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ND Softball: Flying against the Falcons

Kelsey Manning | Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The difference between the nine-game winning streak that began Notre Dame’s season and the one the squad will look to extend in tomorrow’s doubleheader against Bowling Green is simple — this time around, the Irish know what it is like to lose.

“I don’t think the streaks are much different in terms of how we feel,” senior catcher Alexia Clay said. “The ball was rolling then and it is still rolling now. I guess the difference is the games between the streaks. Every team has to go through some learning experiences and some hardships.”

Those hardships include a pair of losses in early March to cut short Notre Dame’s record-setting season start and a 2-4 Spring Break loss at the Judi Garman Classic in Fullerton, Calif., that left the squad disappointed, but with the knowledge that it has the talent to compete with top teams.

Clay said that while losing is never easy, it has aided the Irish squad and promoted team growth.

“Those [hardships] are what help you grow, help you become tougher and help you be better,” she said. “We were in a good place to start, went through some things and are in an even better place now. The team is really starting to run on all cylinders.”

The Irish (26-7, 5-0 Big East) have only gained momentum in recent games. Over the weekend, the team had a dominating performance at Syracuse that kept it undefeated in Big East play. Notre Dame has had a commanding presence in the Big East of late, as senior third baseman Heather Johnson earned Big East Player of the Week honors for the second straight week. Freshman pitcher Laura Winter was named Big East Pitcher of the Week this week for the first time in her career.

Johnson improved her current hitting streak to 15 games this weekend, going 10-for-19 with eight RBIs and two homers for an impressive .895 slugging percentage over the past week.

A 2010 All-Big East selection, Johnson has not struck out in 19 at-bats and has struck out just seven times in 106 at-bats this season.

Standing at 6-foot-1, Winter had an equally impressive week, giving up only 13 hits in 18 innings with a whopping 24 strikeouts. She allowed just three earned runs on the week for a 1.17 ERA, one of the notable tallies that earned her the honor of Big East Pitcher of the Week.

With the freshman and senior leading the way on their respective sides of the ball, the Irish are hoping to roll through contests against Bowling Green (4-21) and Loyola Chicago (15-15) on their home turf this week. Regardless of the team’s recent success, Notre Dame still has specific goals in mind.

“We will still be focusing on manufacturing runs, not leaving runners on base and strong defense,” Clay said. “We also consistently work on keeping the positive energy going.”

It is with that enthusiasm that the Irish are approaching Big East play next weekend with a three-game series against Louisville.

“Louisville is always a tough team and are doing really well this year,” Clay said. “We can definitely sweep [the Cardinals], but it will be tough, so a large display of fan support would really help. Louisville is a game we always look forward to because they are one of our toughest opponents throughout the year.”

The team is looking forward to the weekend for personal reasons as well.

“[This weekend] is our Strikeout Cancer series, which supports the awareness and search for a cure for pediatric leukemia, which our coach’s daughter was diagnosed with this summer,” Clay said. “We have a lot of silent auction items for which all the proceeds go to cancer care and research, and a homerun derby after the games, plus a bounce house and fun games.”

Despite the anticipation for the upcoming weekend, the Irish remain focused on the task at hand, namely continuing their winning streak when conference play resumes Saturday.

Sharp defense, consistent pitching by Winter and a balanced offensive attack will be key as the squad takes on Bowling Green tomorrow at 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. at Melissa Cook Stadium.