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Mazurek: Notre Dame looks poised for postseason run

| Thursday, April 14, 2016

Times are good at Melissa Cook Stadium.

The Irish are winners of three straight games and currently sit in third place in the ACC with a 28-6 overall record.

And most importantly, the first of those three consecutive wins came against No. 8 Florida State on a walk-off single by sophomore left fielder Bailey Bigler.

The victory snapped ACC-leading Florida State’s 22-game winning streak, but more important than gaining a game on the Seminoles in the ACC, the April 3 victory proved the Irish are a threat come the postseason.

Irish sophomore infielder Morgan Reed waits for the pitch during Notre Dame’s 5-4 victory over Florida State on April 3. Reed bunted a single during the fifth inning when the Irish first took the lead.Kathleen Donahue | The Observer

Irish sophomore infielder Morgan Reed waits for the pitch during Notre Dame’s 5-4 victory over Florida State on April 3. Reed bunted a single during the fifth inning when the Irish first took the lead.

Notre Dame started its season rather well, winning 19 games in a row from the end of February to the end of March, but stumbled three weekends ago, losing two of three at Syracuse. Since then, the Irish have righted the ship, winning four out their last five in the midst of a six-game homestand.

The victory over the Seminoles was important because it showed the Irish are for real. The Irish have only lost six games all year — three of them to teams that are currently ranked — but until the Florida State thriller, their “best” win was back on February 20 against No. 14 UCLA.

With the win against Florida State under its belt, however, Notre Dame appears to be gearing up at the right time. And there are a couple big reasons why the Irish can make a postseason push.

The first is pitching.

Notre Dame features two strong pitchers in senior left-hander Allie Rhodes and junior right-hander Rachel Nasland. Rhodes and Nasland have 12 and 11 wins respectively, in addition to sporting ERAs of 2.88 and 1.89.

The two upperclassmen have been stalwarts for the Irish all season, pitching out of Notre Dame’s 222 total innings played, and the two have logged six complete games between them.

One of those complete games was Rhodes’ victory over the Seminoles, when she allowed only three earned runs against one of the nation’s top offenses. If Rhodes can pitch like that for the rest of the season, the Irish will be in good shape.

The second reason the Irish can make a push is their team hitting. While the Wester sisters (freshman second baseman Ali and junior center fielder Karley) have set the pace for the team all year, Notre Dame has a strong lineup top to bottom.

Nine Irish batters have an average at .300 or higher, five players have more than 20 RBIs and seven have scored more than 20 runs. The fact that no one player provides a significant portion of the offense puts less pressure on the team and makes it difficult for opposing pitchers as they have to work against more batters.

Finally, Notre Dame has been lights out at home this season. The Irish have a 6-1 home record entering Thursday evening’s matchup with Butler and with the team’s final six ACC contests in the friendly confines of Melissa Cook Stadium, the Irish should be poised to enter the postseason with momentum.

Of course, the postseason is more than a month away and a lot can happen — last weekend’s game against Pittsburgh, which included an hour and 40 minutes of rain delays, showed that. But the fact remains: Notre Dame is trending upward at the right time. And with solid starting pitching and a multi-threat lineup, there’s nothing to stop the Irish from making noise in the postseason.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Marek Mazurek

Marek is a senior history major and is a former resident of Carroll Hall. He has lived in Mishawaka or South Bend for all 21 years of his life and covers Notre Dame football and men's basketball. He has loads of hand-eye coordination but lacks the height to be any good. Marek is also a proud esports supporter.

Contact Marek