Jan. 24, 2014
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - On the same day the University of Notre Dame baseball team officially opened preseason practice, the Atlantic Coast Conference head coaches picked the Irish to finish fifth in the Atlantic Division in the 2014 ACC Baseball Preseason Coaches Poll.
The Irish, who finished 34-24 a season ago including 10-14 in the BIG EAST, were seeded behind NCAA Super Regional squad Florida State, NCAA College World Series participant NC State, NCAA Regional team Clemson and Maryland. The new ACC member placed ahead of fellow private schools Wake Forest and Boston College.
In the Coastal Division, NCAA Super Regional team Virginia was picked to win the division, finishing ahead of NCAA College World Series participant North Carolina, NCAA Regional team Miami, NCAA Regional qualifier Georgia Tech, Duke, NCAA Regional team Virginia Tech and ACC newcomer Pitt.
Virginia was selected by the coaches to top FSU for the regular season crown.
The 10-team 2014 ACC Tournament is slated for May 20-25 at NewBridge Bank Park in Greensboro, N.C.
Before the Irish can get to Greensboro, however, they must first get through preseason practice (and 55 games), which officially kicked off Friday for all Division I programs. While the team has been practicing for the last couple of weeks since arriving back on campus from winter break, the NCAA mandates that eight hours is the max per week with six of those hours coming in the form of conditioning.
Now three weeks out from the first games of the 2014 season, Notre Dame and fellow Division I institutions can up their practice time to 20 hours per week.
Head coach Mik Aoki has been pleased with what he has seen so far out of the players as they shake off the rust from not practicing since the end of fall ball in late October.
"The guys have been pretty focused so far," said the veteran head coach. "This early in practice we want them to be mentally sharp as we go over our offensive and defensive signs for the season as well as key baseball situations like our bunt defense. We know the execution won't be as sharp as it will be in a couple of weeks since they are working to get back in the swing of things but if they are mentally sharp we can get a lot accomplished."
Back on the mound in the first two weeks of practice after injuries sidelined them for the 2013 season were junior RHPs Scott Kerrigan and Kyle Rubbinaccio.
"It was really nice to see both of them back on the mound and it definitely gave our team a boost," said Aoki. They are great guys and have worked so hard to get back on the field."
While preseason practice is important for all players, it's especially beneficial for the pitchers as they work to build up their stamina, arm strength and pitch counts in a safe manner. The players that are in contention for starting roles begin with 30 pitches and then increase by 15 each outing.
The hitters, meanwhile, are anxious for live reps to help get their timing going since they were reduced to the batting cages for much of the winter.
Just three weeks out from an opening series at NCAA Regional qualifier Florida Atlantic, the Irish, who are returning 21 monogram winners from 2013 including third team all-BIG EAST member Ryan Bull, are excited to get the first season in the ACC underway.
"It's an exciting time to be here at Notre Dame as we transition to the ACC," said Aoki. "We have gone from a solid baseball conference in the BIG EAST to arguably the best in the country in the ACC. It will be fun for our fans as they get to see new schools, colors and uniforms not to mention some of the best college baseball talent in the nation."
2014 ACC BASEBALL PRESEASON COACHES POLL
1. Virginia (10)
2. Florida State (4)
-- Russell Dorn, Assistant Media Relations Director