At the Notre Dame Fighting Irish look toward the 2012 season -- which starts on Feb. 17 against Illinois -- they're optimistic they can improve on last year's 23-29-1 (13-13 in the Big East) record.
There is still a lot of youth on the team, and several key contributors are back in 2012.
Second-year coach Mik Aoki has a couple of goals in mind for his team:
"We have certain goals already set, including 35 plus wins and a BIG EAST conference regular season and tournament championship," Aoki said.
To make progress toward those goals, the Irish will need to pick up the offense in 2012; last season, they hit just .239/.315/.325 as a team. Fortunately, power-hitting first baseman Trey Mancini, who accounted for nine of the team's 18 home runs in 2011, returns to the fold. So does Eric Jagielo, who hit .269/.355/.418 with five home runs last year.
There are questions surrounding the pitching staff as well, as the team must replace its entire weekend rotation. Cole Johnson (2.76 ERA in 2011) and Brian Dupra (3.10) in particular leave some big shoes to fill.
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