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ND Softball: ND to open at home with IUPUI

Dan Murphy | Thursday, March 22, 2007

Notre Dame plays its first game of the year at Ivy Field tonight. After going 9-12 against stiff competition over the past four weeks, the Irish take on IUPUI in a final tune-up before starting conference play this weekend. The Jaguars got off to a very slow start this year, losing their first 11 contests. However, IUPUI worked out the kinks last weekend at the Rebel Games in Kissimee, Fla., and went 5-1 in the tournament. The turnaround included a 10-0 rout against Army and a thrilling come-from-behind 6-5 win over Fairleigh Dickinson in extra innings. Sophomore pitcher Breanna Howell, who will most likely start for the Jags tomorrow, picked up the win in both contests. Howell leads the team with a 4-3 record and an ERA of 4.03. The only other IUPUI pitcher to pick up a win on the season is senior Angelica Espinosa. The Jaguars have made just one trip to Notre Dame in the program’s history in 1999 – IUPUI came away with a 2-1 victory in nine innings. This time around the Irish are a bit more accustomed to picking up wins late in close games. Notre Dame is 3-1 in one-run games, with all three of those wins coming in walk-off fashion. The Irish bats have struggled recently scoring only four runs in the past five games including shutout losses to Pacific, No. 8 Texas and No. 2 Arizona State. The IUPUI pitching staff should help the Notre Dame hitters get back on track after facing powerhouses from some of the top programs in the country. The Irish have been without their leading hitter, senior outfielder Stephanie Brown, during the five-game slump. Brown was injured during practice when a ground ball took a bad hop and caught her just below the nose. Prior to the injury, she was hitting .440 with 15 runs scored from the leadoff position.Since Brown went down, Notre Dame has turned to its pitching staff to try to bail the team out. Sophomore hurler Brittany Bargar currently leads the team with a 2.77 ERA, but her record has dropped to 6-7 with tough losses to the Sun Devils, Longhorns and No. 16 Louisiana-Lafayette all in the past week. Bargar will look to get back to the .500 mark with a win over the Jaguars tonight.Tonight’s game is the first of five that Notre Dame will play this weekend at home. The Irish have doubleheaders scheduled against St. John’s Saturday and Seton Hall Sunday. Saturday’s matchup will mark the beginning of Big East play as Notre Dame attempts to defend its 2006 conference championship.