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Softball: Irish to play two road games

Dan Murphy | Friday, April 7, 2006

The Irish will put their undefeated conference record to the test this weekend as they travel to Syracuse and Pittsburgh for a pair of doubleheaders.

The Orange and the Panthers are tied for third in the Big East with an identical 7-1 record.

Notre Dame and South Florida are the only two teams without a loss – both at 4-0 – and remain tied for first. Although it is early in the season, the match-ups may have a major impact on where each team ends up in the conference standings.

“They are both on fire right now,” Irish coach Deanna Gumpf said. “To have a good week we have to be able to control their hitters.”

Both teams, she said, are “crushing the ball right now.”

The Orange are poised to continue their rise with two big games this Saturday. On Thursday, the team tied a program record by winning nine of its last 10 games. The one loss was a 7-4 upset at the hands of St. John’s in the second of two games on March 26.

Syracuse pitcher Alexis Switenko currently leads the Big East with 11 home runs and has a .365 batting average. She was also 2-0 on the mound last weekend, striking out 10 in an 8-1 complete game win over Villanova.

“[Switenko] is hitting the snot out of the ball,” Gumpf said. “She can single-handedly change a game, and we need to give her the respect that she has earned.”

The competition will not ease up on Sunday. Pittsburgh (24-13) is also riding an impressive streak, with 10 wins in 11 contests. A victory over Kent State Wednesday gave the Panthers the most wins in the school’s history.

Consistent and powerful hitting has helped the team find its way into the record books. Leading the way are leadoff batter Jessica Dignon (.350 BA) and the power-hitter Lisa McGregor, who has homered six times this season.

“We just need to focus on each other and keep ourselves enthusiastic – that’s all we can do,” designated hitter Gessica Hufnagle said.

Notre Dame, currently 20-11, has also been tearing through its schedule recently. Wednesday’s loss to Akron was the first since dropping a game to No. 7 Alabama on March 19.

“We know we are a good team,” Hufnagle said. “We just have to take the Akron game and learn from it, then go out there and get the job done.”

Gumpf said the team will get back to basics this weekend and concentrate both on getting good pitches to hit and driving runners home once they get on base. Notre Dame has left 181 runners on base so far this season, averaging just under six per game.

The Syracuse games are scheduled for noon and 2 p.m. Saturday. The Pittsburgh games will take place at noon and 2 p.m. Sunday.