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ND Softball: Notre Dame opens NCAA Tournament today

Sam Werner | Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Notre Dame’s Big East season came to an end on May 8 with a first-round conference tournament loss to Louisville, but the Irish aren’t done for the summer. On Sunday, it was announced that Notre Dame had earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament. The Irish will face Kent State in Ann Arbor, Mich., today in the first round.

“We’ve got the chance to go right now,” junior third baseman Linda Kohan said. “We’re on the same playing field as the other 63 teams.”

The Irish (37-20-1, 14-8 Big East) have come a long way since their opening game, a 6-2 win over Utah in the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz. In addition to the Classic, the Irish played in early-season tournaments in Gainesville, Fla., Fullerton, Calif., Long Beach, Calif., and Charleston, S.C. Notre Dame coach Deanna Gumpf’s squad finished that early portion of the slate with a 14-9 record.

The Irish returned to the Midwest on March 20 with a 2-0 win at Western Michigan. Despite the cold temperatures and a flurry of cancellations, Notre Dame started off the Big East season red-hot, ripping off a 12-2 record once they returned home and started conference play.

“Playing in South Bend, Indiana, no weather affects us,” Kohan said. “We’re used to playing in the rain, playing in the snow. It more helped us than it hurt us because we’re used to it and the other teams aren’t.”

The Irish earned sweeps over conference foes Seton Hall and St. John’s.

The rest of the Big East schedule was not as kind to Notre Dame, as it dropped three of its next six conference matchups, including a pair of losses at the hands of South Florida. The Irish righted the ship and won four of their last six Big East tilts to finish with a 14-8 conference record, good enough for the No. 4 seed in the Big East tournament.

But the Irish did not have the luck of the draw on their side as they had to face tournament hosts Louisville in the first round. The home crowd propelled the Cardinals to a 3-1 win.

In the circle, junior Brittney Bargar came up huge for Notre Dame all season, posting a 29-13 record to go along with a miniscule 1.18 ERA. In the penultimate game of the season, against Syracuse, Bargar pitched the fourth no-hitter of her career, and would have had a perfect game if an Orange batter had not reached on an error.

Bargar was complimented by freshman hurler Jody Valdivia, who earned an 8-7 record and a 3.15 ERA.

“It’s just something else,” Kohan said of playing behind Bargar. “She’s a great leader on this team and it really helps the team get going. Having her on the mound is a big part of what makes us successful.”

On offense, senior outfielder Sarah Smith led the team with a .373 average. Senior second baseman Katie Laing and sophomore first baseman Christine Lux were the major run producers, knocking in 40 and 50 runs, respectively. Lux also added a team-high 14 home runs.

No matter how the Irish fare in the NCAA Tournament, next year’s squad looks to be just as good, if not better. With only Laing and Smith graduating, the Irish are poised to field a more experienced team in 2009, and could be ready for another run deep into May.