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Softball: Irish to play two at Purdue

Sam Werner | Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Notre Dame (29-15, 9-5 Big East) looks to rebound from two crucial Big East losses over the weekend against South Florida when it travels to West Lafayette for a non-conference doubleheader against Purdue (30-16, 6-6 Big Ten).

The Irish are looking to solidify their position for postseason play.

“We’re two weeks away from the Big East championship,” Notre Dame coach Deanna Gumpf said. “It’s time for us to get some consistency in playing good softball.”

The Boilermakers are tied for fourth place in the Big Ten but have struggled recently – going 3-6 over their last nine games. Purdue has dropped games against Ohio State, Valparaiso, Ball State, Michigan State, and Northwestern in that span.

Before being swept by the Bulls, the Irish were one of the hottest teams in the Big East, sporting a 13-3 record in their 16 games before Sunday’s losses. Notre Dame is led by the pitching of junior Brittney Bargar, who has a 22-9 record and a miniscule 1.03 ERA. Freshman Jody Valdivia has also been big in the circle, going 7-6 on the year and striking out 118 batters.

“They both know what it takes to be great,” Gumpf said of her pitching duo. “They have it in them and they’re capable of throwing great softball.”

Bargar and Valdivia will be faced with the task of shutting down a Purdue offense that features four players hitting over .300 on the season. Junior shortstop Candace Curtis leads the Boilermaker offense with a .357 average, nine home runs, and 34 RBIs. Junior Katie Mitchell and sophomore Kelsey Haupert have each added seven home runs of their own.

“They’re the best-hitting Purdue team I’ve seen,” Gumpf said.

For the Irish offense, senior outfielder Sarah Smith leads the team with a .349 average. Senior second baseman Katie Laing is Notre Dame’s biggest run producer, with 41 RBIs on the season, good for second-best in the Big East.

If the Irish want to win today, they will have to avoid the errors that cost them against South Florida. In Tampa, the Irish gave up a combined 13 runs in two games, only five of which were earned.

“We hit pretty well in that series,” Gumpf said. “But our hitting wasn’t enough.”

Gumpf added that, even though her squad is going up against a Big Ten team instead of a Big East foe, their preparation will be exactly the same.

“We don’t change anything,” she said. “We’re there to win the game, no matter what the name is on their jersey.”

Notre Dame leads the all-time series against Purdue 11-8, but the Boilermakers won the last matchup 7-4 on April 26, 2006. The first pitch is set to leave the circle at 3 p.m. in game one, with the second game scheduled to start at 5 p.m.