Sept. 9, 2008
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - The University of Notre Dame baseball team officially began its preparation for the 2009 season with its first fall practice on Monday at Frank Eck Stadium and the adjacent indoor hitting facility.
"As a coach, obviously you are always energized anytime you start a new season," said Irish head coach Dave Schrage. "We are excited about the amount of experienced returning players and also eager to see the eight newcomers in action."
The Irish will practice each day this week leading into this weekend's first intrasquad game. Notre Dame will face off against one another on Saturday at 9:00 a.m. in Frank Eck Stadium. The split-squad is open to fans. The Irish will have a total of 16 practices and 13 split-squads culminating with the annual Blue & Gold World Series which begins on Tuesday, Oct. 14 and runs through Thursday, Oct. 16.
"For the coaches, the fall season is really the time to evaluate," said Schrage. "For the players, it is the time to work and improve on their individual games. It allows us to put together our lineup and pitching staff heading into the spring."
Schrage begins his third season as Notre Dame head coach, looking to again improve on the previous year's record. The Irish finished 2008 at 33-21-1 overall, while going 16-10 in the BIG EAST to finish third. Despite losing their last eight games, the 33 wins were five higher than the previous season and Notre Dame broke into the top-25 for the first time since 2006.
Five everyday starters, junior center fielder and first-team all-BIG EAST selection A.J. Pollock (Hebron, Conn.), junior designated hitter and first-team all-BIG EAST choice David Mills (Battle Creek, Mich.), sophomore third baseman Greg Sherry (Mendham, N.J.), senior second baseman Jeremy Barnes (Garland, Texas) and junior right fielder Billy Boockford (Glen Elyn, Ill.), all return from last year. The Irish also return senior Evan Sharpley (Marshall, Mich.) and junior Casey Martin (Chesterton, Ind.), who combined to start 52 of Notre Dame's 55 games at first base.
Pollock had the most successful summer of any Irish player, taking home the Cape Cod League Pat Sorenti Most Valuable Player Award. Pollock led the Cape Cod League in hits (61), doubles (15), and slugging (.556), while finishing second in batting average (.377), second in extra-base hits (20), third in runs scored (35), tied for third in triples (2), and fourth in on-base percentage (.455). Pollock's summer put him on a list of past Cape MVP winners that includes current Major Leaguers Mike Fontenot, Carlos Pena, Darin Erstad and Jason Varitek, while becoming the second Irish player to win the award, following Dick Licini in 1968.
In addition to Pollock, sophomore right-handed hurler Brian Dupra (Rochester, N.Y.) was named to the Cape Cod League All-Star game. Dupra spent his summer with Harwich and made the East squad while Pollock played for the West. Other Irish summer all-star selections included junior Matt Grosso (Marlborough, Conn.) in the New England Collegiate League and senior Eddy Mendiola (Miami, Fla.) in the New York Collegiate League.
"The players really worked hard this summer and have come into the fall with a tremendous work ethic and attitude," said Schrage. "We as a program made great strides last season, but without question the way the season ended left a bad taste in these guys mouths and they have definitely come back with the mindset of finishing the job."
The Irish will have to replace three position starters with the loss of shortstop Brett Lilley, left fielder Ross Brezovsky and catcher Sean Gaston. Schrage does have the luxury of some experienced depth to fill those holes, including, among others, sophomore first baseman/outfielder Ty Adams (Indianapolis, Ind.), junior outfielder Brayden Ashdown (Tucson, Ariz.), sophomore first baseman David Casey (Whitefish Bay, Wisc.), senior outfielder/catcher Ryan Connolly (Binghamton, N.Y.), sophomore infielder Mick Doyle (LaGrange Park, Ill.), junior infielder Will Harford (Chicago, Ill.), junior infielder Ryne Intlekofer (Moorpark, Calif.), sophomore catcher Matt Katich (New Castle, Pa.), sophomore catcher Cameron McConnell (Bannockburn, Ill.), junior infielder Herman Petzold (Saint Clair Shores, Mich.), sophomore outfielder Golden Tate (Hendersonville, Tenn.), sophomore catcher/first baseman/designated hitter Matt Scioscia (Westlake Village, Calif.), junior outfielder Bill Warrender (Collegeville, Pa.) and sophomore outfielder Andrew Wiand (South Bend, Ind.).
The depth of pitching on last year's squad was one of its strengths and it will be quite evident heading into this season. Notre Dame must replace weekend starters Wade Korpi and David Phelps, as well as closer Kyle Weiland -- all of whom were drafted this past spring. The Irish, though, return Dupra, junior Eric Maust (Alpharetta, Ga.), sophomore Evan Danieli (East Hanover, N.J.), sophomore Ryan Sharpley (Marshall, Mich.), sophomore Cole Johnson (Hudson, Ohio) and sophomore Todd Miller (Franklin, Tenn.) to compete for starting spots in the rotation. Maust was a second-team all-BIG EAST selection, while the others all tossed at least 18.0 innings of the Irish a year ago. Junior Steven Mazur (Round Rock, Texas) looks to solidify the back end of the bullpen after a record setting summer in the Kansas Jayhawk League. Sam Elam (Mesquite, Texas), Andrew Scheid (Highlands Ranch, Colo.) and Joe Spizziri (San Juan Capistrano, Calif.) also return and will compete for playing time.
Eight freshmen signed last November will also take to Jake Cline Field for the first time. The pitcher heavy class includes right-hander Will Hudgins (Richmond, Va.), left-hander/shortstop Dustin Ispas (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.), left-hander and local product Ryan Richter (South Bend, Ind.), left-hander/first baseman/outfielder Steve Sabatino (Lockport, Ill.), infielder Tommy Chase (Cohasset, Mass.), and outfielders Leighton Cooper (Fort Washington, Md.) and Alex Robinson (Dallas, Texas).
Notre Dame opens the 2009 spring season on Feb. 20-22 with the BIG EAST vs. Big Ten Challenge in Tampa, Fla. The Irish will face Ohio State (Fri.), Illinois (Sat.) and Purdue (Sun.).