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ND Softball: Winning streak snapped

Kelsey Manning | Monday, March 7, 2011

Despite snapping a nine-game winning streak with two tough losses at the Diamond 9 Citrus Classic this weekend, the Irish managed to start a new one with three wins to finish out the event on Sunday, leaving their record at 3-2 for the weekend and 12-2 overall.

Facing two undefeated teams back-to-back Friday at the Disney Wide World of Sports Complex in Kissimmee, Fla., Notre Dame struggled against standout pitching and persistent defense.

Longwood pitcher Briana Wells was able to limit Notre Dame to a mere two hits in seven innings, recording two strikeouts in the process. Sophomores Amy Buntin and Jackie Bowe managed to notch two singles for the Irish. Irish freshman Laura Winter put in 4.1 innings on the mound, giving up just one earned run on five hits with six strikeouts. Despite the freshman’s effort, Notre Dame fell 2-0.

The Irish faced more standout pitching in their second contest from No. 1 Alabama’s Jacie Traina, who pitched the entire game, amassing 12 strikeouts for the Crimson Tide. Senior Jody Valdiva recorded eight strikeouts of her own for the Irish, but they weren’t enough to compensate for the team’s offensive woes.

Notre Dame was able to find a few openings in the sixth inning, but it was only able to produce one run on four hits and left two runners stranded. Ultimately Notre Dame fell 6-1.

“The first day we played it was just a bad day. We didn’t play our best softball versus either team, which resulted in the losses,” Irish senior catcher Alexia Clay said. “We don’t know if we could beat Alabama because we didn’t play our best softball that day; we would have to play them again on our best day. We shook it off and the next day rallied together and put some good wins up.”

The Irish came back swinging the next day , kicking off their Saturday with an eight-inning 4-3 win over North Carolina. Despite solid pitching from the Tar Heels’ NFCA National Player of the Week Lori Spingola, the Irish were strong at the plate, led by two hits apiece from Buntin and junior Dani Miller. In the fourth Buntin blasted a game-typing home run, and later came through with a single that sent Miller to third. Clay contributed a sacrifice fly to pull Miller in with the game-winning run.

Valdiva was solid on the mound for the Irish, pitching eight innings with seven strikeouts and just two earned runs.

“The game against UNC really showed how we play as a team,” Maldonado said. “Being in control of the game and coming from behind to win showed our team’s true character. That was Notre Dame softball.”

Continuing on their newfound win streak the Irish took down Maryland by a count of 5-3, led by Miller and senior Heather Johnson with two hits each. Irish senior relief pitcher Shannon Kelly came up big with a strikeout leaving three Maryland runners on base in the seventh, but the hero of the day was Winter, who notched five shutout innings.

Clay said that Saturday’s wins were not a result of a single player’s dominance, but rather a result of the Irish squad regrouping and pulling it together.

“They were team wins and we had good momentum the whole day,” she said.

Junior outfielder Alexa Maldonado felt much of the same, saying that Friday’s losses were not the team’s typical play.

“[Day one] was disappointing,” Maldonado said. “We were not ourselves and did not play Notre Dame softball. The next day we came out ready to play. The game against UNC really showed how we play as a team.”

Winter continued her dominance from the circle Sunday as Notre Dame dismantled Fordham 6-0. Once again Johnson, Miller, Bunton and Clay contributed to balanced hitting for the Irish. Junior catcher Kristina Wright starred with a double to plate Clay and Bowe in the fourth.

Clay said that the Irish carried the success they achieved on Saturday into Sunday’s match up against Fordham, giving her a good feeling as the team moves forward.

“We carried that into today [Sunday] and played a great game against Fordham,” she said. “Overall we aren’t happy about our first day but we had a respectable comeback and we are feeling good about our team and this season so far.”

The performance was enough to amount to a winning weekend for Notre Dame. The Irish now have a week off before heading to the Judi Garman Classic in California next weekend.