FROM CBD NEWS SOURCE
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – A formidable 54-game schedule that features four series against former BIG EAST Conference foes, 20 contests against NCAA Tournament teams, 25 home showdowns at Frank Eck Stadium and 30 Atlantic Coast Conference games awaits the University of Notre Dame baseball team as it enters its first year in the ACC in 2014.
Eight teams that qualified for the NCAA Regionals last year litter the Notre Dame schedule including defending national champion UCLA, College World Series qualifier and ACC foe NC State and NCAA Super Regional participant and ACC opponent Florida State. NCAA Regional qualifiers include Florida Atlantic, Virginia Tech, Valparaiso, Miami and Clemson.
“The highlight of our schedule this season is clearly the move to the ACC, which is arguably the most competitive baseball conference in the country year in and year out,” said fourth-year head coach Mik Aoki. “You look at teams like North Carolina, NC State, Florida State, Virginia, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Miami … It’s kinda like a who’s who of college baseball.
“If we can have some success against this schedule, it’s going to put us in the position to play in the postseason by giving us an outstanding RPI. The schedule is so radically different than what Notre Dame has ever played before simply because of the new conference. Going to a conference where baseball is prioritized will be very exciting for our players, staff and fans.”
The usual Southern swing opens the season and sees the Irish play 18 games from Feb. 15 – March 16 away from the friendly confines of Frank Eck Stadium. Highlighting the month of action is a season-opening series against NCAA Regional qualifier Florida Atlantic (Feb. 15-16) in Boca Raton, Fla., the elite USA Baseball-Irish Classic (Feb. 28 – March 2) in Cary, N.C., and road ACC series against ACC power NC State (March 7-9) and Duke (March 14-16).
The USA Baseball-Irish Classic that was announced a month ago features as good a field as any regular season tournament as UCLA, NC State, Michigan, Appalachian State and Youngstown State join Notre Dame for a three-day tourney.
“The opportunity to play host to a regional rival in Michigan, the defending national champion in UCLA, a College World Series team in NC State and solid mid-major teams in Appalachian State and Youngstown State makes for a great field,” said Aoki.
In addition to co-hosting in Cary, Notre Dame also hosts the first Irish Classic in San Antonio, Texas the week prior to the USA Baseball joint venture. In San Antonio the Irish will meet Santa Clara, Gonzaga and Incarnate Word in a four-day tournament that will feature Sunday championship and runner-up games. The tournament will mark the only time the Irish will leave the Eastern Time zone during the regular season.
A former BIG EAST rival kicks off the home portion of the schedule for the Irish as Virginia Tech makes its return to the Eck for the first time since 2004 for a weekend series March 21-23. Notre Dame leads the all-time series 7-6, including a 2-1 series win at home the last time the two teams played.
Other ACC home series include Wake Forest (March 28-30), Boston College (April 11-13), Clemson (May 9-11) and Pittsburgh (May 15-17).
The conference series with Boston College will be the first since 2005 and will pit Aoki against the program he coached from 2007-10. Notre Dame holds a 23-9 advantage all-time against the Eagles.
Notre Dame and Pitt is a continuation of a long-time BIG EAST rivalry that the Irish lead 32-18. However, the Panthers swept Notre Dame last season in Pittsburgh.
In addition to the road ACC series with NC State and Duke to open the conference slate, the Irish also play at NCAA Super Regional qualifier Florida State (April 4-6), NCAA Regional participant Miami (April 18-20) and Maryland (May 2-4).
The Irish haven’t played Miami since 1999 and trail the all-time series, 14-5.
Home regional mid-week opponents include Illinois-Chicago (March 25), NCAA Regional team Valparaiso (April 1), Chicago State (April 8), Michigan (April 9), Toledo (April 16), Central Michigan (April 22) and Western Michigan (April 30). The three lone mid-week road contests are Appalachian State (March 11), Michigan State (April 15) and Eastern Michigan (May 13).