For the first time in a few months, Irish captain Frank DeSico will have a chance to relax and enjoy himself Friday. DeSico and his teammates earned a day off in the double-elimination Big East Tournament by winning their first two games earlier in the week.
Senior captain Frank DeSico was 5 for 8 with two runs scored and two RBI in Notre Dame’s wins over Seton Hall and Pitt.
The last two months of the senior second basemen’s college career have been more of a struggle than he anticipated. After a 10-3 start to the regular season that earned the team national attention, the Irish and DeSico lost a bit of their mojo.
He hit .254 from the leadoff spot, but felt like he could have done more. As the losses in conference play started to pile up, DeSico tried to do more, which sent him in the wrong direction.
“I’ve had a year that it wasn’t exactly what I expected,” he said Thursday night. “I would’ve hoped for a little bit better production offensively but it was a really good opportunity for me to grow as a person and to really learn about the struggles of the game of baseball. … If you try to do too much and come outside who you are as a player and what the game gives you, you’re not going to be successful.”
DeSico said he’s tried to take that lesson to heart this week while playing with his career on the line at the conference tournament in Clearwater, Fla. It’s working. The senior is 5 for 8 with two runs scored and two RBI in a pair of upset wins over second-seeded Seton Hall and third-seeded Pittsburgh.
His ability to get on base at the top of the order has helped keep No. 7 seed Notre Dame (33-23, 10-14 Big East) in the winner’s bracket heading into the weekend. The Irish won their first two games of the annual tournament for the first time since 2006, which happens to be the last time they won a Big East championship.
“’He’s been really big for us,” head coach Mik Aoki said. “When this season comes to an end I think he’s going to be able to look back with an enormous sense of pride that he left it all out there. He has just poured his heart and soul into this thing. He’s been unbelievable in the effort and his attempt to really get our guys rallying around this thing.”
DeSico said he’s done his best all season to try to keep a positive outlook for the team despite his own individual struggles at the plate. Notre Dame looked like a lock to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament during their hot start in February and March. For reasons Aoki couldn’t quite explain, the Irish played their way out of an automatic bid with inconsistent play during the last couple of months.
The team arrived in Florida knowing they needed to win a conference title to keep their season alive. Two standout performances by starting pitchers Adam Norton and Pat Connaughton led to 5-0 and 5-3 wins on Wednesday and Thursday.
Norton threw a complete game shutout. Connaughton scattered nine hits through six innings and also did not allow an earned run. He found himself in a couple of jams against Pitt’s offense, the most productive group in the conference this season, but managed to make enough big pitches to work out of each jam.
Aoki said he’s hoping that they’ve learned enough to know that the momentum they’ve built is fleeting.
“I think what we all learned from the trials and tribulations of the last half of the season is that the momentum is only as good as one game really,” he said. “We gotta come out and play with a sense or urgency every game. Thus far the kids have been doing great with that.”
He said the significance of a day off Friday while the four teams still surviving in the loser’s bracket sort themselves out “can’t be overstated.” The extra day allows the Irish bullpen to head into the weekend at full strength. It also gives Notre Dame a chance to start Norton again in Sunday’s championship game if they get that far — a major plus for a group that has to develop a deep starting rotation.
“If the guys don’t enjoy themselves and look at it as a day to relax, I think it would be a poor decision,” DeSico said. “It’s a good opportunity to soak in the two wins, because that’s big. It’s a good opportunity for those guys to realize what we’re capable of doing when we play up to our potential.”
The Irish will take on the winner of a Seton Hall-Pittsburgh matchup Saturday morning at 10 a.m. A win will earn them a spot in the championship game.
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