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Softball: Irish hope to build momentum in Big East

Dan Murphy | Friday, April 21, 2006

Notre Dame welcomes two Big East teams to Ivy Field this weekend as it continues its quest to reach the top of the conference standings. The team hopes to be able to rack up four more victories, as it will play doubleheaders against Villanova and Rutgers.

Both teams are currently in the cellar of the conference with only six wins between them. But an upset win over a top tier team could be uplifting for the struggling clubs.

“These games are very important, because they won’t play like the bottom teams,” Irish coach Deanna Gumpf said. “[Rutgers and Villanova] always tend to have their best games against us.”

Notre Dame (27-14, 9-1 Big East) is currently in second place in the conference – one game behind the undefeated South Florida. With a showdown against the Bulls next weekend, the Irish will look to build momentum against the weaker competition at home this weekend.

The Bulls (38-19) have totaled eight wins in Big East play so far this year. However, they are just entering the toughest part of their schedule. In the next week, USF will face off with Pittsburgh and Syracuse before coming to Notre Dame on April 29. All three of the teams are in the top half of the conference standings.

“Right now the only thing I am concerned with is winning this weekend,” Gumpf said.

The fifth-year skipper is not looking past Saturday’s games with Villanova. The Wildcats have taken seven of their last 10 games and have exploded on offense in recent games. Freshman Meghan Morese has also been driving the ball out of the park – she leads the team with 10 home runs. Morese has played shortstop, third base and catcher for the Wildcats this season.

“We’re not going to pitch around her, but we will definitely give her the respect that she deserves at the plate,” Gumpf said.

Junior catcher Cassie Koenig and sophomore second baseman Jackie Dempsey have also added to an offense that has posted 32 runs in its past four games. Both players have started all 41 games for Villanova and are both hitting over .300.

The Rutgers pitching staff – which Notre Dame will battle Sunday – was able to shut down the powerful offense for two wins (9-1, 4-3) on April 15. The Scarlet Knights pitchers have been able to keep their opponents off balance by consistently changing speeds.

“We just have to make early adjustments,” junior Stephanie Brown said. “I tend to try to drive the ball the opposite way just so I don’t get too far out in front.”

When the Irish have been able to make the necessary changes early on, they have been successful. After starting out slow on Wednesday afternoon, the offense took off the second time through the order and ended up winning the game, 5-0.

“We can’t let these teams stick around with us, we need a couple of big wins this weekend,” Brown said.