Competition Key for 2008

Before the 2007 Notre Dame baseball season, Sherard Clinkscales had never been in the coaching profession. Clinkscales, who was a scout in Major League Baseball, wanted to take on a new challenge. After Dave Schrage was selected to manage the Irish before the 2007 season, the head coach picked Clinkscales to be the pitching coach. Clinkscales doesn't see a return to the scouting.

"I don't see myself doing anything else," Clinkscales said during a phone interview. "I told Dr. (Kevin) White and Dave that my scouting days are over. We'll have a better season than we did last year because I'm going to be here a long time."

Clinkscales was part of a team that went 28-28 in 2007. There were some highs. At one point, Notre Dame won 12 of 15 contests, including two of three from eventual Big East Tournament champion, Rutgers, in Piscataway, NJ. There were some lows. The Irish lost to Division III Franklin College and ended the year losing eight of the final nine contests.

"It was exhilarating," Clinkscales said of his first season with Notre Dame. "It was frustrating. It was hurtful at times. It was everything all in one. I certainly did enjoy it. Like I told Coach (Schrage), it's the best thing I've done since I've stopped playing. It was a really awesome experience."

As head of the pitching staff, Clinkscales' group amassed a 3.97 ERA, which was good for third in the Big East behind Louisville and St. John's. Both of those teams qualified for the NCAA Tournament.

There was one shining star in the group. Sophomore David Phelps had a phenomenal season, going 8-5 on the year with a 1.88 ERA, which was tops in the Big East. Phelps also led the conference in strikeouts with 102 in 110.1 innings pitched. For his performance, the right-hander was selected to the All-Big East first-team. This was after a freshman season that saw Phelps post a ERA of over 7.00 and have his strikeout to walk ratio be 2:1. In 2007, the ratio was 3.5:1.

"I always tell our pitchers to ‘keep it simple stupid,'" Clinkscales said. "There were some mechanical things he made adjustments. They were slight but they made the difference. The second thing is that he had pride. He knows he has the ability and the arm to be successful. If he couples that with his work ethic, he'll be fine. He has a good, quick arm."

It'll take an awful lot to repeat this performance. But Clinkscales thinks because of Phelps' work ethic and willingness to listen, it's definitely possible.

"When you put those two things in place, you have a recipe for success," Clinkscales said. "This upcoming year, he's going to have to put on an extra good show to outdo what he did last year. He's got to be the same guy he's always been. He pays attention to the little things, makes adjustments and is a competitor."

After Phelps, there were some inconsistency in the rotation. Outgoing senior Dan Kapala was 0-6 on the year and registered a 3.92 ERA in seven starts. Before the season started, there was a lot of momentum for Wade Korpi, who was coming off a 7-2 sophomore campaign with a 2.00 ERA. That led the Notre Dame staff in 2006.

2007 was a different story. Korpi struggled to a 1-5 mark with a 4.02 ERA in 10 starts. The main problem for the junior left-hander was his control. Korpi walked 43 batters in 53.2 innings of work. Despite the down junior year, Clinkscales believes Korpi will rebound with a big senior season.

"You don't have to look too far in the past to explain what happens in the present," Clinkscales said about Korpi. "He had struggles as a freshman with his command. His sophomore year, he put it all together. This year, Wade really gave us a great effort. He struggled at times with his pitch location and command.

"Overall, I think Wade put a lot of pressure on himself to be too perfect. There isn't such a thing as a perfect pitcher. He just has to attack and go after guys. Wade's going to be fine and I'm expecting big things out of him in the spring of 2008."

Another hopeful option for 2008 is Sam Elam. The sophomore left-hander finished the year 0-2 with a 4.55 ERA. Despite not earning a victory this season, Elam might have had the pitching performance of the year. In a 1-0, tenth-inning victory over Purdue at Frank Eck Stadium, Elam tossed nine innings of one-hit ball. The Notre Dame hurler allowed the hit in the eighth inning while the Boilermakers' Matt Bischoff had his perfect game broken up in the ninth. A Danny Dressman RBI single won it for the Irish in the tenth. The effort showed what type of talent Elam possesses. Control was a problem for the sophomore as well. Elam walked or hit 32 batters in 31 innings pitched.

"Sam had some spurts this year," Clinkscales said. "Sam is going to have a chip on his shoulder and be the guy he can be. We're going to work this fall on a consistent delivery."

Kyle Weiland was another pitcher who had an up-and-down sophomore season. As a freshman, the right-hander saved 16 games and registered a 2.37 ERA. But an injury before the season got Weiland behind the eight ball for 2007. The sophomore started in the bullpen, saved two games and then was pressed into the starting rotation. Weiland was 5-3 on the year with a 5.66 ERA. Next season, expect to see the hard throwing right-hander strictly in relief appearances to close contests out.

"Kyle was caught between a rock and a hard place," Clinkscales said. "He was a closer as a freshman and successful. This year, he came in as the closer and then had the injury. He really didn't have the chance to ramp up like the other pitchers. He got thrown into the fray right out of the injury. I think he was the product of not have a starting rotation set. We're going to put him back at the closer's role and we're looking to get after it again."

More help is on the way for 2008. The Notre Dame coaching staff knocked it out of the park in recruiting, especially in the pitching department. 6'8" Evan Danieli of East Hanover, N.J., 6'3" Brian Dupra of Rochester, N.Y. and 6'4" Ryan Sharpley of Marshall, MI are all right-handed and all rated among the country's top 40 pitching prospects. The talent level on the Notre Dame team is increasing and it should create for better results in 2008.

"We have a great class coming in and those guys are going to step up the competition level," Clinkscales said. "That's really important. Our team, from every position, is going to be more competitive. Anytime you have competition at a position, it's going to present some urgency and develop some other guys."


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