Notre Dame (19-8, 5-1) at USF (14-16, 5-3)
When: Tonight, 7; Saturday, 6 p.m.; Sunday, noon
Where: Red McEwen Field
The story: Riding a five-game losing streak, the Bulls host Notre Dame, a team receiving national poll votes and boasting one of the best pitching staffs in the Big East.
The Fighting Irish, on a nine-game winning streak, bring Jeff Samardzija to the mound Friday to face junior Casey Hudspeth and his 3-3 record, 3.99 ERA and team-high 57 strikeouts. Samardzija, better known as the long-haired wide receiver for the Notre Dame football team, has a 3-1 record, a 3.16 ERA and 18 strikeouts. Left-hander Tom Thornton (4-1, 3.02 ERA, 31 strikeouts) will start Saturday, while Jeff Manship (3-1, 2.13 ERA, 50 strikeouts) gets the nod Sunday.
While the Fighting Irish are third in the Big East in batting average (.307), they are first in the conference in getting hit by pitches with 45. Their hitting is powered by Danny Dressman and Craig Cooper, who are batting .403 and .388, respectively. The Bulls, who have hit just 10 home runs so far season and are on pace to hit only 18 this season (after hitting 63 in 2005), match Notre Dame in that category. The Fighting Irish have just 10 home runs in 27 games.
USF is, however, third in the conference in hits with 305. Only 170 of those hits have turned into runs scored, placing the Bulls in sixth place in the Big East.
Of the 305 hits, senior Kris Howell has 39 of them, while freshman Addison Maruszak has 32. On the other hand, the Bulls are missing the bats of Brian Baisley and Matt McHargue. McHargue missed the beginning of the season with a broken hand but has come back to hit .429 through 12 games on 12 hits with five RBI. Baisley has seen a lot of bench time due to a sore back, but has a .241 average, 14 RBI, two home runs and 25 hits in 25 games.
Keep an eye on: Both teams’ pitching over the series. While Notre Dame’s pitching looks more dominant on paper with a combined ERA of 3.36 compared to the Bulls’ 4.69, both teams’ three starters for the weekend are able to shut down hitters and keep the opposing team from scoring.
– Mike Camunas