Mar 14, 2013, 1:59 PM EDT
Notre Dame’s spring break west coast trip continues tonight as the Irish open a three-game series at Cal Poly. Chuck Freeby (’86), the voice of Notre Dame baseball on Harvest Radio (WHME 103.1 FM) and UND.com returns to the blog with the latest in his “Chuck in the Armour” series.
(San Luis Obispo, CA) — Here on California’s central coast, there’s one thing as clear as the skies above us. Two teams who aren’t used to playing in big baseball series are about to embark on one Thursday night.
No. 17 Notre Dame pays its first visit ever to No. 20 Cal Poly, and as fate would have it, it comes at an important junction for both programs. The Irish are off to one of their best starts in 76 years, and the Mustangs haven’t played this well since the early 80s. Both teams are clearly on the upward bound path and thinking about NCAA tournament berths.
And the similarities don’t end there. From team batting averages to power numbers to team ERA, there’s not much statistically that separates these two teams….until you look at who they have played.
Cal Poly (14-2) has beaten only one opponent that currently has a winning record, taking two of three at Kansas State last weekend. Meanwhile, the 10-4 Irish have wins over ranked teams in No. 25 Virginia Tech and No. 10 Oklahoma. They lost in extra innings to No. 7 UCLA. Notre Dame has run an impressive gauntlet, one of the reasons they have a Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) of three this week. And while that doesn’t give the Irish any extra runs going into the games, it should give them confidence.
That’s something that some may expect to be lacking after Tuesday’s 7-2 loss to UC Santa Barbara. After all, most Irish fans thought that game to be one of the easier games of the road trip. Mik Aoki won’t make excuses for his ball club, but I find it amazing that the team that was fourth in the nation in fewest walks allowed suddenly gave six free passes. And if you listened to the broadcast, you know how I feel about a key balk call that was missed and a phantom interference call that was made. Well, by now, even if you didn’t listen, you can probably figure it out.
So Notre Dame must shrug off that loss and get ready for a big series. Sure, the big boppers, Eric Jagielo and Trey Mancini, need to play well. But when the Irish are at their best, everyone makes a contribution. Phil Mosey is batting .714 and suddenly working his way into the lineup. Freshman Zak Kutsulis and sophomore Ryan Bull are still batting above .300. And even lesser known names such as Ricky Sanchez and Kevin DeFillipis came up big in the win over Oklahoma.
On the pitching side, Sean Fitzgerald, Adam Norton and David Hearne match up evenly with Cal Poly’s troika of Joey Wagman, Matt Imhof and Bryan Granger. Dan Slania has been untouchable in the Irish pen, while Reed Reilly leads the Big West with six saves.
The Mustangs are unbeaten at Baggett Stadium, including a dramatic 10th-inning walk off over San Jose State Tuesday night. They’ll have big crowds all weekend and they get rowdy for the home team.
That’s ok. After playing their first 14 games away from Frank Eck, the Irish are used to life on the road. And there’s still room in the suitcase for more wins over a ranked foe to take back to not-so-sunny South Bend.
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