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ND Softball: Notre Dame returns home after trip to California

Kelsey Manning | Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The picturesque California weather masked a turbulent spring break for Notre Dame, as the Irish finished 4-4 on a West Coast trip after facing five top-20 teams.

The Irish (16-6) opened the week with two wins in a doubleheader against Cal Poly (3-20).

Junior Dani Miller and senior Heather Johnson both hit home runs, as the Irish rolled to a 4-1 victory in the opener. Freshman Laura Winter struck out five in the second game to lead Notre Dame to a 2-1 win.

Following the sweep, the Irish took on the field at the Judi Garman Classic in Fullerton, Calif., with six games in four days. The tournament started on March 16 with mixed results for the squad, as Notre Dame upset No. 9 Oklahoma (26-7) 2-1, but fell by the mercy rule to Cal State Fullerton (8-14) in the second game of a doubleheader.

Saint Patrick’s Day brought no luck for the Irish, and the team dropped a game to No. 19 Louisiana-Lafayette (17-10) by the score of 5-1. The team rounded out the tournament with a 5-0 win against New Mexico (12-13), a hard-fought 7-4 loss to No. 4 Washington (22-2), and a disappointing 9-4 defeat to No. 5 Michigan (28-2).

Senior catcher Alexia Clay said that despite the mixed performance, the team’s chemistry is strong.

“We’ve always known that we have talented players on this team, but especially this year with the chemistry and the people, the whole team fits together and everyone is working together, not just nine starters,” she said. “We have 21 girls, and they’re going out there and doing their jobs, whatever they are.”

Leading the Irish throughout the week was the breakout offensive performance of freshman outfielder Lauren Stuhr, who raised her average to .333 on the season with a blistering tournament at the plate. Despite Stuhr’s offensive breakout, Clay said the Irish were disappointed not to win more games on the trip.

“I think that our dissatisfaction comes from the fact that we know we actually can win those games now, and we are a little bit disappointed,” Clay said. “However, there is comfort in knowing that we were in the games and it’s not like we were scoreless against teams that were ranked. So I think it was kind of a disappointing weekend overall, but I do think that there’s a positive, and I think the team is seeing both ends of that.”

Clay added that the high level of competition — the Irish faced top-five teams in their last two games of the Classic — would benefit the team later on in the season.

“When you play really good teams, five different aspects of the game have to all be working together really well,” Clay said. “Things like getting the bunt down or base running errors, things that don’t necessarily show up in box scores — [those] are the things that help teams succeed in the post-season when you do them well.”

The Irish host Eastern Michigan (9-4) tonight in their first home doubleheader of the season at Melissa Cook Stadium at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.