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ND Softball: Squad travels to face Big East leader DePaul

Chris Masoud | Wednesday, April 8, 2009

In the Big East, each game is just as important as the next. But when the Irish take on defending conference champions DePaul today, the outcome of the doubleheader will mean just a little bit more to a team coming into its own.

Notre Dame (21-12, 7-2 Big East) is currently riding a hot streak, having won 13 of its last 15 games to rise to third overall in the conference. The Irish are coming off an impressive weekend of play, splitting a doubleheader with Pittsburgh on Saturday and sweeping Seton Hall on Sunday.

The Blue Demons (20-8, 8-1) have picked up where they left off last season, currently sitting atop the Big East rankings. DePaul’s 22-game home winning streak just came to an end on Saturday as Seton Hall handed the Blue Demons their first league loss of the season.

Irish coach Deanna Gumpf said the team will not change its approach to accommodate DePaul’s recent success.

“We prepare for all 15 teams the same way we’ve been preparing all year, and that’s just working on the fundamentals,” Gumpf said.

Led by the pitching tandem of senior Brittney Bargar and sophomore Jody Valdivia, the Irish will look to maintain their dominance on the mound against a dangerous DePaul lineup that has amassed 24 home runs this season.

“Bargar has kind of been our first game girl and Jody has been the second game girl and it’s really been working out for us for the most part,” Gumpf said. “A lot of great teams ride one pitcher the entire year, it’s awesome to be able to coach two of them. I’m expecting big-time, dominating performances from them on Wednesday.”

Bargar enters today’s doubleheader with an ERA of 1.70 and an opponent batting average of .224. She struck out seven last Sunday against Seton Hall.

Not to be outdone, Valdivia turned in one of her best performances of the year on Saturday. The sophomore carried a no-hitter against Pittsburgh into the fourth and finished the game with a career-high 14 strikeouts.

Despite their pitching dominance, the team’s greatest success this season has been at the plate, where the Irish have erupted for a combined 31 runs over their last four games.

Freshman Dani Miller and junior Christine Lux have led the charge for the Irish, coming up with clutch hits and taking full advantage of the mistakes of opposing pitchers. Miller leads the team with a .434 batting average and nine doubles, while Lux has belted eight home runs and driven in 29 runs.

“I just think they’re confident right now,” Gumpf said. “I don’t know if it’s timing or whatever you want to call it. They’re swinging the bats really well and they’re comfortable up to bat.”

The Irish will hope to maintain that confidence at the plate when they take the field at Melissa Cook Stadium today at 4 p.m.