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Home season will begin on Saturday with doubleheader

Heather VanHoegarden | Friday, March 19, 2004

After playing tournaments on the road in warm climates, the Irish come home this weekend to cold and snow flurries in their home opener.”It’s going to be cold,” Irish outfielder Megan Ciolli said.Notre Dame (17-9) opens its home schedule against Eastern Michigan (8-8) in a Saturday doubleheader. ‘We love playing at home,” Ciolli said. “Our parents and friends will be here. You can’t beat playing at home.”The Eagles come to South Bend after a doubleheader split with IUPUI. Nikki Denman leads Eagle hitters with a .388 batting average, including 10 RBIs. Meanwhile, their pitching staff is led by ace Michelle Lloyd, who boasts a 1.99 ERA and is 3-1 on the year. Sunday, the Irish travel to Kalamazoo, Mich., where they face Western Michigan (10-11). The Broncos are fresh off a doubleheader split as well at the Indiana University Classic last weekend. Jaymie Voss hits .322 on the year with two doubles.”The Midwest trip will fine tune our skills,” Ciolli said. “We need to be consistent, and that will come.”Notre Dame is led offensively by Ciolli, who is hitting .395 with 11 steals. Meanwhile, infielder Meagan Ruthrauff has been the Irish RBI leader, with 21, and has four home runs and a .348 batting average.The Irish, who were picked to win their third straight Big East title at the beginning of the year, have also been keyed by clutch pitching. Heather Booth leads the way with her 9-3 record. She has given up just 71 hits and 28 runs in 96 1/3 innings, good for a 1.38 ERA. No. 2 starter Steffany Stenglein is 5-6 with a 2.58 ERA.As the Irish return home, they look to build on last week’s disappointments. Notre Dame was at Florida Atlantic for the FAU/Worth Invitational the weekend of Mar. 6. There, the Irish lost their first two games to Florida International, 2-1, and to Massaschusetts, 4-2.But, Notre Dame went 5-2 at the Florida State Invitational, losing to No. 11 Michigan 3-0 and Texas A&M 2-1.”We fought back and played well at FSU – nobody’s making excuses,” Ciolli said. “That showed a lot of character. Coming off preseason, we have a lot to build on. It’s been a great preseason. It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.”And for the Irish, who have played one of the toughest preseasons in the country, nothing could be more true.”I love [the tough schedule],” Ciolli said. “It’s great for our program. People are starting to respect our program. This team just has so much character.” Game time is set for 1 p.m. Saturday at Ivy Field.