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Irish hope to avoid rain at the National Fastpitch Coaches Association

Heather VanHoegarden | Friday, February 27, 2004

In arguably the most prestigious tournament in college softball, the Irish hope that they can avoid the one thing that has plagued them early this season – rain.Last weekend’s Palm Springs Classic saw the Irish endure three days of rain. Their final game against No. 11 Tennessee was cancelled due to the inclement weather.Notre Dame travels to Columbus, Ga., today to face some of the top teams in the nation in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NCFA) Leadoff Classic. In a tournament that features five of the top seven teams in the NCFA top 25, the Irish hope to gain some quality wins, as the face two ranked opponents in the same number of days.The tournament, which is being held at South Commons Softball Complex, a former Olympic site, kicks off Friday with pool play. The Irish (5-3) start things off with Northwestern State (8-5) Friday at 2:30 p.m. In the nightcap, Notre Dame is set to square off with No. 6 Georgia (9-2) at 5 p.m. Pool play concludes Saturday at 12:30 p.m., when the Irish face No. 24 Cal State Fullerton (3-6).The matchup with Georgia marks the first time these two teams have met. After pool play, the teams are split up into bracket play, guaranteeing each team at least two more games during the weekend.The 24-team tournament features the top two teams from each NFCA region. This is the Irish’s sixth overall appearance in the tournament, and third consecutive year. This year’s field contains 13 top-25 teams along with the U.S. Olympic team.Notre Dame hopes that their early season experience will begin to pay dividends for a roster that only includes one senior, Nicole deFau. However, the young Irish have had some early season success. Just last weekend, the Irish defeated Utah 4-3 before losing to Pacific 12-1 and No. 8 Stanford 4-2. They ended the Palm Springs Classic with a 10-0 loss to the U.S. Olympic team, but held them to one run over four innings.The Irish have been led this early season by sophomore shortstop Sara Schoonaert. She posted the Irish’s only hits of the game against the Olympic team and was perfect defensively. She will bat second this weekend – a jump from her nine spot last weekend. Megan Ciolli, named to the USA Softball Player of the Year to Watch list, added two hits against Utah to lead the Irish to their lone victory last weekend.Notre Dame has also received strong pitching performances from sophomore Heather Booth. Booth, last year’s Big East Rookie of the Year, posted two consecutive complete game victories, her second coming against Utah.Defensively, the Irish outfield has been outstanding, especially against Stanford last weekend. deFau made a home run-robbing catch to keep the Irish within striking distance.Following this weekend, the Irish have three more road tournaments. After this stretch, they will have played eight ranked teams.

Contact Heather Van Hoegarden at [email protected]