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ND SOFTBALL: Strong exhibition wins excite team for season

Anna Fricano | Monday, September 26, 2005

Spring just cannot come quickly enough. At least for the Notre Dame softball team.

In their first of two exhibition tournaments of the fall season, the Irish captured two decisive victories over opponents Wayne State University and Detroit Mercy by scores of 5-1 and 4-1, respectively.

The Irish took the lead early in the first game of the day against Wayne State. In the bottom of the second inning, junior Gessice Hufnagle drove in a run to put the first points on the board for Notre Dame. The game remained close, with Wayne State even tying it up in the top of the fifth with a long hit to left field, but Notre Dame made up for that and then some in its next at-bat.

The Irish bats exploded in the bottom of the fifth inning with six hits, plating four of the five Irish runs in the game. Katie Laing and Sara Schoonaert each earned an RBI in the inning, and Meagan Ruthrauff picked up a pair of RBI when she drove the ball into center field with runners on second and third.

The Notre Dame defense gave a strong performance in the game, holding Wayne State to just five hits and committing no errors. Freshman Brittney Bargar started the game for the Irish and gave up no runs in four innings. She was relieved in the fifth inning by Kenya Fuemmeler, who allowed only one run on a hard hit to left field.

The second game of the day remained quiet until the bottom of the third inning, when once again the Irish got the momentum going with their bats.

Stephanie Brown hit a two-run homerun over the centerfield fence to again take an early lead against opponent Detroit Mercy.

Brown stressed the importance of getting the offense going early for the team.

“Whatever hit [will] get us going in a game is what we need,” Brown said. “If we connect the hits, then we’ll get the offense going.”

The team used the early momentum to their advantage, continuing to earn runs one at a time and to play solid defense, again making no errors and holding Detroit to just one run for the game.

Pitcher Heather Booth threw an outstanding game for Notre Dame, almost throwing a no-hitter until a Detroit player bunted on in the top of the seventh inning and was soon knocked in to give Detroit its only run of the game.

Saturday’s results show that Notre Dame just out-hit, out-ran and out-played its opponents, but them team credits a lot of its skill to work that it has done in the off-season.

The team has been working to improve their offense so far this year.

“Our coaches have done a really good job of breaking down things, just breaking down our swing,” Brown said.

And whatever they have been doing seems to be working, because the Irish went very few innings without getting hits on Saturday.

And did the excitement of the first game of the season give the Irish the momentum they needed?

“A lot of it was excitement,” Brown said. “We came in ready to play. We’re really looking forward to our season.”

The team knows that when it comes time for the regular season, they will have to work a little harder to compete with some of the more difficult teams in the Big East.

But Saturday was a good starting point for a team with seven freshmen, many of whom were able to get their first college-level playing time during the two games.

The Irish will be able to test their skills again this coming weekend when they host two more schools in the last of their fall exhibition appearances.