IN THE BATTERS BOX -- Notre Dame will open up the 2011 season in the third annual BIG EAST/Big Ten Challenge this weekend. The Irish will play Michigan State (Fri., 4:00 p.m., Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, Dunedin), Purdue (Sat., 4:00 p.m., Al Lang Stadium, St. Petersburg) and Penn State (Sun., 10:00 a.m., Walter Fuller Baseball Complex, St. Petersburg).
DAWNING OF A NEW ERA -- Notre Dame will play the first games under the direction of head coach Mik Aoki this weekend, in the famaliar surroundings of Tampa/St. Petersburg and the BIG EAST/Big Ten Challenge.
Aoki arrived in South Bend after a four-year stint as the Eagles head coach. 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.
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).
IRISH COACHING DEBUTS -- Mik Aoki will be looking to join Dave Schrage (2007; 15-7 vs. Prairie View A&M) and Pat Murphy (1988; 14-11 at Duke) as the only Notre Dame coaches since 1924 to win their first game with the Irish.
Here's a quick look at the first-game results of new head coaches dating back to the '14 season (5-4-1; previous seasons had rotating coaches who spent only part of the season with the team).
SEASON OPENERS -- Notre Dame owns an all-time record of 84-32-2 (.720) in its season opener dating back to the 1892 season. The Irish are 17-6 (.739) in season openers dating back to the 1988 season, including back-to-back losses in 2008 and 2009. Notre Dame is 10-3 in its last 12 openers.
The most runs ever scored in a season opener by the Irish was 21 in a victory over Chicago on Apr. 10, 1943 (21-1). The 20-run margin of victory is also the largest by Notre Dame in a season opener. Notre Dame has twice surrendered 15 runs in a season opener (May 7, 1896, 15-6 loss vs. Northwestern; Mar. 15, 1982, 15-3 loss at Oklahoma). The largest margin of defeat in a season opener came on Apr. 22, 1895 when the Irish were blankced by Michigan, 13-0.
RECENT SEASON OPENERS -- The Irish have captured 10 of their last 13 season openers. Notre Dame suffered a tight loss to New Orleans in the 2001 season opener (7-6 at Mississippi State) and 2008 and 2009 in Florida (6-2 vs. Liberty in Clearwater; 2-0 vs. Ohio State in Dunedin), but have opened season with victories in 1998 (10-1 vs. Florida State in Orlando), 1999 (8-4 vs. James Madison at FIU), 2000 (6-0 vs. Air Force in Millington,Tenn.), 2002 (7-6 vs. Missouri at New Orleans), 2003 (10-9 vs. Dayton at Arizona State), 2004 (7-1 vs. San Diego State at USC), 2005 (19-8 vs. Florida A&M at UCF), 2006 (3-0 vs. Indiana State in Millington,Tenn.), 2007 (15-8 vs. Prairie View in San Antonio) and 2010 (12-4 at Mississippi Valley State).
The 2001-03 openers each produced one-run games (the Missouri game in 2002 went 10 innings), but Notre Dame won the 2004-07 opening games by a combined 44-17 margin. The 19-8 rout of Florida A&M in 2005 was Notre Dame's largest margin of victory and most runs in a season opener since the 1963 squad won 20-3 at Indiana. The Irish were nearly as dominant in the 2010 opener, routing Mississippi Valley State, 12-4, in Itta Bena.
SEASON-OPENING SITES -- This year marks the 78th season and 21st straight that Notre Dame opened its season away from home. The 1990 Irish team played a rare Feb. 5 home game against Goshen to open the year.
Florida (10) is the site of the second-most season-opening games in the history of Notre Dame baseball. Tennessee ranks third with seven games and Texas and Georgia are tied for the fourth-most common site for an Irish season-opener (six). Other states that have been the site of multiple Irish openers include: Kentucky and Louisiana (five), California (four), Arizona, Arkansas, Illinois, Ohio, Oklahoma and Mississippi (all with three), Alabama, Michigan, Missouri and North Carolina (two). Obviously, Indiana leads all states with 13.
The most common sites for a Notre Dame road season opener have included: Indiana University (six), Purdue (four), Georgia Tech (three) and USA Baseball Stadium in Millington, Tenn. (three)
BIG EAST/BIG TEN CHALLENGE INSIDER -- The tournament consists of eight teams from each conference. Connecticut, Cincinnati, Louisville, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, St. John's, Seton Hall and West Virginia will represent the BIG EAST. The Big Ten field includes Iowa, Penn State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue.
The BIG EAST/Big Ten Baseball Challenge will be similar in format to the popular conference collegiate basketball challenges that have emerged over the past decade, with participating teams competing against schools from the opposing conference. However, this tournament is unique in that it provides teams from two northern-based conferences with an opportunity to travel to Florida and compete against one another in professional-quality venues located in a warm climate.
Tickets for the third annual BIG EAST-Big Ten Baseball Challenge, hosted by the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Sports Commission, are available at www.bigeastbigtenbaseballchallenge.com. An all-tournament pass, which provides access to all 24 games of the Challenge, can be purchased for $25. Individual day passes are available for $10 and admit a spectator to all games at all venues for that day. Alumni groups, youth and social organizations also can sell all-tournament passes with a portion of the proceeds going to the selling organization. Information about fundraising opportunities is available at www.bigeastbigtenbaseballchallenge.com
The Big Ten won the inaugural Challenge in 2009, 15-9, while the BIG EAST was victorious in 2010, 17-13.
WARMING UP IN FLORIDA -- The Notre Dame baseball team has made regular visits to Florida, including trips to Boca Raton, Ft. Myers, DeLand, Gainesville, Homestead, Jacksonville, Miami, Orlando, Santaluces, St. Petersburg, Tallahassee, Winter Park, Tampa and Clearwater. In addition to this week's BIG EAST/Big Ten Challenge, the Irish will hopefully to Clearwater and Bright House Networks Field for the 2011 BIG EAST Tournament in May.
The Irish own a 74-68-1 all-time record (.521) in the state of Florida, but found the Sunshine State to be an especially welcome home-away-from-home site between 2000-07, racking up a 41-14 record (.732).
Notre Dame went 2-7 in the Sunshine State in 2010, including matching 1-2 records at the 2010 BIG EAST/Big Ten Challenge and Stetson Invitational before falling victim to a three-game sweep at USF.
Notre Dame took two of three games in the 2009 BIG EAST/Big Ten Challenge. The Irish dropped their season opener to Ohio State, 2-0, but rebounded with victories over Illinois, 14-7, and Purdue, 9-4. Notre Dame returned to the Sunshine State for the 2009 BIG EAST Tournament. The Irish went 3-2 and fell just one game shy of the championship game.
In 2008, Notre Dame took part in the Winning Inning Invitational (Clearwater) and Palm Beach Challenge (Santaluces). The Irish posted a 4-4 mark in those tournaments. Notre Dame then dropped five straight to close the season -- all played in the State of Florida (three at USF, two at the 2008 BIG EAST Tournament).
In 2007, Notre Dame participated in the Stetson Invitational (DeLand), Clearwater Classic and Florida Gulf Coast Classic (Ft. Myers). The Irish posted a 6-5 record in those tournaments, including a 16-6 victory over #7 Nebraska on March 4.
The 2006 team swept a series at then-BIG EAST newcomer South Florida (9-6, 10-4, 10-1) and then won the program's fifth straight BIG EAST Tournament title by going 4-1 in action at Brighthouse Networks Field, in Clearwater.
The 2005 team opened 3-1 in games played at Central Florida (18-3 vs. Florida A&M, 1-2 vs. UCF, 4-3 vs. FAMU, 4-2 vs. UCF) and then ended its season at the NCAA regional played at the University of Florida (1-5 vs. North Carolina, 7-4 vs. Stetson, 3-0 vs. UNC and 3-23 vs. UF).
In addition to participating in the 2000 (7-1 record) and 2003 (6-1) Kennel Club Classics, the Irish recently have played three series at Miami (1-2 in 1992 and 1995, 0-3 in 1998) while participating in the first ACC/Disney Blast in Orlando (1998; 1-2 with win over FSU) and winning the 2004 Florida Atlantic Classic.
Notre Dame nearly advanced to the 1992 and 1993 College World Series, after competing in NCAA regionals at Miami and Florida State (the Irish upset the host schools and reached the final day of competition in both years). The 2002 Irish team won their NCAA Super Regional series at Florida State to earn a College World Series spot (Florida native Chris Niesel picked up the decisive win over FSU).
The program's first Florida trip came in 1956 (2-5 in games around the Tallahassee area). Other early Notre Dame trips to Florida included a 5-2 loss at FSU in 1958, three wins at Rollins in 1967, tournaments at Miami in 1970 (1-5) and Rollins in 1978 (3-5-1), seven games around the state in 1979 (2-5) and six games played at Rollins and Miami in 1989 (4-2).
FLORIDA NATIVES -- The 2011 Notre Dame baseball roster includes three players from Florida. Sophomore C Joe Hudson (Odessa/Tampa Jesuit H.S.), freshman INF Trey Mancini (Winter Haven/Winter Haven H.S.) and freshman INF Chris Reinhart (Tampa/Tampa Jesuit H.S.) all hail from the Sunshine State.
The Irish baseball program's list of all-time monogram winners includes 19 Florida natives, among them Academic All-America first baseman and Tampa native Henry Valenzuela (Jesuit H.S.; 1979-82, hit .314 with 15 HR, 123 RBI) ... pitching ace Chris Niesel (Plantation; 2002-04, 3.21 ERA, 21-4, 2 SV, 233 Ks and just 57 BB in 272. IP) joined other noteworthy RHPs such as Mike Pasilla (Windemere/Bishop Moore H.S.; 1987-89), David Sinnes (Miami/Palmetto H.S.; 1990-93, 2.91 career ERA, 32-8 record, 315 Ks in 297.1 IP), closer John Corbin (Hollywood Hills H.S.; 1998-00, 20 saves) and Danny Tamayo (Miami/Ransom Everglades H.S.; 1998-01, 3.27 ERA, 141 Ks in 160 IP) ... Sinnes held the Notre Dame record for career win percentage and strikeouts (bested by Aaron Heilman in 2001) while Corbin remains the Irish career saves leader and Tamayo formed a potent 1-2 punch with Heilman ... other noteworthy Irish players from Florida have included: SS Daniel Cunha (St. Petersburg; 1933-35), IF Joe LaRocca (Ft. Lauderdale/Gibbons H.S.; 1970-72), OF Mike Galloway (Cocoa Beach H.S.; 1975-77), DH Ken Meyer (Ft. Myers/Verot H.S.; 1999-02), catcher Javi Sanchez (Miami/Columbus H.S.), RHP Joey Williamson (Lantana/Santaluces H.S.; 2005-07), OF Ross Brezovsky (Naples/Collier H.S.) and LHP Wade Korpi (Lake Worth/Santaluces H.S.).
ON DECK -- After Notre Dame returns from Florida early Monday morning, the Irish again hit the road next weekend for the Great Northwest. Notre Dame faces Seattle University for a three-game series, which was originally scheduled for Safeco Field. The Irish and the Redhawks will play at 6:00 p.m. (PT) on Fri., Feb. 25 at Everett Memorial Stadium, 2:00 p.m. (PT) on Sat., Feb. 26 at Bannerwood Park and Noon (PT) on Sun., Feb. 27 at Bannerwood Park.
RANKINGS -- Notre Dame, Michigan State, Purdue and Penn State are each unranked in all four major polls.
DUPRA AMONGST RARE GROUP -- Senior RHP Brian Dupra is a two-time captain for the Irish. He has served in that leadership roll each of the past two seasons (2009 and 2010). Dupra is the 15th multi-year captain in the program's 118-year history. He is the 12th since the turn of century (as in 1900 not 2000) and 10th since the late 1970s.
Dupra also has the rare accomplishment of being named a captain as a pitcher and not an everyday position player. Over the last 32 seasons, Dupra is only the ninth pitcher to earn captain status. The others include Craig Allen ('96), Alex Shilliday ('99), Aaron Heilman ('00, '01), J.P. Gagne ('03), Chris Niesel ('04), Tyler Jones ('05), Tom Thorton ('06) and Cole Johnson ('09). In fact, Dupra and Heilman are the only known two-time captain pitchers in Notre Dame baseball history.
JOHNSON QUITE INVOLVED OFF THE FIELD AS WELL -- Senior RHP Cole Johnson, a co-captain in 2009, has the rare accomplishment of being named a captain as a pitcher and not an everyday position player. Over the last 32 seasons, Johnson is only the ninth pitcher to earn captain status. The others include Craig Allen ('96), Alex Shilliday ('99), Aaron Heilman ('00, '01), J.P. Gagne ('03), Chris Niesel ('04), Tyler Jones ('05), Tom Thorton ('06) and Brian Dupra ('10).
Johnson was one of 12 Irish student-athletes invited to join a faculty-mentoring program based on leadership, academic performance and athletic accomplishments. Johnson was selected from over 900 Notre Dame athletes, and the only sophomore inducted in 2009.
Johnson was selected for the Notre Dame Rosenthal Leadership Academy, which is a special four-month program of seminars and workshops to develop leadership strategies, initiatives and skills.
-- ND --
Baseball Gameday Central - Notre Dame vs. Michigan StateFirst-year coach Mik Aoki looks for a victory in first career game as Irish skipper (4 p.m. ET; live webcast at CollegeBaseball360.com/live stats at UND.com).