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ND Softball: Squad to travel to California for invitational tourney

Jack Yusko  | Thursday, March 10, 2011

As Spring Break approaches, the Irish are preparing to head for warmer climates — but the next week will be anything but relaxing.

The team is headed to the Judi Garman Classic in California, an annual tournament hosted by Cal State Fullerton that attracts many top-25 softball teams from across the nation, including eight former national champions.

Widely considered the premier midseason tournament, it is the perfect opportunity to gauge where the team stands at this point in the season, said senior catcher Alexia Clay.

“This tournament is a great opportunity to see where we need to be and if we’re there yet,” Clay said. “We look forward to this tournament every year as there are always tough teams to beat and good softball to be played.”

The tournament will indeed be tough. This year, the Irish (12-2) will play No. 10 Oklahoma, Cal State Fullerton, No. 17 Louisiana-Lafayette, New Mexico, No. 5 Washington and No. 6 Michigan.

In addition, recent injuries have benched a few key players, and the team was dealt its first two losses last week at the Diamond 9 Citrus classic.

Yet even with such a rigorous schedule and couple of setbacks, the team maintains confidence. The Irish came off their two consecutive losses with a three-game winning streak to finish out the invitational and Clay believes things are looking up.

“We’ve had a few injuries lately but have adjusted well. We’re playing great together and going up,” Clay said. “We haven’t peaked yet, which is a good thing as we can continue to improve until the regional hump later in the season.”

With the postseason nearing, the Irish are grateful for the chance to face solid competition before the conference tournament, as few regular season games remain against ranked opponents.

Clay said she is especially looking forward to playing Michigan in a renewal of the traditional rivalry between the two schools.

“We have a bit of a softball rivalry as well as a school rivalry with Michigan. We’ve met them in the post season the past three years and lost each time, “Clay said. “It’s a bit of a sore spot and we’re ready to get some revenge.”

The Irish hope to build upon the winning streak that began last weekend as they spend the break in California playing some of their stiffest competition yet. The team kicks off the tournament against Oklahoma Wednesday at 4 p.m.