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ND Softball: Harsh Winter

Kelsey Manning | Thursday, April 28, 2011

In a matchup of freshman pitching standouts between Notre Dame’s Laura Winter and South Florida’s Sara Nevins, it was Winter who stole the show with a masterful performance on the mound. Winter threw a no-hitter against the conference-leading Bulls to spark the Irish to a sweep of a doubleheader in Tampa by scores of 1-0 and 5-0.

Winter’s achievement comes at the end of a stellar debut season for the right-handed hurler from San Diego. Named Big East Pitcher of the Week two weeks ago, the freshman lengthened her list of accomplishments yesterday by becoming the first Irish freshman to throw a no-hitter since Kristin Schmidt in 2001. The last Irish player to accomplish the feat was senior Jody Valdivia in 2010.

“I had never thought that I would get a no-hitter my first year out,” Winter said. “I really had only planned on doing my job when I was needed and doing that to the best of my abilities. I knew that I had the chance to be successful because I have such a strong team to support me and they helped out a lot today.”

All season Winter has proved herself a tremendous addition to Notre Dame’s already accomplished pitching staff.

“It is rare for a freshman to come in and have such an impact pitching,” senior catcher Lex Clay said. “Most go through a learning curve their freshman year and then are more seasoned for big game pitching, but Laura is holding her own. She has a lot of movement, a lot of pitches, and great composure.”

Winter’s no-hitter was particularly timely against the Bulls (32-17, 12-3 Big East), as Winter and the Irish faced off with another top notch freshman in USF’s Nevins, who owns a 0.31 conference ERA. But Nevins’ impressive record was not a concern for the Irish freshman on the opposite mound.

“I really don’t worry about who is out on the mound for the other teams,” Winter said. “I just always strive to be the pitcher that game to come out on top.”

Though Nevins retired 12 batters in the first four innings of game one, Winter fired back, punching out nine Bulls as 51 of her 77 pitches went for strikes. Thanks to Winter, the only offense the Irish needed to claim the 1-0 victory in the opener was a two-out double by senior Erin Marrone to score freshman pinch runner Monica Torres in the fifth inning. The loss christened Nevins with her first earned run in 46.0 innings, along with her first Big East loss.

In game two Notre Dame (35-8, 11-1) kicked its offense into gear as Clay got the ball rolling with a quick first inning single.

“The second game, they started their ace [Nevins] again, and we hit her much better the second game,” Clay said. “We had a lot more hits from a lot of places in the lineup.”

While sophomore hurler Brittany O’Donnell took a no-hitter into the sixth inning of the second game, the Irish offense found its legs in juniors Dani Miller and Alexa Maldonado and seniors Brianna Jorgensborg, Sadie Pitzenberger and Marrone, all of whom contributed hits in the 5-0 victory. Notre Dame displayed why it owns the best batting average in the Big East at .375 as five different players accounted for the team’s five runs. The 12-hit effort marks the seventh time Notre Dame has accumulated double-digit hit totals in 11 league games.

Winter said the team is feeling confident as the post-season draws closer.

“I have always had confidence that the team would be strong in the post season but like every team, there are nerves that come with it,” Winter said. “The team that can take those nerves and turn them into a positive when the time comes will always prevail.”

The Irish now return to South Bend for a six-game home stand that kicks off Friday against St. John’s.