GARY | When Adam Norton entered Notre Dame after a state championship baseball season at Andrean, he was rarely used as a pitcher.
Norton started 31 of 37 games as a freshman in the Irish uniform, 26 of them at third base and another five at shortstop.
As an infielder with the 59ers, he was a quick stopper, especially when arm soreness limited his pitching appearances during his senior season.
At the plate, he set four state records: doubles in a season, plus career marks for hits, RBIs and doubles. So it was no wonder the former Irish staff wanted his bat in the lineup. He hit .261 with 15 RBIs and nine doubles as a freshman.
When Mik Aoki took over as head coach in 2010, Norton was pitching more and more.
"When we watched Norty during the course of the fall and first spring we were there, we saw a kid that was going to have his greatest impact on our program on the mound," Aoki said Tuesday after Notre Dame beat Kent State in a game at U.S. Steel Yard. "Having said that, he's still probably our first backup at third base and our first backup at shortstop and a kid we nurture along his hitting. ... He has that acumen for us as well, but for us we looked at it that the brightest part of his future is on the mound."
This season, Norton is making more noise on the mound. In six starts heading into Friday's game against Louisville, he is 6-0 with a 1.44 ERA that is the 66th-best in the country.
"When you've got a solid defense behind you, it's easy to sit there and throw strikes in the zone and let the hitters get themselves out and let the defense take care of the job," Norton said.
The senior said he feels that every pitch is on point right now.
"So far this year, I've had good command of my stuff, and that's the biggest part, being able to throw all of my pitches for a strike," Norton said, "and making the hitters focus on more than one pitch. It's easy if your off-speed is always in the dirt, then they're just going to sit on the fastball, so it's easy when everything is working for a strike."
"You look at the numbers and the record and he's been outstanding," Aoki said. "Adam has been great for us for the whole time our staff has been here. If it's possible, he's even commanding the ball better than he was last year, and this is a kid that led the country in fewest walks. He's a really hard match-up for hitters, because he can literally throw about five different pitches and virtually any count."
Norton was named to the Big East honor roll for the week that ended March 17 after throwing eight shut-out innings against then-No. 20 Cal Poly.
"He's ridiculously efficient with his pitching that he gets good contact, and it's off-the-barrel contact that he's getting," Aoki said. "I'm sure we're going to run into one of these days that guys get it on the barrel and start hitting, but to this point he's been outstanding. We've lost a couple of Friday nights in our last two series, and boom, Saturday he evens it up for us and gives us a chance to come back in that series. It's been a really nice thing to have, and more importantly, he's just a phenomenal kid."