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ND SOFTBALL: Softball looks to defend Big East title in 2007

Dan Murphy | Friday, February 16, 2007

Notre Dame begins its quest to defend last year’s Big East title this weekend at the Tiger Invitational. The Irish return 13 letter winners to their 16-player roster from the 2006 squad that finished 42-21 overall and 17-5 in conference play.

This year’s team was selected to finish third in the Big East in a coaches poll taken Jan. 10. Senior captain Stephanie Brown will lead the way offensively for Notre Dame this year after being named a second team All-American in her junior season. Brown hit .343 with 42 stolen bases in the leadoff spot last year.

The Irish pitching staff will need to fill the gap left by second team all-conference pitcher Heather Booth (27-12, 1.71 ERA) in order to live up to its billing.

Sophomore Brittany Bargar will take over as the team’s ace after winning 15 games in her rookie season. Bargar will be joined by senior Kenya Fuemmeler and sophomore Christine Farrell, who missed all of last season due to injury.

Bargar will likely take the mound this afternoon for the first game of the season against host Auburn. The Tigers (1-5) got off to a slow start by dropping four one-run games at the Hawaii Paradise Classic last weekend.

Fuemmeler will make her season debut in the second game of the day against the UAB Blazers. This will be the second meeting in two teams’ histories, the Irish won the first battle 9-1 in Chatanooga, Tenn six years ago.

Notre Dame will play another double dip Saturday afternoon against the Golden Eagles of Tennessee Tech and the Golden Hurricanes of Tulsa. Both teams will be playing in their second tournaments of the year.

Tulsa freshman Ashlee Lubiewski is already making headlines with a 6-for-12 start and a home run against Pacific.

The busy weekend wraps up Sunday afternoon as the Irish look to continue their domination over Virginia Tech. Notre Dame has taken 10 of 11 games against the one-time Big East foes. The Hokies should be able to compete this year, as they started out the season by winning the Georgia State First Pitch Classic last weekend. Junior pitcher Angela Tincher started her year 2-0, striking out 35 batters in 14 innings on the hill.

The Tiger Invitational is the first of five early season tournaments Notre Dame will play in the next month. The team, led by head coach Deanna Gumpf, will travel to California three times and Florida once before playing its first home game against IUPUI March 22.