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ND Softball: California to pose challenge on road

Dan Murphy | Friday, February 23, 2007

Notre Dame heads west this weekend to play in the Palm Springs Classic for the third time in program history. The Irish are slated to play doubleheaders this afternoon and Saturday before finishing their trip with an early Sunday morning matchup with Ole Miss. The team struggled in its last two appearances at the tournament that consistently draws the top teams in the nation. In its first appearance in Palm Springs, the team went 1-3 with big losses to Pacific (12-1) and the U.S. Olympic team (10-0). The Irish did not fare much better the following year, held to three runs in their first four games – all losses. However, they did salvage the trip by beating No. 5 Tennessee 5-2 in the final contest.”You find out very quickly where you are at early in the year,” Irish coach Deanna Gumpf said. “Some things aren’t completely worked out but it helps us locate our weaknesses early.”Notre Dame, who opened up the season with a 2-5 record at the Tiger Invitational last weekend, will face tough opponents again in California. Today will be the team’s toughest day as they square off against No. 10/12 Oklahoma and No. 11/17 California. The Sooners (11-0) won their past three games by a combined score of 37-3. Junior centerfielder Jamie Fox has led the recent onslaught with eight RBI.Sophomore pitcher Brittany Bargar will have her work cut out for her in shutting down Fox and the rest of the powerful Sooner lineup. Bargar went 2-1 last weekend, throwing complete games in both of her wins over hosts Auburn and Tennessee Tech. “We have to slow them down with great pitches,” Gumpf said. “If we put the ball in the right places we should be OK.” Senior Kenya Fuemmeler will get the start in the second game of the day against the Golden Bears. Cal enters the tournament with a 7-4 record and a three-game win streak of its own. However, run production has been streaky for the Bears so far this season – they have failed to score more than two runs in five of their games so far. Saturday games against UNLV and Cal State Fullerton round out Notre Dame’s schedule for the trips. The Irish played both team in the Las Vegas Classic at the start of the 2006 season. They handled the Runnin’ Rebels with no problems in a 9-3 win. Then-freshman Linda Kohan’s second career home run gave the Irish a comfortable lead early in the game. The following day, the offense slowed down against Fullerton, losing 3-2 in a pitcher’s duel. This year another freshman has taken over the home run crown for the Irish. Third-baseman Heather Johnson started out her Notre Dame career with a walk-off home run against Tennessee Tech in only her third collegiate game.”She is just a good ball player. She didn’t get nervous, she was nice and relaxed the whole weekend,” Gumpf said. Johnson currently leads the Big East conference in batting average (.500), on base percentage (.500) and slugging percentage (.750). Her eight hits and four RBI are also both good enough for fifth on the early conference leader board. Gumpf said she hopes the Irish can continue to hit well while working out some of last weekend’s kinks by shoring up their defense