Like much of the student body, the Irish will flee the South Bend cold for warmer temperatures in Florida. But Irish coach Dave Schrage said he is more interested in seeing his players master their fundamentals than work on their tans in the two-day Stetson Bright House Invitational in Deland, Fla.
"The two biggest things are playing better defense, one, and the second thing is to get our starting pitchers to go deeper into games," Schrage said. "We're into the third week in, and we have to start getting them into the seventh inning."
Defense plagued Notre Dame (4-2) during the Big Ten/Big East Challenge last weekend, as the Irish fielders committed 13 errors. Schrage said he worked with the team outdoors this week to help simulate actual playing conditions.
"Right now I think our infielders in general have been having a good week of practice," Schrage said. "I think from that standpoint we need to get better. The biggest thing over the weekend was we really struggled with balls in the air. That's been our focus this week."
Notre Dame will take on Harvard (0-0), Kansas State (6-2) and Stetson (3-5) in the two-day tournament before heading to Edinburg, Texas, for a two-game series against Texas-Pan American (4-1). The Irish will play five games in five days, including a double-header Saturday, but Schrage said his team can only approach the road trip one game at a time.
"Right now we're only worried about Harvard," Schrage said. "We're staying with our approach of just focusing on the game ahead. Once we start looking too far in advance and trying to figure out wins and losses, that'll kill you. Right now we've got a lot of things to work on before we play Harvard this week."
In addition to defense, Notre Dame will look to improve an offense that struggled to plate runners last weekend. Unable to score early, the Irish fell behind and failed to mount a comeback.
Schrage said a lack of plate discipline was the ultimate cause of his team's offensive struggles. Irish hitting instructor and assistant coach Scott Lawler has been working with the hitters in practice in an effort to guide players back to the basics.
"Coach Lawler talked to them yesterday about our approach," Schrage said. "We hit some home runs early in the season and sometimes the team gets the tendency thinking they need to hit home runs to score runs. When that happens, you get a lot of fly outs."
Based on the results in practice, Schrage said Lawler's advice has been met with success.
"We got back to the process of taking the pitch up the middle, hitting everything back up the middle, moving runners, hitting behind runners, hitting and running," Schrage said. "When we do that we're a very, very good offensive club."
The Irish will face Harvard Saturday at 11 a.m., Kansas State Saturday at 3 p.m. and Stetson Sunday at 4 p.m.