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ND Softball: Momentum carries Irish to Michigan State

Megan Finneran | Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Riding the momentum of this weekend’s three-game sweep of Rutgers, the Irish square off against Michigan State on Tuesday night in East Lansing, Mich

Notre Dame (29-10, 10-1 Big East) took down the Scarlet Knights by a combined score of 16-3 in the first two games of the series before defeating Rutgers, 8-6, behind seven runs in the bottom of the seventh inning.

“The Rutgers games showed us that we can overcome anything and fight back no matter what the score,” senior catcher Amy Buntin said. “Everyone in the lineup did their job and executed when we needed it the most.”

Freshman catcher/outfielder Casey Africano earned a spot on the Big East Weekly Honor Roll for her contributions during the weekend series. 

Africano went 3-for-6 with a 1.667 slugging percentage and six RBI in the three games. She added a home run during the first game Sunday against Rutgers after smacking her first career home run Saturday.

The Irish will continue to look to Africano and other key hitters on the offensive end. 

Sophomore catcher Cassidy Whidden, whose walk-off home run in the seventh inning capped the three-game sweep of Rutgers, also figures to play a key role offensively.

Despite the excitement of the late-game heroics, Buntin said the Irish need to regain momentum quicker.

“We learned this weekend that, when the momentum shifts to the other team, we need to do a better job of regaining that momentum back,” Buntin said.

Defensively Notre Dame will look to junior pitcher Laura Winter (18-8) to hold steady on the mound.

Michigan State (21-17, 7-4 Big Ten) dropped all three games to No. 12 Michigan in their series this weekend. The Spartans fell 21-2 in five innings in the first game of the weekend and 11-2 in six innings in Game Two before losing 8-7 in eight innings in Game Three.

Senior outfielder Kylene Hopkins leads the Spartans offensively with a .424 batting average, ranking her seventh in the Big Ten. Junior outfielder Sarah Bowling leads the squad in RBIs and home runs with 30 and six, respectively.

Junior pitcher Kelly Smith (16-9) has been the ace in the Michigan State circle and has posted a 2.48 ERA and 174 strikeouts in 161 innings. Smith also has recorded six shutouts on the season.

“We’re going to approach Michigan State like everyone else and worry about playing Notre Dame softball for seven innings,” Buntin said. “If we can do that, we’ll be just fine [Tuesday].”

The Irish face off with Michigan State on Tuesday at 5 p.m. at Secchia Stadium in East Lansing, Mich.

Contact Megan Finneran at mfinnera@nd.edu