WEIRTON -- Notre Dame baseball coach Patrick Marozzi isn’t feeling any pressure and the pressure that is put on his team is generated from within.
The Irish returned its top six players from last year’s Class A State Tournament semifinal team, including one who was lost to injury in 2013, so the expectations are as high as they can be.
Notre Dame is No. 1 in Class A in the Daily Mail Sports Writer’s Baseball Poll.
“Preseason No. 1, still No. 1, doesn’t mean anything,” said senior shortstop Chris Petrucci. “Our ultimate goal is a state championship. If we don’t accomplish that, our season’s a failure.”
Strong words, perhaps, but Notre Dame dropped a heartbreaking 4-3 semifinal decision to Magnolia at Appalachian Power Park. The Irish had just three hits and surrendered two runs in the top of the seventh inning to fall to the eventual Class A runner-up.
The Irish returned two first-team All-State players in pitcher T.J. McKinsey and shortstop Chris Petrucci and second-team member and pitcher Spencer Harlow.
Coach Patrick Marozzi’s team is 6-2, but its two losses came to a pair of ranked teams -- 3-1 to No. 8 Gilmer County and 4-3 to No. 3 Madonna.
“We’ve hit the ball well all season long,” Marozzi said. “We average 10 to 12 hits a game. That’s been a real positive for us. We have two or three guys off the bench that can help us in key situations. D.J. Murphy had his first start of the season (in the Catholic Schools Tournament) and had a hit.”
Murphy adds to Notre Dame’s depth. He had shoulder surgery and starting to feel comfortable again.
Senior Kolby Abruzzino missed all of last season after having microfracture surgery in April 2013. He suffered the injury during a regional basketball game and had to sit while watching his team fall short in the state semis.
“It was iffy at first, we didn’t know what it was,” Abruzzino said. “I want to prove I’m back and have a good season. We all have a chip on our shoulder. We’re all disgusted how (last season) ended. I want to have a good season and that’s the same for all the other guys.”
The Irish have an uphill battle in its quest for a championship.
The good news for the Irish is that none of the teams in Region 2 -- South Harrison, Tygarts Valley, Tucker County, Pocahontas County, Harman, Pendleton County, Moorefield, Paw Paw and East Hardy -- are state ranked.
The bad news is the rest of the top 10 in Class A has a history of success, including 2013 state semifinalist Valley-Fayette (No. 2), unbeaten St. Marys, defending champion Charleston Catholic (No. 6), 2006 Class AA state champion Magnolia, 2009 runner-up Man (No. 10) and 2001 Class A champion Gilmer County (No. 8).
Notre Dame’s history of success is only recent, with Marozzi -- who is in his fifth season as coach -- guiding the Irish to only one State Tournament (2013).
Prior to last season, Notre Dame lost in the 2008 state semifinals and the 2005 state title game.
But, the Irish is primed for a state title with a roster full of experience.
“Honestly, I don’t think there’s any pressure right now,” Marozzi said. “When we get closer to State Tournament time, it’ll pick up, but right now we’re just playing games. We’re just trying to get better.
“I read a quote from Mike Krzyzewski. It’s so basic but so smart. He said, ‘You make a conscious effort to get better each day, winning will take care of itself.’ I said, ‘Guys, it doesn’t get any easier than that.’”