The Irish played their first ACC series in program history at No. 6 NC State March 8-9.
Mik Aoki (pronounced A-O-key), the only head baseball coach to lead Boston College to an NCAA Regional since 1967 and just the 20th head baseball coach at the University of Notre Dame since 1892, heads into his fifth year with the Irish in 2015 with a career record of 320-372-2 (.463), including a mark of 110-111-1 (.498) under the Golden Dome.
Known for developing players, Aoki has watched Major League Baseball draft 41 of his former pupils at Boston College and Notre Dame, including many who entered college undrafted.
After improving Notre Dame's win total in each of his first three seasons while completely overhauling the Irish roster, the Plymouth, Mass., native transitioned his program to the ultra-competitive Atlantic Coast Conference in 2014.
While there were certainly growing pains as they finished 22-31 overall (9-21 in ACC play), the Irish did show a competitive spirit throughout the conference season, giving every conference opponent all they could handle. Of the 21 ACC losses, 15 were by three runs or less, 12 were by two runs or less and a whopping nine were by a single run. In addition, the Irish picked up their first ACC road victory with a 7-4 win over No. 11 Miami in Coral Gables and finished the year 5-1 at home with ACC series victories over NCAA Regional squad Clemson and former BIG EAST rival Pittsburgh. The games against the Tigers and Panthers were the first the Irish played at Frank Eck Stadium all year, after an aggressive winter delayed the FieldTurf installation.
With "the Eck" under construction, the Irish traveled around the region to play the vast majority of its home games, visiting five separate venues and three different states in playing 39 of their 53 games outside of South Bend. Despite all the extra travel, the squad had one it's best semesters in the classroom as they tallied above a 3.0 cumulative GPA in the spring after posting below a 3.0 GPA in 2013.
At the end of the season, two Irish pitchers heard their names called in the Major League Baseball Draft, while a third earned a free-agent contract. Junior Pat Connaughton (4th Round, Baltimore Orioles and senior Donnie Hissa (21st Round - Milwaukee Brewers) both went in the upper half of the draft, while teammate Sean Fitzgerald signed a free-agent deal with the Los Angeles Angels. Fitzgerald, the team's ace in 2014, appeared to be a sure-fire draftee until a forearm injury ended his season in late April.
In 2013, Notre Dame entered the BIG EAST Tournament as the No. 7 seed, but made a run to the conference finals after shutting out Seton Hall (5-0) and gaining revenge from a mid-season sweep by taking down Pittsburgh in two consecutive games, 5-3 and 3-2. Despite losing to UConn in the finals, the Irish finished the season at 34-24, knocking off four ranked foes including two victories over then-No. 20 Cal Poly and one over then-No. 10 Oklahoma along the way. The 34 wins were the most since the Irish won 36 in 2009, two seasons before Aoki arrived on campus.
The Irish opened the 2013 campaign with wins in 19 of their first 28 games, including the first sweep of Tulane at its home venue by a non-conference opponent since 2007, to storm into the national rankings. They opened at No. 22 after posting a 3-1 record at the USA Baseball-Irish Classic, ultimately reaching a high of No. 15 after wins over USC, No. 10 Oklahoma and a series victory at Cal Poly.
Helping Notre Dame's cause all year was steady play in the field highlighted by a .970 fielding percentage and 55 double plays (both second in BIG EAST) and a little bit of power (26 home runs - third in BIG EAST) mixed with the ability to manufacture runs - 64 sacrifice bunts (first in league) and 33 sacrifice flies (second in BIG EAST). On the mound, the Irish pitchers had the best walks per nine innings ratio (2.59) in the league (15th nationally) and were second in strikeouts-to-walks ratio (2.25).
Leading the Irish charge was second team All-American and BIG EAST Player of the Year Eric Jagielo (3B), third team All-American and first team all-conference honoree Trey Mancini (1B), first team all-BIG EAST selection Adam Norton (RHP), second team all-league choice Dan Slania (RHP) and third team all-BIG EAST honoree Ryan Bull (OF).
In June 2013, Jagielo was drafted 26th overall by the New York Yankees, becoming the latest of five Notre Dame players to be drafted in the first round of the MLB draft since 1965. In addition, Slania went in the fifth round to the San Francisco Giants, Mancini in the eighth to the Baltimore Orioles and senior Charlie Markson in the 38th to the Milwaukee Brewers.
The Irish went 31-27 overall and 14-13 in the BIG EAST in 2012 with the youngest team in the conference. Notre Dame led the BIG EAST in most starts by true freshmen (177), most starts by a different true freshman (11) and highest average of true freshman starters per game (3.05). In fact, no other league foe started more than six different freshmen or registered 140 total starts by rookies.
The 31 victories in `12 were the most by the Irish since 2009. Notre Dame managed just 23 and 22, respectively, in 2011 and 2010.
The Irish also recorded their most significant victory in the last decade. Notre Dame upended No. 11 LSU, 7-1, on March 11 in front of 10,347 at Alex Box Stadium. The Irish have not defeated a higher-ranked opponent on the road since capping off their historic run to Omaha with a 3-1 victory over No. 1 Florida State on June 10, 2002.
Notre Dame captured five of its nine BIG EAST series in `12, including four of its last six. The Irish had not collected more conference series victories in one season since 2006. The `06 Notre Dame club captured seven BIG EAST series and posted a 45-17-1 overall record and 21-5-1 mark in conference play.
The Irish also picked up multiple victories in the BIG EAST tournament and advanced to the semifinals for the first time since 2009. In fact, it only marked the second time the Irish have accomplished the feat since 2006.
Notre Dame equaled the school record set in 1981 and 1990 with 11 victories by a single run. The Irish actually played in 18 games decided by the slimmest of margins. Over the Aoki era, 78 of Notre Dame's 169 games have been decided by two runs or less.
In his first season at Notre Dame, Aoki guided the Irish to a 23-29-1 record and 13-13 mark in the BIG EAST in 2011 - leading Notre Dame back to the conference tournament (an accomplishment not reached in 2010). The Irish finished just one half game out of fourth in the league regular season standings.
Notre Dame competed against a challenging schedule with an inexperienced and injury-depleted squad. The Irish played without a trio of key left-handed pitchers, including 2010 No. 2 starter Steve Sabatino. The Irish had lost four of their top five hitters, over 50 percent of their run production and nearly 70 percent of their home run output from `10 (all to graduation). Notre Dame also broke out six first-year everyday players, including a pair of freshmen (Jagielo and Mancini) in the middle of the Irish batting order. Despite those obvious challenges and 14 games against schools that ultimately reached the NCAA Regionals, including five against NCAA Super Regional qualifier Connecticut, the Irish went toe-to-toe with the demanding slate. Notre Dame managed only five victories against tournament-bound clubs, but two of the losses came by a single run and two more by two runs.
Notre Dame set a school record for one-run contests in 2011 (20) and finished just a game shy of the school record for one-run victories (10). The Irish played three other extra-inning games where they either tied (Gonzaga) or lost by two runs (West Virginia, Michigan). The Irish had two BIG EAST series in which all three games were decided by one run (Georgetown and Seton Hall). Notre Dame's victory over West Virginia on May 26 was the first BIG EAST tournament game decided by a 1-0 score since 2000 and only the third in tournament history. The Irish played in nine more games decided by two runs and nine more decided by three runs. In all, less than three runs decided 38 of Notre Dame's 53 games.
The Irish were carried all season by one of the top pitching staffs in the BIG EAST. Notre Dame finished 2011 with a 3.42 ERA (down from 5.95 in 2010), which was the best by an Irish staff since 2004 (3.36). Notre Dame actually took a 2.82 ERA into the final week of the regular season, which would have been the lowest by an Irish club since 1960 (2.60, school record) and ranked 15th in the NCAA at the time.
Notre Dame's starting pitchers registered a quality start (pitcher completes at least six innings and permits no more than three earned runs) in 33 of 53 games for the Irish. The 33 quality starts tripled Notre Dame's total 2010(11). The Irish owned a 2.57 strikeout-to-walk ratio, which was light years better than the total of 1.73 from `10. Notre Dame led the BIG EAST in fewest walks by a large margin. The Irish walked only 143 batters in 481.2 innings, good for a 2.67 average per nine innings - slightly off the school record for fewest walks per nine innings (2.48 in 2001), but still ranked third all-time.
The effort was even more impressive when you consider Notre Dame averaged 3.65 walks per nine innings in 2010 and 3.82 per nine innings in 2009.
The Irish pitching staff ranked first or second in the conference in sacrifice bunts allowed, walks allowed, hit batters allowed, runs allowed, earned runs allowed, wild pitches allowed and balks allowed.
Aoki has coached 10 Major League Baseball draft picks since arriving at Notre Dame in 2011. Five of those picks were pitchers, including Dan Slania, a fifth round selection of the San Francisco Giants in 2013 and Brian Dupra, a seventh-round selection of the Washington Nationals in 2011. Five players have been drafted in the top 10 rounds, including three in the 2013 draft, which marked only the second time in school history (2004) that feat had been accomplished. Those drafted included Eric Jagielo (26th pick - Yankees), Slania and Trey Mancini (8th round - Orioles). The other 10th round or better draft picks are Dupra and Joe Hudson, a sixth-round pick of the Cincinnati Reds in 2012.
Aoki arrived in South Bend after a four-year stint as the Eagle head coach in Chestnut Hill, Mass. He brought the Boston College baseball program into the national forefront after leading the Eagles' to the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament in 2009 and 2010 (the only two ACC Tournament appearances in school history) and their first NCAA Regional appearance in 42 years (2009).
In 2009, the Eagles' nearly knocked off number-one national seed Texas in an NCAA-record 25-inning game that would have propelled them to the finals of the `09 Austin Regional and given Boston College a great chance at reaching its first Super Regional in program history.
Aoki's `09 squad qualified for its first ACC Tournament and made a statement there as well. Entering the tournament needing at least one win to likely ensure a spot in an NCAA regional, the Eagles lost their first game to seventh-ranked Florida State.
Boston College responded emphatically, beating 13th-ranked Georgia Tech and 16th-ranked Miami in the next two games by a combined score of 17-4 to earn its bid to Austin.
The Eagles' 34-26 overall record qualified as their best since 2005 and their 13-15 record in ACC play marked the most league wins since joining the conference in 2006 (Boston College eclipsed that total in 2010 with 14). The New England Intercollegiate Baseball Association tabbed Boston College as its team of the year for its performance.
Despite the loss of two top-50 overall draft picks following the `09 campaign, Boston College finished 30-28 overall (14-16 ACC) and qualified for 2010 ACC Tournament. The Eagles took two of three to open the season at perennial power Tulane and recorded five victories over foes ranked in the top 10, including Miami (twice), Clemson, Florida State and Georgia Tech.
Aoki coached 28 Major League Baseball draft picks and four free agent signees during his tenure at Boston College in 2004. Three of those draft picks were first-round selections in Mike Belfiore, Chris Lambert and Tony Sanchez. In addition, 16 of those 28 picks have been pitchers and two (Lambert, Joe Martinez) have reached the Major League level.
In the 2010 first-year MLB player draft, Boston College had six players selected, most in program history. In fact, three Eagles were taken in the first 10 rounds of the draft - another program first.
Boston College also had a major presence in the `09 draft, as Sanchez was selected fourth overall by the Pittsburgh Pirates, the highest pick ever for the Eagles' baseball program. Belfiore was then taken in Comp Round A (45th overall) by the Arizona Diamondbacks, making the pair the two highest draft picks taken in the same draft from Boston College.
Aoki mentored six all-ACC performers in his four seasons as head coach, including the program's only two first-team nominees in Sanchez (2009) and Mickey Wiswall (2010). Four Eagles earned all-conference honors in 2009, the most since joining the ACC. Aoki's teams also produced eight all-New England selections, five all-ACC Academic Team members and two All-Americans (Belfiore and Sanchez).
Prior to being named Boston College head coach, Aoki, a Plymouth, Mass. native, spent three seasons (2004-06) as pitching coach for the Eagles. In 2004, he oversaw a staff that had five pitchers sign professional contracts at season's end. Prior to his arrival in Chestnut Hill, Aoki spent five years (1999-2003) as the Columbia head coach, leading the Lions to an 87-140 mark during that span. His teams won 20 or more games in each of his last three seasons. Before the Aoki era, the Lions had not posted a 20-win season since 1987.
Before assuming his duties at Columbia, Aoki spent four years (1995-98) as assistant coach at Dartmouth. In that position, he focused his efforts on the team's infielders and hitters, while also serving as the program's recruiting coordinator. He began his coaching career in 1992 as head coach at Manchester (Conn.) Community College, then served two seasons (1993-94) as an assistant coach at Ohio University.
Born in Yokohama, Japan, and raised in Plymouth, Mass., Aoki attended Milton Academy in Milton, Mass. He earned four letters and started for three years in baseball at Davidson College (1987-90), as a second baseman, third baseman and catcher. He still ranks among the school's career leaders in slugging percentage (.547) and batting average (.335). In his senior season (1990), he finished with a team-leading .365 batting average and 20 doubles. He also cracked 13 home runs in 1988, with two of those homers being grand slams.
Aoki owns an undergraduate degree from Davidson in English (1990) and a master's degree from Ohio University in physical education in athletic administration (1994). Aoki played one summer of professional baseball in the Netherlands -- for the HCAW Tigers of the Dutch Major League -- following his graduation.
Mik and wife, Sue, have three children - son, Kai, and daughters Bryn and Reese.