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ND Softball: Notre Dame tries to extend streak against Valpo

Laura Coletti | Thursday, April 18, 2013

Riding a four-game winning streak, the Irish will host Valparaiso this afternoon.

The Crusaders (21-19, 6-6 Horizon League) have historically given Notre Dame (30-10, 10-1 Big East) competitive games, and the team expects this season to be no different.

“We know that they’re definitely going to come out at us with their best game both offensively and defensively,” senior pitcher Brittany O’Donnell said. “So we know that we have to attack back and keep our level of play hard.”

The Irish seem to have established a rhythm as of late, after a short streak of being inconsistent at the plate and dropping games to weaker opponents. They swept a three-game series with Rutgers last weekend and took down Michigan State on the road on Tuesday.

“Those games [we lost] are definitely a wake-up call for us, that that’s not where our level of play should be and that we should expect more of ourselves,” O’Donnell said. “I think recently everything has started to click and we’ve realized what a special and talented group of girls we really are, and that if we play the way we know how we can beat anyone.”

Freshman catcher/outfielder Casey Africano belted her first two career home runs last weekend, both of which proved to be game-winners. In the series against Rutgers, the California native went 3-for-6 with two home runs, six RBI, three runs scored and 10 total bases. Africano was named to this week’s Big East Weekly Honor Roll for her performances.

“Casey is a tremendous team player,” O’Donnell said. “She always puts the team first. Her work ethic is so hard day in and day out that it’s showing right now in her play and in her at-bats just how much hard work pays off.”

Today, the Irish will look to Africano and the rest of the squad to keep the Crusaders at bay. Although this year’s senior class has never lost to Valparaiso, the last three meetings include a gritty 6-3 win in 2012 and a narrow 7-6 victory in 2010.

“They always gave us a good game,” O’Donnell said. “They try to keep us off-balance and we know that at the plate we have to make good pitch selection, and be solid with defense and pitching.”

As the Irish begin to wind down the regular season schedule, O’Donnell said the team is doing its best to keep their mentality strong.

“We know that we have to keep moving forward, that way for the end of the year and postseason, we are where we need to be,” she said. “This keeps our mentality in check and our momentum going forward.”

Action will begin at 5:00 p.m. at Melissa Cook Stadium.

Contact Laura Coletti at lcoletti@nd.edu