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Softball: Booth and Bargar lead ND staff

Jay Fitzpatrick | Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Notre Dame has played only two tournaments thus far this season, but it already has discovered the value of its pitching – starting with senior Heather Booth, its No. 1 ace.

The former Big East rookie of the year and two-time first-team All-Big East pitcher has dominated hitters as a starter since she her freshman season.

Booth assumed the role of No. 1 starter her first year and has not relinquished that position. She started at least 30 games all three seasons and has struck out more than 200 batters in each of the past two seasons – all reasons why she is confident and anxious to continue her dominance.

“As a senior, all my pressures are settled,” said Booth, who has a career record of 69-27 and a 1.71 ERA. “I have a lot of innings in the circle, and I feel my nerves have left me.”

Booth has shown her steady nerves already early this season, most notably in the Golden Panther Invitational last weekend. Booth allowed only one earned run and had 22 strikeouts in victories over Memphis and Florida International.

She especially dominated Florida International. In the five-inning game, Booth struck out half of the batters she faced, and only three Golden Panthers reached base against her.

The two wins in Miami are a sign of improvement from Notre Dame’s opening tournament in Las Vegas, Nev., in which the team lost three of its five games. Booth pitched in all five games of the Desert Classic but dropped two decisions.

“Our pitching was not great in Vegas,” Booth said of the staff’s performance. “It was a good learning experience. But we found our rhythm in Miami.”

Irish freshman Brittney Bargar learned from her mistakes in Las Vegas and cemented her role as Notre Dame’s No. 2 starter in Miami this weekend. Even though she lost one game, Bargar picked up a crucial win over Buffalo in the tournament to impress her fellow starter.

Bargar pitched a four-hit shutout against the Bulls – shouldering the responsibility when Notre Dame’s bats fell silent – and held on for her first career complete game win.

“Brittney was phenomenal against Buffalo,” Booth said. “She did exactly what she had to do.”

Booth prepared Bargar in the off-season to be her successor. Booth helped Bargar improve her game and is confident of and encouraged by the freshman’s growth.

“We’ve been working our hitters all winter,” Booth said. “I think she will be great for the program and will be an exceptional choice to take my spot on the team when I graduate at the end of this year.”

With Booth and Bargar making up one of the best one-two combinations in the Big East, the team is confident heading into this season.

“I know we are young, but we are very solid,” Booth said. “We have great dynamics and team chemistry, and I feel better about this team than any other I have played on.”

Notre Dame next plays Nebraska and Tulsa Friday in Tulsa.