IN THE BATTERS BOX -- Notre Dame will look to get back to its winning ways with a pair of non-conference midweek games this week. The Irish, losers of two straight for the first time this season, host Central Michigan and Oakland on Tuesday and Wednesday at Frank Eck Stadium. First pitch for each contest is scheduled for 5:05 p.m. The games will be broadcast on WHME 103.1 FM and UND.com. They will also be streamed live on UND.com.
SCOUTING THE CHIPPEWAS -- Central Michigan, led by seventh year head coach Steve Jaksa, enter the matchup with a 9-12 overall record and 1-2 mark in Mid-American Conference action. The Chippewas most recently dropped two of three games in Athens against Ohio University. Central Michigan has knocked off Wichita State and Stetson earlier this season, both of whom are receiving votes in numerous top-25 polls.
The Chippewas are averaging 7.3 runs per game and hitting .287 with a .390 on-base percentage. Central Michigan has also totaled 27 stolen bases in 30 attempts.
The Chippewas have three everyday players that are hitting over .340. Matt Faiman leads the attack with a team-best .407 batting average. He has added a 18 runs scored, a team-high 33 hits, team-best six doubles, two home runs and 15 RBI. Faiman is also a perfect 4-of-4 in stolen bases. Nate Theunissen and Billy Anderson are hitting .387 and .349, respectively. Theunissen has 19 runs scored, two doubles, two triples, three home runs and 19 RBI (most on the squad). Anderson leads the team in runs scored (21) and stolen bases (8-of-8). He has also hit a pair of home runs and driven in 13. Sam Russell is batting just .237 but he has smacked three home runs and driven in 18. Central Michigan has hit 14 home runs this season as a team, but has also struck out 179 times (compared to only 109 walks).
The pitching staff has a 6.19 ERA and .328 opponents' batting average along with 159 strikeouts and 76 walks in 177.1 innings pitched. Matt Loomis (a situational southpaw) is 0-0 with a 0.00 ERA in a team-best 10 relief appearances over 5.0 innings, while Jake Sabol (0-0, 3.86), Mike Nixon (0-0, 4.35), Jess Hernandez (0-1, 4.74) and Chris Kupillas (2-1, 5.00) are other options out of the Chippewas bullpen. Hernandez and Kupillas each have one save. Hernandez, who has also made one start, has fanned 30 and walked 11 in 19.0 innings of work. Kupillas has struck out nine, walked three, but surrendered 16 hits in 9.0 innings.
CMU has committed 46 errors and is fielding at only a .941 clip.
SCOUTING THE GOLDEN GRIZZLIES -- Oakland, led by second year head coach John Musachio, enter the matchup with a 5-11 overall record. The Golden Grizzlies most recently dropped three straight at Michigan State this past weekend. Oakland had won its four previous games before the series with the Spartans, including a doubleheader sweep over Dayton (a team Notre Dame defeated 14-5 earlier in the year). The Golden Grizzlies opened the season with a 17-6 rout of Eastern Kentucky, but proceeded to drop their next eight games.
Oakland is averaging 6.3 runs per game and hitting .287 with a .377 on-base percentage. The Golden Grizzlies have also totaled 22 stolen bases in 28 attempts.
Oakland has six everyday players that are hitting over .300. Taylor Traub (.380), Tim Ryan (.378), Tommy Jablonski (.360), Dan Ryan (.345), Andrew Stafford (.321) and Justin Wilson (.313). Traub, Dan Ryan and Rob Merkle have each hit a pair of home runs, but Wilson leads the club with four long balls. Dan Ryan has added a team-best five doubles, while Wilson leads the team in runs scored (14). Tim Ryan leads Oakland in steals (8-of-8). The Golden Grizzlies have hit 15 home runs this season as a team and only struck out 77 times.
The pitching staff has a 8.63 ERA and .343 opponents' batting average along with 62 strikeouts and 72 walks in 120.1 innings pitched. Jake Arendsen is 0-0 with a 3.68 ERA in four relief appearances over 7.1 innings, while Andrew Estes (1-0, 5.62), Aaron Wick (0-1, 9.69) and Dan Augustine (0-0, 10.12) are other options out of the Oakland bullpen.
The Golden Grizzlies have committed 24 errors and is fielding at a .958 clip.
THE STARTING PITCHERS -- Notre Dame will start freshman left-hander Dustin Ispas (0-0, 2.92 ERA) against Central Michigan on Tuesday. The Rancho Cucamonga, California native has made three career appearances (with two starts) for a total of 12.1 innings pitched. He has allowed eight hits and six walks while striking out nine. Ispas has allowed a home run (three-run shot against Ball State) and opponents are batting .182 against him. He did not factor in the decision against Grambling on Mar. 10, but Ispas tossed 6.0 innings and allowed one unearned run on a pair of hits. He struck out three and walked four. He again took a no-decision against the Cardinals on Mar. 17, but limited the potent Ball State attack to just six hits and four earned runs in 5.2 innings of work. Ispas struck out five and walked two.
Notre Dame will start freshman left-hander Steve Sabatino (1-0, 2.61 ERA) against Oakland on Wednesday. The Lockport, Illinois native has made two career appearances (a start on Mar. 11 against Grambling and another against Valparaiso on Mar. 18) for a total of 10.1 innings pitched. He has allowed five hits, three earned runs and seven walks while striking out 13. The nine strikeouts by Sabatino in the victory over the Tigers were the most by any Notre Dame pitcher in 2009 and were the most by any Irish rookie hurler since 2002. Chris Niesel fanned a freshman record 10 against Southern Illinois on Feb. 24, 2002.
NOTRE DAME-CENTRAL MICHIGAN SERIES NOTES -- The Irish and Chippewas have met 25 times in program history with Notre Dame holding a 15-9-1 series lead. The Irish have captured 12 of the 16 meetings in South Bend, including an 8-3-1 mark at Frank Eck Stadium. Central Michigan (3-1-1) has taken three of the last five meetings. The two teams faced off last year in Notre Dame's home opener as the game ended in a 2-2 tie (game was called after five innings due to snow).
The series opened in 1957 and the regional rivals played five times from between 1957-59. After an 18-year hiatus, Notre Dame and Central Michigan played one another twice in both 1977 and 1978.
The series has been continuous since 1993 (with the exception of 1996).
NOTRE DAME-OAKLAND SERIES NOTES -- The Irish and Golden Grizzlies have met 11 times in program history with Notre Dame winning each contest. The 11-0 all-time record against Oakland is tied for the third-most victories against one opponent without a defeat in school history. The Irish own an all-time mark of 14-0 against Hillsdale College and an 11-0 record against Trinity University (Texas) -- a squad Notre Dame upended earlier this year. All 11 games of the series have been played in South Bend and Frank Eck Stadium. The Irish and Golden Grizzlies were scheduled to play last season, but was cancelled when Notre Dame and Northern Illinois faced off at U.S. Cellular Field.
The series opened in 1999 and has been continuous (with the exception of 2001 and 2008).
ON DECK -- After this week's two non-conference games, Notre Dame will hit the road to play Pittsburgh in a three-game BIG EAST series next weekend (Mar. 27-29) at Trees Field. First pitches for the weekend set are 3:00 p.m. (Friday), 1:00 p.m. (Saturday) and Noon (Sunday).
RANKINGS -- Notre Dame, Central Michigan, Oakland and Pittsburgh are unranked in each of the four polls.
AROUND THE HORN --
RBI BY COMMITTEE: Notre Dame only has four players with 10 or more RBI, but have 10 in the order with at least five RBI.
LOTS-O-LINEUPS: Notre Dame's first 20 games have featured 16 different batting orders, but only two orders over the last five games.
YOUR UP: 13 different Irish players have already started at least five games and 11 have started at least seven games this season.
RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME: Notre Dame is hitting .346 (109-for-315) with runners on base, but just .254 (87-for-343) with the bases empty.
CONTROLLING THE RUNNING GAME: Notre Dame sophomore catcher Cameron McConnell might be the most improved player on the Irish roster this season. Not only does McConnell have 12 RBI, third best on the club, but he has already thrown out nine base stealers. In fact, opponents have only recorded 11 stolen bases in 20 attempts (.550) against McConnell. Notre Dame's catchers last season, Sean Gaston and McConnell, only pegged six the entire year.
TEAM NOTES: Notre Dame is 10-0 this season when scoring six or more runs and 3-7 when scoring five or fewer runs ... the Irish are now 10-1 when scoring the game's first run, but 3-6 when the opponent scores first ... Notre Dame is 11-0 when taking a lead to the ninth inning despite being outscored 16-5 in the ninth inning ... the Irish are 9-2 when holding their opponent to five runs or less, but just 4-5 when the foe scores more than five runs.
INDIVIDUAL NOTES: Senior Jeremy Barnes leads Notre Dame with 24 RBI, which also ranks sixth in the BIG EAST ... no Irish player reached the 24 RBI mark until the 28th game in 2008 (A.J. Pollock) ... the 24 RBI are the most for a Notre Dame player over the first 20 games of the season since Matt Edwards had 28 to open the 2005 season ... Barnes is on pace for 67 RBI in the regular season, which would rank just outside of the top-10 single seasons ... Junior A.J. Pollock leads the Irish in batting average (.377) ... if he were to win the Notre Dame batting title against in 2009, Pollock would be the second Irish player to ever win three straight team batting titles ... Pollock's career .364 batting average ranks tied for eighth best in school history (Randall Brooks, 1994-97) ... Sophomore Cameron McConnell might be the most improved player on the Notre Dame roster in 2009 ... he ranks third on the team with 12 RBI ... even more impressive, of McConnell's 12 RBI, eight have either tied the game or given the Irish the lead ... Sophomore Golden Tate enters this week with a career-high eight-game hitting streak ... Tate opened the year with hits in five consecutive games (so he has a hit in 15 of his 18 starts) ... Tate has also reached base in 16 of his 18 starts ... Junior David Mills also carries an eight-game hit streak into this week ... he has recorded a hit in 46 of his 58 career games started.
WHO'S HOT -- Sophomore Golden Tate and junior David Mills each carry eight-game hitting streaks into this week's games ... Only senior Jeremy Barnes' nine-game hitting streak, which ended on Sunday against Seton Hall, has a longer streak this season ... Tate is batting .344 over the hitting streak with a double, triple and four RBI ... Mills is hitting a team-best .452 over the eight games with a double and nine RBI.
NOTRE DAME NOTES FROM SETON HALL SERIES -- The Notre Dame baseball team dropped two of three games this past weekend against Seton Hall. The Irish opened the weekend with a 9-4 rout of the Pirates high-potential draft pick Sean Black, but Seton Hall took the next two games, 9-4 and 11-4 to secure the series triumph.
Notre Dame had allowed 37 runs and a .220 batting average (39-for-177) with two outs entering the weekend (over its first 17 games), but Seton Hall registered 19 runs, 16 RBI and a .440 batting average (22-for-50) with two outs over the three-game series.
In fact, 15 of those runs and 13 of those two out RBI came over the last two games of the series. The Pirates also hit .486 (18-for-37) with two down in Saturday and Sunday's victories.
Junior A.J. Pollock, junior David Mills and senior Jeremy Barnes carried Notre Dame offensively over the weekend. Pollock batted .583 with five runs scored, a double, home run and three RBI. Mills hit .500 with five runs scored and two RBI, while Barnes batted .417 with a run scored, double, home run and six RBI.