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ND Softball

Notre Dame to face off against North Carolina in ACC clash

| Friday, April 22, 2016

No. 18 Notre Dame will look to extend its nine-game winning streak when it travels to Anderson Family Field for a three-game set with North Carolina starting with a doubleheader Sunday.

The Irish (34-6, 9-3 ACC) continued their offensive tear Wednesday against Valparaiso, scoring seven runs on a team performance of nine hits in 25 at bats. Their .360 average in the game raised their season average to .348 from the dish, good for the sixth-best mark nationally. Irish head coach Deanna Gumpf said she thought Notre Dame’s lineup continued its strong season in the win, which is indicative of how talented the roster is from top to bottom.

“I think our starting lineup did a great job,” Gumpf said. “We made the pitchers work really hard early in the game, and that shows a lot about the girls who are putting the ball in play.”

But now, after winning its 21st straight nonconference game, the Irish return to their ACC slate and travel to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to take on the Tar Heels (24-21, 8-11). Despite its losing conference record, North Carolina has picked it up as of late in ACC play. The Tar Heels have won two of their last three series, including taking two out of three from Louisville, who currently trails only Notre Dame and Florida State in the conference race.

Senior Allie Rhodes gets set to deliver a pitch during Notre Dame's 5-0 victory over Butler.Kathleen Donahue | The Observer

Senior Allie Rhodes gets set to deliver a pitch during Notre Dame’s 5-0 victory over Butler.

Trailing ACC-leading Florida State by just two games in the standings, Notre Dame has a chance to gain some ground on the Seminoles this weekend. However, Gumpf said her team is not focused on the big picture of the conference race but rather thinking about each contest individually.

“We take it one game at a time, one pitch at a time and really just kind of focus on what we’re doing to make sure that we’re playing good softball,” Gumpf said.

And its an approach that has worked well for Notre Dame thus far, as it currently holds the longest winning streak in the conference at nine games. Additionally, the success the Irish have found this season has carried over to the mound: Their pitching staff currently holds a collective .219 batting average against, which is good for the second-best mark in the conference.

North Carolina’s hitters could challenge Notre Dame’s pitching staff, however. The Tar Heels have seven regulars in their lineup hitting above a clip of .290. The Tar Heels are lead by senior shortstop Kristen Brown, who’s .403 average leads the team. Brown has also slugged 16 home runs on the year, tied for the ninth-best mark in the country, and plated 49 runs, good for 14th in the nation.

The Tar Heels do not, however, have the pitching staff to match the Irish on paper. The Irish staff collectively holds a 2.68 ERA, with three pitchers — senior Allie Rhodes, junior Rachel Nasland and sophomore Katie Beriont — all sitting under a 2.60 mark.

In contrast, the Tar Heels do not have a starter under a 4.00 ERA and their collective mark sits at 4.29. And while the Irish have relied on a more balanced staff to anchor themselves, the Tar Heels have heavily relied on one starter — junior Kendra Lynch — to carry their rotation, as Lynch has started 36 of the team’s 45 games.

Regardless of the quality of talent on the mound for North Carolina, Gumpf said she believes her team will find success if they continue the approach they’ve had over the last few weeks.

“As long as we continue to keep attacking offensively and do a good job of really battling with their hitters, I think that we’ll have a great weekend,” Gumpf said.

The Irish and the Tar Heels will square off at Anderson Family Field starting with a doubleheader Sunday. First pitch of game one is scheduled for 3:30 p.m., while game two is set to start immediately after at 5:30 p.m. The third and final game of the set will take place Monday at 7 p.m.

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About Benjamin Padanilam

As The Observer's Editor-in-Chief, Ben is a senior in the Program of Liberal Studies (PLS) who is pursuing minors in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) and Business Economics as well. He hails from Toledo, Ohio, and has enjoyed the few highs and many lows of being a Cleveland sports fan.

Contact Benjamin