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Wednesday, April 17, 2024
The Observer

Men's Baseball: Irish return to Big East play against Huskies


The Irish look to extend their recent success against non-conference opponents this weekend when they take their first conference rival in five games. Notre Dame has won four out of its past five games, but all five were against non-conference opponents. 

This weekend, the Irish (23-16, 4-8 Big East) take on conference rival Connecticut (25-16, 8-7 Big East) in a three-game series.

In the Big East, the Irish are in the bottom half of the field at four games under .500. Notre Dame is in ninth place in the Big East out of 11 teams, while the Huskies are sitting in the fifth spot. Irish manager MikAoki said it is imperative that the team captures this series against Connecticut in order to make up ground before the Big East tournament and place themselves in a position to make the NCAA tournament field.

"I think every single game - Big East and non-conference - in the last 15 is critically important to get to the Big East Tournament and to get an at-large bid for the national tournament," Aoki said. "We are playing playoff baseball for the remainder of the year. This season we eliminated our margin of error. I'm not saying we need to go 15-0, but we need to be pretty darn close to 10-5 or 11-4 to give us a chance in conference and nationally." 

The Huskies' tough starting rotation will be a challenge for the Irish. The Huskies will send two junior southpaws, Anthony Marzi (3-4) and Brian Ward (2-3), and redshirt sophomore right-hander Carson Cross (6-2). Cross leads the pitching staff with a 1.50 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 72.0 innings of work. 

"All of their pitchers are pretty solid," Aoki said.  "They have done a good job there. Cross is a good fastball-change guy. Right now [Marzi] just has a tough luck record. Last year he was great. UConn has two strengths, and one of their strengths would lie in their pitching."

Connecticut's other strength is their base running. The Huskies have attempted to steal 119 times already this season and have been successful in 93 of those attempts, a 78-percent success rate. The offense is lead by senior LJMazzilli, who is hitting .329 with 56 hits and 34 RBI, but Aoki said the Huskies really become dangerous once they get on the base paths. 

"The have great overall team speed," Aoki said. "They are always aggressive on the bases. They are not a prolific hitting team, they have a couple of guys who can hit, like Mazzilli, but we will need to control the runners on base."

Aoki said Connecticut plays much like Louisville, a team that swept the Irish in a three-game series at the end of March. He added that the pitchers will need to mix up their timing in order for this not to happen again against UConn

"We can't fall into a pattern, we have to do different things and still deliver the ball to the plate in a timely manner," Aoki said. "Like everything else in baseball, it starts with the pitcher, so our pitchers need to dictate the tempo."

An early lead could be key for the Irish against the Huskies. . Notre Dame is 16-2 when scoring first and is 11-2 when it scores in the first inning. On the flip side, Notre Dame is 7-14 when the other team scores first and 2-8 when the other team scores in the first inning.

"If we play well like we did [Wednesday] or early in season, I think we can beat anyone," Aoki said. 

The Irish look to gain ground against Connecticut, playing at 5:35 p.m. Friday, 2:05 p.m. Saturday and 1:05 p.m. Sunday at Frank Eck Stadium. 

Contact Isaac Lorton at