Sluggers face Seton Hall in Big East games
By JEFF BALTRUZAK
Assistant Sports Editor
In this age of pumped-up power hitters and five home run games, the No. 13 Notre Dame baseball team is an anomaly, winning with pitching despite an offense that has struggled to put together big innings at the plate.
If there was ever a series to put Notre Dame's hitting back on track, this weekend's three games against Big East opponent Seton Hall would be it. The two teams will mix it up twice on Saturday and once on Sunday at Frank Eck Stadium.
The Pirates enter the weekend at 11-10, with a lackluster pitching staff giving up 5.18 earned runs a game. Opponents are hitting .279 collectively against Seton Hall, an average higher than five starting Irish hitters.
Notre Dame has not put together four and five run innings that often this season, and their offense has normally consisted of single runs, not offensive breakouts.
"I don't think we've been aggressive enough," said catcher Paul O'Toole. "We've had our chances, and we haven't taken advantage of them."
Part of the reason for the offense's slow start lies with Notre Dame's inconsistent production across the order. While some hitters like freshman Steve Sollmann, sophomore Brian Stavisky, and senior Andrew Bushey have been red hot this season, both hitting over .345, others like senior shortstop Alec Porzel and O'Toole have struggled at the plate thus far, hitting .191 and .239 respectively.
The trials at the plate have put pressure on the hitters to produce. "It's not said, but [the pressure] is something that's going on for all the hitters," said O'Toole. "We're the only part of the team that's lagging right now, and we want to go out and prove we can score runs, and take the pressure off the pitchers to pitch shutouts or one-run games."
Seton Hall offers an opportunity for the Irish to gain some confidence at the plate against a pitching staff that has lost games, not won them, this season.
This weekend the Irish pitching staff faces a Seton Hall squad that averages seven runs a game, but that figure is misleading. The Pirates scored 18 runs on little-known Manhattan College, and 16 runs on even more obscure Long Island University.
They have yet to face a team as well-armed as the Irish, with pitchers like starters Aaron Heilman, and Danny Tamayo and reliever Matt Laird, all who have ERAs under two.
The Irish (17-4-1) enter the weekend on a customary high note, having dismantled Toledo on Wednesday 6-1. The encouraging result of the game was the
Irish's production at the plate, with every starter getting a hit on the road to a 14-hit performance.
Seton Hall, on the other hand, comes to Frank Eck Stadium on the heels of an unimpressive 5-3 victory over Monmouth University (5-18). The Pirates sport a 5-2 record in Big East play, with multiple victories over Pittsburgh and Villanova.
The Irish are looking to improve their record in Big East play, having dropped two heartbreakers to Virginia Tech last weekend in Blacksburg, Va, while pounding Pittsburgh at Pittburgh. The Hokies twice overcame 2 run deficits in the final inning to secure victory.
With their first home Big East series just 24 hours away, the Irish know Seton Hall won't be a walk in the park.
"Seton Hall usually has a strong team," said O'Toole. "They're usually up there in the Big East standings, and anyone can beat anyone."
All Sports Stories for Friday, March 30, 2001