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Softball: Providence to challenge recent string of success

Mike Monaco | Friday, April 27, 2012

On the road again.

The Irish, coming off an 11-game homestand in which they won nine games, head to the East Coast this weekend to take on Providence in the penultimate conference series of the regular season.

While the confines of Melissa Cook Stadium have been particularly friendly – the Irish (29-13, 10-3 Big East) are 16-2 at home and have won their last eight games there – the team hasn’t played an away game since a 7-6 loss to Rutgers on April 11.

Irish coach Deanna Gumpf said road games are important as preparation for the Big East tournament as well as the NCAA tournament.

“We just need to start playing really well on the road coming down the stretch,” Gumpf said. “Every game is critical in Big East play and we want these games to prepare us for the conference tournament and also for a potential at-large bid for the NCAA tournament.”

Although the Friars (15-31, 6-9) come in having lost 13 of their last 15 games, Providence will be looking to knock off the Irish with a postseason berth at stake. The top eight teams from the Big East advance to the conference tournament, and the Friars currently find themselves in 10th place with six games to go. Gumpf said Notre Dame needs to stay in control against its feisty opponent by scoring runs.

“[Providence] is better than their record shows,” Gumpf said. “They beat Seton Hall – who we just beat – in two out of three games … They’re scrappy and they have a good offense but we need to attack the ball offensively. We need to score a lot so we can stay in control of the game.”

The Irish will likely face senior pitcher Alicia Grosso and junior pitcher Corinne Clauss over the weekend. The Notre Dame offense has averaged just over five runs a game during its recent eight-game winning streak. Gumpf said the key to scoring runs against the likes of Grosso and Clauss is putting runners on base.

“We really have to have a great offensive team threat,” Gumpf said. “When we get runners on we score. We’ve done that against everyone for the most part but it’s really important down the stretch so we can let our speed take over.”

The Irish have excelled in putting runners on base recently, and senior first baseman Dani Miller has been driving them in. The California native, who has homered in each of her last three games and five of her last seven, now leads the team with 12 home runs, 83 total bases and a .680 slugging percentage.

“There’s never a day that [Miller] isn’t working to better her swing a little bit,” Gumpf said. “She’s never satisfied. She has been focused on making a few adjustments and it’s been huge. She looks like a different hitter because she has been working hard with hitting coach Lizzy [Lemire].”

While the offense has been steady for Notre Dame, the pitching and defense have been equally consistent during the last month, a time span in which the Irish have won 18 of 21 games.

Sophomore pitcher Laura Winter – who threw a no-hitter Saturday against DePaul – has been the workhorse of the staff, completing 19 of her team-leading 27 starts. Winter is 20-8 with a 1.95 ERA and is looking to continue her recent success, Gumpf said.

“Right now it’s at the point where every outing has to be a good one, if only to stay consistent coming down the stretch,” Gumpf said.

Gumpf said the team is also hoping junior pitcher Brittany O’Donnell can pick up right where she left off against Seton Hall on Wednesday.

“I’m expecting more from [O’Donnell],” Gumpf said. “She dominated Seton Hall in those last few innings so that was good to see. We really need to get outings like that from her.”

The Irish square off with Providence on Saturday at 12 p.m. and again at 2 p.m. at Raymond Field in Providence, R.I. The teams return Sunday to conclude the series at 12 p.m.

Contact Mike Monaco at jmonaco@nd.edu