Feb. 2, 2008
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - The University of Notre Dame baseball squad began official team practice for the 2008 campaign inside Loftus Center this afternoon The Irish will conduct three weeks of team practice sessions before opening its season in Clearwater, Fla. against Liberty on Feb. 22.
"We are excited to get started again," said Dave Schrage, who begins his second season as Irish head coach. "We have a quality group of returning players and plenty of new faces, both of which are ready to get the season underway."
Notre Dame returns 19 monogram winners, six position starters and four starting pitchers from last season's squad that finished 28-28. The Irish also welcome a recruiting class that was ranked sixth-best in the country according to Baseball America.
Junior right-handed pitcher David Phelps, who has already been named to Wallace Award National Player of the Year Watch List, was named preseason All-BIG EAST first team after being named to the first team last season. Phelps concluded 2007 with an 8-5 record and 1.88 ERA. In 110.1 innings, he allowed only 96 hits, 23 earned runs, held opponents to a .236 batting average and recorded 102 strikeouts.
He became one of two Irish pitchers ever to post 100-plus strikeouts and an ERA under 2.00 during the same season. Phelps joined former All-Americans Aaron Heilman (in '99) and Chris Niesel (in '03) as the youngest Notre Dame pitchers ever named to the BIG EAST's top team (each earned the honor as sophomores). Heilman is the only other Notre Dame pitcher ever to reach 100 Ks while also having a sub-2.00 ERA in the same season (111 Ks, 1.74 ERA; as a senior in 2001).
In 2007 regular-season BIG EAST games, Phelps finished second in ERA (2.14, trailing only Seton Hall's Keith Cantwell) plus first in strikeouts (67) and innings (71.1), second in Ks looking (26) and pickoffs (4), third in wins (5-3) and 10th in opponent batting average (.242).
The Irish also return two of the top hitters in the BIG EAST Conference. Sophomore 3B A.J. Pollock and senior SS Brett Lilley finished fourth and fifth, respectively, in the conference in batting average a year ago. Pollock, who started 52 of Notre Dame's 54 games, earned Freshman All-American honors by Collegiate Baseball and PingBaseball.com.
Pollock's standout 2007 season saw him become just the fourth freshman ever to lead the Notre Dame baseball team in season batting average, with his .372 mark ranking as the third-best ever by a Notre Dame freshman and the best since Scott Sollmann hit .404 in his 1994 rookie season. Pollock collected third team all-BIG EAST honors.
Lilley, named an ESPN The Magazine first team Academic All-American, led Notre Dame in 12 different statistical categories during the 2007 season while ranking second on the team in four other stats. Lilley posted a .512 season on-base percentage that ranked 12th among all Division I players and is second best by a Notre Dame player since the early 1990s (7th-best overall in the ND record book). His 2007 offensive totals included 73 hits (tied for the team lead), a team-best 31 walks and a hit-by-pitch total (27) that ranked third in the nation. Lilley ranked among the BIG EAST leaders in seven different categories, including first in on-base pct. and HBPs, fifth in triples (3), seventh in batting average (.371), eighth in runs scored (55), 10th in fielding assists (159) and 11th in walks.
The 2008 schedule includes early-season trips to Florida and Texas along with BIG EAST road series at South Florida, West Virginia, Connecticut, Villanova and Georgetown. The slate also features the annual game with Michigan in Grand Rapids, a match-up with IPFW at Fort Wayne's minor-league Memorial Stadium - and a bonus midseason exhibition game versus the South Bend Silverhawks, at downtown Coveleski Stadium.
Notre Dame's four BIG EAST home series will include games versus St. John's, Rutgers, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati while the midweek games at Alumni Field again will feature some of Notre Dame's traditional non-conference rivals, most notably Central Michigan and Ball State.
Notre Dame will open the 2008 season by playing in Clearwater, Fla., for the third straight year. The team's four Clearwater Invitational games at Jack Russell Stadium (Feb. 2-24) will include two versus a University of Albany team that advanced to the 2007 NCAA Tournament. The Irish then will return to Florida the next week to participate in the Papa John's Challenge, a multiple-field tournament that will be held primarily at the Santaluces Sports Center. Notre Dame will face four challenging games from northeast foes during that first stage of Spring Break (March 1-5), with the first game to be played versus Boston College in Delray Beach (followed by four games in West Palm Beach),
The split Spring Break schedule will end in Corpus Christi, Texas, at the Whataburger Classic. That tournament (March 7-9) will be held at Whataburger Field, the home of the double-A Corpus Christi Hooks (a Houston Astros affiliate), with Notre Dame's three games at that event headlined by match-ups with South Alabama (a perennial contender for the NCAAs) and Arizona, a 2007 NCAA participant.
Notre Dame then will return to the familiar surroundings of San Antonio the weekend after Spring Break (March 14-16), for three games at Wolff Stadium (including renewal of the rivalry with Southern Illinois).
Each of the 12 BIG EAST baseball teams again is scheduled to play nine others in three-game series (Notre Dame will not face Louisville or Seton Hall in the '08 regular season). Fans are reminded that the road series versus Villanova (Plymouth Meeting, Pa./Villanova Ballpark) and Georgetown (Bethesda, Md./Povich Field; March 20-22) are played at off-campus venues.
In addition to those games mentioned above, dates for Notre Dame's other BIG EAST road series include April 18-20 at West Virginia, May 2-4 at Connecticut and May 15-17 at South Florida. The other BIG EAST home series are March 28-30 vs. Cincinnati, April 4-6 vs. Rutgers and April 25-27 vs. St. John's.
Notre Dame and Michigan again are scheduled to play at Fifth/Third Bank Ballpark in Comstock Park, Mich. (just outside of Grand Rapids), marking the 13th "Baseball Bash" meeting between the teams in the past 14 seasons.
The BIG EAST Tournament again will be played under the newer eight-team format from May 20-24, at a site that is TBA. The format will mirror the College World Series with two four-team brackets playing double-elimination games on the first four days. The bracket winners then will meet in a single title game on May 24.
The NCAA tournament regionals are set for May 30-June 2 and the super-regionals on June 6-9 (both at campus sites) while the College World Series will be June 14-25 at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Neb.