SOUTH BEND, Ind. — There’s a school in Indiana that, for years, has created a major competitive advantage by providing student-athletes with an elite combination of education and athletic opportunities. I’m talking about the University of Notre Dame, of course.
College Baseball Central talked with baseball head coach Mik Aoki Thursday and his assessment of this year’s team could mean cheers for old Notre Dame in 2015.
“From top to bottom there is not much of a drop off,” Aoki explains. “But I am excited about this year’s pitching staff. We have versatility and power, along with very good freshman.”
Players like junior LHP Michael Hearne (Palos Heights, IL/Marist), and team captain Mac Hudgins (Richmond, VA/Douglas S. Freeman), an outfielder, embody what Aoki is talking about.
“Michael Hearne is setting the tone of how we go about our work in the classroom, on the field, and in society” Aoki stated. “Guys like Kyle Rubbinaccio, who has had a tough comeback from Tommy John surgery, is an emotional leader with a fiery personality that holds the kids accountable, and goes beyond whether he is pitching or hurt — he can still help.”
The Irish return experience and add young talent to the hitting and pitching in 2015, with a solid core of players that includes sophomore INF Cavan Biggio (Houston, TX/St. Thomas), who Aoki says will be playing second base, and freshman RHP Evy Ruibal (Millburn, NJ/Millburn), a sensation in high school who ranked as the sixth best RHP in New Jersey, and the ninth best overall player by Perfect Game after his senior year. The kid can hit too!
Ruibal, nationally, batted .390 with 36 hits and two home runs on his way to earning Essex County Player of the Year honors as a senior.
“I like where this team is at in terms of their attitude,” Aoki said.
And if, “attitude is everything” the Atlantic Coast Conference is “the kitchen sink”. Because that’s what’s being thrown at Notre Dame this year, in a conference that is as dangerous and daunting as any conference in college baseball.
The ACC has teams like No. 3 ranked Virginia, No. 6 North Carolina, No. 11 Louisville, No 15 Miami, and No 21 Florida State constructing one of the toughest conferences ever. I mean you couldn’t find a tougher league to salvage a win in if you put an ad in the paper.
“I am excited about it,” Aoki stated about the ACC competition caliber. “We have an opportunity to play against the best. This league is full of phenomenal talent, I mean it’s as exciting as you can get. I think our guys are going to have to understand about the level of baseball we are going to face, because there is an element of getting comfortable in playing in this league that the players are showing. I think once that happens, things will be what we need.”
Notre Dame starts action 02/13/15 vs. SIU-Edwardsville in Norman, Okla. (L. Dale Mitchell Park) 2:00 p.m. ET.