Notre Dame baseball coach Dave Schrage has a clear vision of where he wants his program to go in 2009.
"Our goals are to get back to the top of the Big East, that's what we're shooting for," he said. "We haven't been in a Regional in two years and that's where we want to have this program on a yearly basis and we want to get back there.
"Our guys are well aware, we've got to get there three ways: winning our league, winning our tournament or doing a good enough job in non-conference games so we can get an at-large bid."
The Irish opened their season last weekend in Florida with a 2-1 record.
"I thought for the first weekend we played really well, but we'll need to get better if we're going to accomplish some of our goals," said Schrage.
Notre Dame opened the season with a 2-0 loss to Ohio State on Friday night.
"I thought the opening game of the season was very well played by both teams, two good pitching performances, it was a typical Friday night opening game," said Schrage. "We didn't capitalize on some of our opportunities and Ohio State did."
But the Irish rebounded to defeat Illinois 14-7 and Purdue 9-4 in 10 innings.
"What I liked about this group is that it was two come-from-behind wins," he said. "You lose your first game and you're down 7-4 in the seventh inning [against Illinois] and our guys stepped up."
The Irish were down to their final four outs and trailed the Boilermakers by three runs before rallying to tie the game in the eight before grabbing the win in the 10th.
"That tells me a lot of good things about our guys believing in themselves and the ability to come back and play all nine innings, which is something that we've stressed," Schrage said.
The Irish got solid contributions in the first weekend from Golden Tate.
"Golden Tate, I don't think could have had a better first weekend. He hit .500, went 7-for-14, got a bunt single, made some nice plays in left field, nice running grabs and did what you want out of a leadoff hitter," said Schrage. "He's still a little raw, he still has to learn the game as far as baserunning, stealing bases and those kinds of things, but for a first weekend, I don't think you could ask for much more."
Schrage is planning on more contributions from some of Charlie Weis' other players as well.
"Evan Sharpley played quite a bit last year, hit 12 home runs. We just want another solid performance out of him and the same with Eric Maust, second team all-conference," said Schrage. "Eric is kind of our most steady pitcher in our rotation as far as he gives you a lot of innings, always keeps you in the game and we hope for him to do that again this year."
Weis' policy has always been that if any of his players are everyday contributors to another sport on campus than that sport would take precedence over spring football. Sharpley could return for a fifth season of football in 2009, but Notre Dame has not said whether or not he has applied for an extra year or not yet.
Notre Dame heads to Arizona this weekend for games with Gonzaga, Dayton and Creighton in the Phoenix Classic.
"Another tough weekend. Gonzaga won three out of four, beat Missouri – the 8th-ranked team in the country – twice last week," said Schrage. "[Gonzaga is] a veteran team, we're facing a fifth-year senior on Friday who threw seven shutout innings his first weekend. We'll have our work cut out for us."
The Irish still have three weeks before Big East play begins, but the head coach wants his players to use the time to improve.
"Our goal right now is just to get better each weekend," Schrage said. "We've got Seton Hall in three weekends, we're going to go to Rice after this weekend and we just each weekend want to keep getting better and build off the previous one so that when conference starts, we're ready to go."