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ND SOFTBALL: Irish set for yet another road trip

Justin Schuver | Friday, March 18, 2005

The Irish will put their five-game winning streak on the line as they head east this weekend to the Buckeye Invitational in Columbus, Ohio.Notre Dame (11-7) will open the event with a game against Marshall Saturday at 5 p.m. and follow up with a match against Ohio State at 7 p.m. The Irish close out play with games against Oakland (noon) and Eastern Michigan (2 p.m.) Sunday.Heading into its spring break trip, Notre Dame was only 5-6, but the Hawaii Invitational allowed the Irish to find their offensive stroke. Notre Dame scored 25 runs in its four-game sweep at the tournament, and the Irish ended the trip with their second tournament title of the early season.”Hawaii was good for us because we played well as a team,” Irish coach Deanna Gumpf said. “We made things happen, our pitchers both did well and we did a really good job of minimizing our mistakes.”Coming into Hawaii we were averaging two or three errors a game, and at Hawaii we played errorless ball – we didn’t give our opponents any mistakes to take advantage of.”At the Buckeye Invitational, Notre Dame will face one of the better teams in the Big Ten conference. Ohio State is 11-6 in 2005, and the Buckeyes are currently hitting .310 as a team.”[Ohio State] can really hit,” Gumpf said. “Their pitchers are pretty similar to what we’ve seen this year, but Ohio State really stands out because of their hitting and their speed on the basepaths. Marshall is another very fast team that really makes things happen with the baserunning game.”Notre Dame’s other opponents don’t appear as powerful as Ohio State, but for an Irish team that has struggled on offense this season, they’re not likely to take anyone lightly.Marshall (11-8) will face Notre Dame for the first time in history, with the Thundering Herd entering the matchup featuring top hitter Randi Nelson, who has a .417 batting average.Oakland (1-8) will face the Irish for the second time ever, with Notre Dame winning the earlier meeting 12-0 on April 30, 2002. The Grizzlies have struggled offensively this season, hitting just .197 as a team.In Eastern Michigan (5-12), Notre Dame faces an opponent that they will see later in the season – the Irish face the Eagles at Ivy Field for a doubleheader on April 5. Kelli Jeziorski, who leads the team with a .326 batting average, paces Eastern Michigan’s offense.A big reason for Notre Dame’s turnaround this season has been the impressive play of junior Kellie Middleton. Middleton, who missed 61 games last season due to injury, is second on the team in batting average with a .333 mark, and is a perfect 10-for-10 in the stolen base department.”[Middleton] really got hot over spring break,” Gumpf said. “Every time she gets on base you can see the other team get scared. We really believe as a team that if she gets on base then she’s going to come around and score as well.”Middleton was recognized for her efforts, winning the Big East player of the week honors on March 14.The Buckeye Invitational is Notre Dame’s final road tournament of the season and the sixth consecutive weekend in which the Irish have had to travel. The team will finally open its home season Wednesday.