Chuck In the Armor - 3.29.12

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The voice of Notre Dame baseball is back with the latest installment of 'Chuck In the Armor'

Rain delays lead to interesting press box discussions. As the Eck Stadium sound system blared out "Blame it on the Rain", someone asked who sings this? When baseball media relations director Michael Bertsch informed the inquisitor it was the ill-fated band Milli Vanilli, the pups in the box turned with blank stares before one asked "who's Milli Vanilli"?

If they don't know Milli Vanilli, they probably won't know Gloria Estefan, and they certainly won't know Vickie Sue Robinson. In 1994, Estefan had a #1 dance song with a remake of Robinson's hit "Turn the Beat Around". Before you think I've suddenly turned into Kasey Kasem (that's a predecessor to Ryan Seacrest for the youngsters), that song could be the theme for the baseball teams from Notre Dame and South Florida this year.

Both the Irish and Bulls are enjoying baseball resurrections so far this year, bouncing back from rugged 2011 campaigns. Notre Dame is 15-8, South Florida stands 18-8, and both swept its season-opening Big East series.

And both teams face the recurring question from the fan base and media alike ... are they really this good?

For Irish fans, the question reared its ugly head after Tuesday night's 8-5 loss at UIC. It was a night where all facets of the Irish game fell short, but particularly the defense.

Here's something to keep in mind. In Notre Dame's eight losses, the Irish have committed 23 errors. In the 15 wins, they have combined for just 12. Ask anyone on the Irish and they feel they gave away games against Purdue, Michigan and UIC. Put those three in the win column, and suddenly the Irish would be 18-5...but they're not ... because they didn't focus on fundamentals and make plays.

Now you go to Tampa, Notre Dame baseball's version of Amityville. In 2008, the Irish season melted down there on the final weekend of the season. In 2010, Notre Dame was no-hit by Randy Fontanez Friday night, swept on Saturday and never recovered.

There's a determination among this Irish team that's different, though, particularly among the Florida contingent of Joe Hudson, Trey Mancini and A.C. Carter. I could see it in Hudson's eyes and hear it in his voice during Sunday's postgame interview. This series means a lot to him ... going back home, facing former mates, showing everyone the real Joe Hudson, not the kid who sat the bench for three games in his hometown in 2010. I'm sure the same is true for Mancini and Carter as they return to the Sunshine State.

It's a tough task. USF will be as formidable a road foe as the Irish will face in the Big East this year. Their Friday night starter, 6-8 lefty Andrew Barbosa, is coming off a 13-strikeout one-hit performance against Georgetown last week. Saturday starter Joey Lovecchio is 5-0 with a 2.63 ERA. The entire pitching staff has an ERA of 2.96.

Offensively, speedy James Ramsay swings the bat at .363 clip with eight stolen bases, with seven regulars hitting above .265. And defensively, the Bulls can pick it, with just 24 errors in 25 games.

But USF is not invincible. Here's a team that has played one...that's right...one road game. It was in Orlando. They played three at "neutral" sites in the Big East/Big Ten challenge, all within a half-hour drive of campus. That means teams like Eastern Illinois, Lafayette and Jacksonville have gone into USF and beaten the Bulls. Bethune-Cookman went in and took two out of three in February.

Can the Irish do the same? Pitching and defense will be key. Runs will be at a premium for both sides. The scores may look like hockey games.

The other factor, though, will be resiliency, and I've seen enough to tell you Notre Dame has it. The Irish fell down 4-0 to Pitt and didn't flinch. The same held true Tuesday night at UIC. A year ago, Mik Aoki made an impassioned Good Friday speech to his team to live up to the moniker Fighting Irish. This team is doing it.

They're not a bunch of lip syncers. Notre Dame is ready to turn the beat around.

- Chuck Freeby ('86)

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