisville

Notre Dame head coach Dave Schrage discussed last week his team going through the final examination period and trying to block out the distractions. Besides an upset loss to Division III school Franklin College on Wednesday, the Irish went 4-2 in the stretch. Now, with finals over, Schrage has another worry heading into a weekend series at Louisville.

"The one thing I'm concerned with this weekend is how tired we are," Schrage said. "Guys studied all week and were in finals. From that standpoint, we'll find out. We'll take a bus trip down there and get on the road."

Notre Dame is currently 27-21 overall and 10-10 in the Big East. The Irish sit in fifth place with the top eight team qualifying for the conference tournament. Notre Dame is 0.24 percentage points ahead of South Florida, who is in sixth position. Eighth-place Cincinnati is at 8-12, two games back of the Irish, which makes this weekend a big one for Notre Dame.

Why is this crucial? Because Louisville is one of the best teams in the conference. The Cardinals are 33-16 overall and 14-7 in league action. Louisville ranks first in the Big East in pitching, second in fielding and fourth in batting. It's a balanced team that can beat opponents in various ways.

"We have our biggest challenge ahead of us," Schrage said. "Louisville is the most complete team we'll play in the conference this year. They hit .316 as a team and their team ERA is 2.83. They field the ball at a .970 clip. They don't have any weaknesses. We're going to have to match them in every aspect and give them a ton of things. It'll be a tough series."

The premier contest of the weekend is the first game of the doubleheader on Saturday. First pitch is scheduled for 12 PM at Jim Patterson Stadium. It'll be a battle between two of the Big East's best pitchers. Notre Dame will send David Phelps to the mound, who is coming off a complete game, 11-strikeout performance in a 3-1 win over Seton Hall. The sophomore right-hander is 8-3 on the year with a conference-best 1.58 ERA and 78 strikeouts. Louisville will counter with Zack Pitts. The junior right-hander is 7-3 this season with a 1.77 ERA, good for second in the Big East. Pitts has struck out 66 in 86.1 innings pitched. Runs should be at a premium.

"I saw Pitts last year," Schrage said. "He beat us last year when I was at Evansville. He's an extremely good pitcher. But we're going to throw a pretty good guy and that should be a nice match-up."

The second contest of the doubleheader on Saturday will pit the Irish's Dan Kapala (0-4, 3.16 ERA) versus the Cardinals' Justin Marks. The Louisville freshman left-hander is 6-1 in 2007 with a 2.09 ERA, including 57 strikeouts in 69 innings of work. Opponents are hitting just .180 off of Marks.

"Marks is a real good left-hander," Schrage said. "He can throw the curveball at any time. His breaking ball is real, real good."

Sunday's pitching match-ups are still up in the air. Offensively for Louisville, the Cardinals have five players hitting .312 or better. Isaiah Howes leads the team with a .400 average. The senior outfielder also has blasted ten home runs to go along with 43 RBI's. Logan Johnson isn't far behind at .389. Johnson leads Louisville with 11 round tripper and 47 RBI's.

On the base paths, Boomer Whiting is a blur. The senior outfielder, in addition to hitting .383 with a .511 on-base percentage, has stolen 60 bases this year in 69 attempts. As a team, the Cardinals have swiped 117 bases out of 152 attempts. The last time Notre Dame went on the road, the Irish beat league-leader Rutgers two out of three. Schrage thinks the challenge will be even steeper this weekend.

"Rutgers doesn't have the pitchers that Louisville does," Schrage said. "Rutgers doesn't have the team speed that Louisville does. They create tough match-up problems for us. One stat that sticks out is that they've stolen 117 bases out of 152 attempts. They've only allowed 23 stolen bases. They put a lot of pressure on the defense and we have to be heads-up."


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