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ND Softball: Irish win two, stay in first

Jack Yusko | Monday, April 18, 2011

The Irish won their three-game weekend series with Louisville despite taking their first Big East loss in the series finale Sunday afternoon. Notre Dame notched 8-5 and 4-3 victories in the first two games before falling by a 9-6 score in the finale.

The No. 24 Irish (31-8, 7-1 Big East) secured their first win in the rain Saturday with a walk-off three-run homerun by freshman outfielder Lauren Stuhr. With the score tied at 5 heading into the bottom of the seventh inning, Stuhr made good use of her only at-bat to hit her second career homerun and win the game with one swing.

Freshman pitcher Laura Winters threw 23 strikes with her first 24 pitches and senior captain Heather Johnson hit a team-best eighth home run to extend her hitting streak to 19 games.

“Our offense was great in all three games,” junior outfielder Alexa Maldonado said. “We came through with big hits and scored runs when we needed to.”

The Irish came from behind in the second game to win 4-3 behind the excellent pitching of sophomore pitcher Brittany O’Donnell. O’Donnell relieved senior starter Jody Valdivia in the third inning and proceeded to shut out Louisville (32-13, 10-4) for the remainder of the game.

In the third game of the series, the Irish held a six-run lead until the Cardinals rallied in the sixth inning. The Cardinal offense exploded, posting nine runs off nine hits to end Notre Dame’s 14-game winning streak and hand the squad its first conference loss in the process.

“In the third game our pitching fell apart and the [Cardinals] strung a lot of hits together,” Maldonado said.

Though they saw a long winning streak come to an end on the weekend, the Irish remained positive in the wake of a series win against the team chasing them in the conference standings.

“We are the best team in the Big East and should win it all,” Maldonado said. “We just need to continue playing how we have been.”

Maldonado said the team is focusing ahead on an upcoming series with Villanova.

“We’re just going to continue moving forward,” Maldonado said. “We will work hard this week at practice and will bring our best game to Villanova.”

The Irish travel Thursday to play Villanova in another Big East series with a doubleheader starting at noon and 2 p.m. Thursday and a finale beginning at 11 a.m. Saturday.