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ND Softball: Dynamic duo leads Irish

Laura Myers | Tuesday, April 28, 2009

If pitching really is what wins ball games, the Irish must be pretty confident about the rest of the season.

Notre Dame’s two pitchers are at different points in their careers – senior Brittney Bargar (20-7) is a seasoned veteran, while sophomore Jody Valdivia (14-5) has spent 2009 adjusting to her increased role.

But the two have in common their success on the mound as well as their camaraderie off the field.

“Bargar is always right there to have my back, and I have hers,” Valdivia said. “We don’t compete. We do have friendly competitions between the pitchers and the rest of the team. Sometimes we gang up against the hitters.”

Bargar came into the season after a terrific 2008 in which she set Notre Dame single-season records for wins (30), appearances (54) and innings pitched (291.1). She was also named first-team all-Big East and second team all-region.

She has continued to pitch well this year, posting a 1.61 earned run average in 191.1 innings pitched. The senior is second in the Big East in ERA, and top five in the conference in wins and innings pitched.

” I expected the success I’ve had this year with less innings and appearances,” Bargar said. “I knew that with Jody coming back, having really grown in competence and ability, that we’d be splitting the time more evenly.”

Valdivia currently holds a 2.56 ERA and has more strikeouts (127) than innings pitched (123). She had a solid first year at the collegiate level, going 8-7 with a 3.15 ERA, but she said the experience has made her sophomore season much better.

“Freshman year was an experience about getting comfortable,” Valdivia said. “I think sophomore year I came out comfortable in different situations. It gives me confidence now that I’ve seen it, as opposed to freshman year when everything was so new.”

As a team, the Irish struggled early in the season, going 8-10 against teams like then-No. 1 Alabama before beginning Big East play.

“We started out against the best of the best,” Bargar said. “We learned a lot about hitters and the mental aspects of facing that competition.”

Valdivia has improved markedly since conference play began, posting a 7-0 record and 1.46 ERA in nine Big East contests.

“Starting out your season versus the teams Bargar and I did, I wouldn’t have wanted to start my season any other way,” Valdivia said. “It let me adjust by the time Big East came around to how I’d need to pitch to beat these teams.”

Valdivia stressed the excellent guidance she had received from Bargar.

“I think I lucked out tremendously having someone like Brittney to follow,” she said. “She’s been nothing but helpful and a model of what you’re supposed to be at by senior year.”

After the season comes to a close, Bargar will be stepping into a new position at Sears in Chicago, where she recently accepted a job offer.

Valdivia will also be stepping into a new position – veteran pitcher.

“I realized that I have to step into Brittney’s shoes and guide the two incoming freshman pitchers just like she did for me,” Valdivia said.

Bargar said she has no doubt about Valdivia’s ability as a leader.

“Jody’s already stepping up into that leadership role,” Bargar said. “She’ll do an awesome job.”

But for now the two are focused on the present, which includes finishing the season against No. 18 Louisville before the Big East championship and possibly the NCAA tournament.

“I think our team has set ourselves up for the Big East tournament and we’re really rolling and confident going into the end of the season,” Valdivia said.

Added Bargar, “All we care about is putting the team in a position to win every game. We just want to pitch well and look for the W.”