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Three Games in February

Feb 26, 2013, 8:51 AM EST

Turchin Stadium

After coaching at the University of Virginia and Santa Clara University, former Notre Dame infielder Eddie Smith (’06) returned to South Bend this past fall, and recently began his first season as an assistant coach with the Irish. In this post, Smith makes his UNDerground debut, sharing a recap of the team’s trip to New Orleans.

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In all of sports, there is not a more perfect form of competition than a three-game series in college baseball. The series begins on Friday night with the field impeccably manicured and ends in a cloud of dust Sunday. What happens between the first pitch and the last out is magical.

The best part is that when the dust settles there are no ties, always a distinct series winner and sometimes even complete dominance by one team in the form of a sweep. It is truly a perfect measure of one team against another.

Just before midnight last Thursday, the Notre Dame baseball team arrived at a beautiful Sheraton hotel next to the New Orleans airport as we prepared to take on Tulane in our first three-game series of the year.

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After a long day of laying around the hotel and a quick bus trip to a local food court for lunch, at 6:30 the lights of Friday night were on and we were ready to play. Friday is always a critical game in a three-game series as both teams hope to set a tone and take an early lead in the series. With both teams throwing their best pitcher, the game typically moves with a swift crispness as twilight barely has time to turn to darkness before the last out is recorded.

On this Friday, the atmosphere at Tulane’s Turchin Stadium was incredible – the perfect picture of what college baseball is all about. There was a great crowd of loyal Green Wave fans mixed with some faithful Irish fans all taking in this beautiful ballpark.

Finished in 2008, the stadium boasted 2,700 green chair-back seats, a video board rivaling the size of Touchdown Jesus, luxury suites, coaches’ offices and a turf playing surface to allow the team to get many games in despite the wet New Orleans spring climate. (Read as: Shameless ploy for anonymous/any donor reading this blog to add these amenities to Frank Eck Stadium!)

In a typical Friday night pitcher’s duel with both teams throwing their aces, we pulled out a 2-1 win behind the great pitching of Sean Fitzgerald and Dan Slania.

The box score will tell you that the two runs scored by the Irish came on a 6th inning home run from Eric Jagielo. What the box score doesn’t show is that it was a 400-foot opposite field bomb hit through a steady cross wind. Just a half-inning earlier, Tulane’s clean up hitter blasted a shot to the same part of the ballpark that seemed destined to be a home run off the bat, only to be knocked down by the wind and caught at the warning track in left field.

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Jambalaya!

During a three-game series, going into Saturday’s game with a chance to win the series is always a great feeling. Going to sleep Saturday night with visions of a sweep dancing in your head is a better one. After nine innings, three Irish runs and only one run for the Green Wave, that is exactly what we were doing!

Following the game, the Notre Dame Club of New Orleans hosted us for an amazing dinner featuring the local cuisine of jambalaya, spicy shrimp pasta and bread pudding. I don’t think there was a player on the team who didn’t go up for seconds and most probably went up for a third helping – the food was that good! Another huge thanks to the ND Club of New Orleans!

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In one of the greatest traditions in all of sports, Notre Dame Baseball has always worn green on Sundays when a sweep is in order. This season, there was a mishap in the delivery of the hats that go along with this uniform and we are still awaiting the arrival of the all-green hat (looking at you adidas!), so the tradition had to be replaced with our throwback gray uniforms.

The Irish were able to jump out to a 5-1 lead through the top of the 5th inning, but after Tulane answered with two runs in the bottom of the 5th to close the gap, everyone in the ballpark sensed the momentum shifting to the Green Wave and a typical Sunday shootout was on the horizon.

Sunday’s game is usually a stark contrast to Friday night’s crisp pitcher’s duel adding more beauty and perfection to a three-game series. Pitching staffs are on their third starter and often the top relievers are used up from the work they put in Friday and Saturday’s games.

Add in the fact that the game is played during the day when the ball carries better, and it can be a scramble to get anybody out in the closing innings of game 3. The term “Sunday shootout” is something every college baseball player or coach is familiar with.

But on this Sunday, freshman Nick McCarty slammed the door shut on Tulane throwing four shut out innings out of the bullpen for us. Ryan Bull added a home run in the 8th for his fourth hit of the day, and the Irish secured the sweep with an 8-3 win.

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Overall, the weekend was a great one for Notre Dame Baseball. Off to a 5-1 start, the team has received national attention cracking the top-25 for the first time in seven years. Following the game, Coach Aoki demanded that the players enjoy the victory – but only until 3:30pm Monday when the team had a lift.

As Lou Holtz once said, “If what you did yesterday seems big today, you haven’t done much today.” This couldn’t be more true for the Irish. It is a special team and we have lofty goals, but going forward, all eyes are on the UMass Minutemen who we face Friday at the USA Baseball National Training Complex. Until then – Go Irish!

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