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ND Softball: Bargar takes mound vs. NU

Chris Masoud | Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Normally a respite from Big East play is a godsend for a team that just finished a seven-game road trip undefeated and uninjured. But as the Irish host Northwestern today at Melissa Cook Stadium, the Wildcats will be an unwelcome presence this late in the season.

Northwestern (27-9, 12-2 Big Ten) has won 16 of its last 18 games, good enough for second in the Big Ten and No. 7 overall in the nation according to the ESPN.com/USA Softball Poll. The Wildcats are coming off a split against Purdue last weekend, with scores of 0-2 and 10-8, respectively.

Not to be outdone, the Irish (31-13, 13-3 Big East) will enter Tuesday’s contest after rattling off a string of strong performances last weekend. Notre Dame swept the cellar of the Big East with convincing wins over Villanova and Rutgers to maintain their third-place position in the Big East standings.

Irish coach Deanna Gumpf knows her squad will not change its approach to accommodate any team, even a nationally-ranked nonconference opponent.

“We prepare for all teams the way we’ve been preparing all year, and that’s working on the fundamentals,” Gumpf said.

Not only will today’s game serve as an intense matchup between two conference leaders playing at the top of their game, but it will also be the scene of a collision between two of the nation’s best.

Notre Dame senior Brittney Bargar, scheduled to start today’s contest, was named the Big East Pitcher of the Week by the league on Monday. Bargar finished last week with a 3-0 record and an ERA of 0.33, bringing the righty to 18 wins and shrinking her ERA to 1.72 on the season.

The confident Wildcats will bring their best to Melissa Cook Stadium to contend against the stingy Bargar.

Northwestern freshman Adrienne Monka, one of the nation’s most promising young stars, was named Big Ten Player of the Week on Monday for the second time this season after putting together the ninth-longest consecutive hitting streak in Division I history. Monka, joined by four teammates who have earned Big Ten weekly accolades this season, hit .765 in five games, driving in 13 runs and slugging 1.706.

Nevertheless, Gumpf places a great deal of trust in the veteran hurler Bargar, who she believes the team can ride all season long.

Keeping in mind that a postseason berth is the team’s ultimate goal, Gumpf is confident that solid pitching and timely hitting will lead the Irish to victory.

“I think that when we bring it, we can beat anyone we want at any time,” Gumpf said.

Expect big performances at the plate from freshman Dani Miller and junior Christine Lux. Miller is riding a 20-game hitting streak, while leading the Irish in batting average, doubles, and slugging percentage. The dangerous Lux is having a sensational junior campaign, as she looks to build upon her league-leading 13 homeruns and team-leading 42 RBIs.

The Irish will defend their season-high 10-game winning streak when they take the field at 6:00 p.m.