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ND Softball: Broncos claim win over ND

Kelsey Manning | Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The weather was not the only thing cold for the Irish on Tuesday, as their struggle to generate offense resulted in a 3-2 loss to Western Michigan on their home turf. The loss snapped Notre Dame’s 21-game home winning streak, the fifth longest in the nation.

Though the Irish (17-7) out-hit the Broncos 9-4, an explosive first-inning for Western Michigan put Notre Dame in a deficit that they were never able to recover from. Senior pitcher Joey Valdivia struggled early, allowing three earned runs in the first, including a two-run homer to Western Michigan junior Tara Buchanan.

Notre Dame’s numerous hits belied the deficit.

“I don’t think that the team was nervous,” senior catcher Lex Clay said. “I don’t think that we really realized we were losing until the fifth inning because we had been getting so many hits — we had eight hits within four innings — and we were getting runners on base. We just weren’t executing. So I think people didn’t realize until near the end of the game that we were actually still down, and then we had to press a little bit.”

From the second inning on, Notre Dame’s pitching was nearly flawless, allowing the Broncos just two more hits and serving 10 strikeouts on the day. Though the Irish pitching staff has struggled of late, freshman pitcher Laura Winter was a bright spot in Tuesday’s game. She kept the Irish in the game by attacking the Broncos, throwing 23 strikes in 27 pitches.

“The pitchers are trying to work on that [throwing strikes] and the defense is trying to play behind them,” Clay said. “So we’re really trying to stay focused and still improve defensively because the reality is we still need to improve to do well in the postseason.”

On the other side of the ball, however, Notre Dame remained stagnant. Of the team’s 10 hits, senior Heather Johnson’s two-run triple in the third was the only one to lead to runs scored.

In the final four innings, despite Winter and junior Alexa Maldonado both tallying three-for-four hitting performances, Notre Dame was simply unable to keep the game close. The Irish left 10 runners on base during the loss.

“I think for us it’s very important to focus on execution because we did have 10 hits — they just weren’t timely,” Clay said. “So I think that focusing on being a clutch player offensively will really help us.”

The team was visibly stunned by the loss, but Clay admitted that the team has room to grow. She said last Friday’s convincing 4-1 victory over Northern Illinois was not Notre Dame’s finest performance.

“Even though we won the last game and we executed very well, we still haven’t been playing our best,” the senior said. “So maybe we’re in a bit of a slump. I’m not sure, but our team is pretty resilient and I’m confident that we’ll get back out of it.”

The Irish will attempt to do just that as they take to Melissa Cook Stadium once again against Purdue (19-7) Thursday at 5 p.m.