NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Notre Dame returns to BIG EAST action with a three-game series against Villanova that opens at 5:35 p.m. Friday at Frank Eck Stadium. The series resumes at 2:05 p.m. Saturday and concludes at 1:05 p.m. Sunday. All three games can be heard on WHME 103.1 FM and UND.com. Each contest can also be viewed for free at UND.com.
AROUND THE HORN -- Notre Dame enters its series the Wildcats coming off back-to-back midweek victories over UIC and Valparaiso. The Irish (2-4) are tied for eighth place in the BIG EAST standings following last weekend's difficult series sweep at No. 9 Louisville. Villanova (0-3) sits in 11th place and remains the long conference school without a league victory.
Sophomore RHP Pat Connaughton will make his first career Friday night start in the series opener. He moves into the role previous occupied by junior RHP Sean Fitzgerald. Connaughton has made two starts in 2013 (vs. Kent State on March 26 and vs. No. 9 Louisville on March 30). He is 0-1 with a 3.38 ERA in 5.1 innings of work. Connaughton has allowed two runs, both earned, on three hits with three strikeouts and two walks.
Fitzgerald returns to the Notre Dame bullpen where he has excelled as a critical late inning reliever over his career. Fitzgerald is 6-3 with a 2.20 ERA over 44 career outings out of the Irish bullpen. He has allowed 55 hits in 73.2 innings of work and recorded a .209 opponent batting average. Fitzgerald has registered six saves, 62 strikeouts and only 15 walks.
Notre Dame has already played nine games against top-25 opponents (No. 25 Virginia Tech, No. 7 UCLA, No. 10 Oklahoma and three games at No. 20 Cal Poly and at No. 10 Louisville). The Irish have captured four of those nine meetings.
Notre Dame has four of the BIG EAST's five non-conference wins over top-25 foes in `13.
Notre Dame has already played 14 games decided by one run. The Irish own a 9-5 record in those outings.
The nip-and-tuck battles are nothing new to Notre Dame. The Irish played 18 games decided by one run in 2012. Notre Dame went 11-7 in those outings. In fact, the Irish played in 20 such games in 2011 as well (going 10-10).
In all, Notre Dame has played in 52 different one-run contests since third-year head coach Mik Aoki arrived on campus. That's 52 of 137 games or 38.0 percent of Aoki's tenure in an Irish uniform. Notre Dame is 30-22 in one-run games under Aoki.
Over the last three seasons, 71 of Notre Dame's 137 games (51.8 percent) have been decided by two runs or less.
Notre Dame is ranked among the top 25 in all five major polls. Notre Dame is ranked No. 20 by Perfect Game, No. 20 by Baseball America, No. 23 by Collegiate Baseball, No. 24 by NCBWA and No. 24 by the USA Today Coaches.
The Irish bullpen entered last weekend's series at No. 9 Louisville with a 1.49 ERA and .204 opponent batting average. Notre Dame's foes had scored a combined nine runs after the sixth inning over its first 21 games of the year. Louisville scored 13 runs in the series after the sixth inning, including eight in Saturday's finale (all of which came with two outs). The Irish bullpen posted a 10.80 ERA in the series.
Notre Dame led the BIG EAST in both fewest walks per nine innings (2.81) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.61) in 2012. Both totals ranked fourth in single-season school history. The Irish also led the league in fewest walks per nine innings in 2011.
Notre Dame is off to a similar start in both categories in 2013. The Irish not only lead the BIG EAST in fewest walks per nine innings (2.35), but also rank ninth in the NCAA. Notre Dame ranks second in the league in WHIP (17), which ranks 22nd in the country. The Irish rank third in the BIG EAST in strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.61) and 31st in the nation.
Notre Dame committed a season-high five errors in the 4-3 loss to Rhode Island on Mar. 3. The Irish failed to comitt a single error over the next three games and actually went 36.0 consecutive innings without a defensive miscue before they recorded an error on Mar. 12 at UC Santa Barbara.
Notre Dame has committed only three errors in its last eight games dating back to the doubleheader against Seton Hall on March 23. The Irish have posted an astounding .990 fielding percentage in those eight games.
Notre Dame ranked 10th in the BIG EAST in fielding percentage in 2012, but the Irish have made major improvements in 2013. Notre Dame leads the league with a .975 fielding percentage this season.
Junior All-American candidate Eric Jagielo leads the BIG EAST in batting average (.400), slugging percentage (.700), on-base percentage (.504) and total bases (63). The third baseman also ranks second in home runs (seven) and tied for fifth in RBI (25).
Jagielo and fellow All-American candidate Trey Mancini continue to carry the load offensively for the Irish. Mancini, a first baseman, is hitting .340 with three doubles, two triples, three home runs and 23 RBI.
Mancini ranks third in the BIG EAST in sacrifice flies (five), tied for seventh in home runs (three), tied for eighth in RBI (23), tied for eighth in triples (two) and ninth in slugging percentage (.511).
Notre Dame was the only team in the BIG EAST with a pair of players with 10 or more home runs in 2012. Jagielo (13) and Mancini (12) combined for 25 round trippers. Jagielo was second in the BIG EAST, while Mancini ranked tied for third in the league.
Jagielo and Mancini form one of the nation's top power-hitting duos. They are the only returning tandem in the country with 12 or more home runs last year.
Senior RHP Adam Norton leads the BIG EAST in victories (six) and fewest walks (six). He also ranks third in ERA (1.39), third in innings pitched (51.2), third in runs allowed (eight) and sixth in earned runs allowed (eight).
Junior C Forrest Johnson ranks tied for second in the BIG EAST with seven sacrifice bunts.
Junior RHP Dan Slania leads the BIG EAST in saves (seven) and games finished (11).
NOTRE DAME-VILLANOVA SERIES NOTES -- Notre Dame has won 32 of 38 previous games against Villanova (20-3-1 over the last 24 meetings), with the Irish owning a 16-0-1 mark against the Wildcats at Frank Eck Stadium.
Notre Dame dropped the series opener in each of its last two visits to Villanova Ballpark (2010, 2012), but rebounded with victories in each of the last two games of the series both times.
Notre Dame is 12-3 all-time against Villanova at Villanova Ballpark (moved from Ashburn Field after the 2002 season). The Irish swept the Wildcats in 2006 and 2008 in Plymouth Meeting, Pa., and took two of three from Villanova at Villanova Ballpark in 2003, with that series starting a day late due to wet field conditions. The late finish of the first game then pushed the rest of the series to a rare Monday doubleheader.
Notre Dame's 35 victories against Villanova are tied for the second-most for the Irish against any BIG EAST opponent. The Irish have knocked off Georgetown 38 times and Seton Hall on 35 occasions.