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ND Softball: Squad pulls out pair of close victories

Kelsey Manning | Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Facing their second of four straight Big East opponents, the No. 21 Irish came through in the clutch to pull out two close victories Thursday at Villanova.

The low scoring game one, a 2-1 Notre Dame victory, reflected the stellar pitching of freshman Laura Winter, who rebounded from last week’s snap of her nine-game winning streak with nine strikeouts. In the final frame Winter permitted just two singles and one earned run as Notre Dame (33-8, 9-1 Big East) held on for the win.

“Compared to other teams we have faced this year, Villanova shouldn’t have even been on the field with us,” junior outfielder Alexa Maldonado said. “They are a very mediocre team. However, they are the kind of team that if you let them stay in the game long enough, they can make things happen.”

This is exactly what the Irish defense, led by Winter, avoided in game one, and the freshman pitcher continued that trend in game two with her fourth save of the season.

Although senior infielder Heather Johnson’s 21-game hitting streak came to a halt in the first outing, she emerged from the second matchup with her second five-RBI effort of the season. Johnson’s streak was the nation’s second longest and improved her batting average from .204 to .385 over the course of the 21 games.

If game one was a pitching clinic, game two was an offensive showcase, as the Irish combined with the Wildcats for 18 runs off on 25 hits. Johnson led the offensive charge for Notre Dame as it edged out Villanova (15-18, 2-14 Big East) 10-8. Johnson opened the game with a home run, which she followed up a couple of innings later with a three-RBI double that extended the Irish lead. Maldonado contributed a home run of her own along with three runs batted in, while senior Lex Clay led the team with three hits.

“I’d say that the biggest thing we showcased this past weekend was getting the job done,” Maldonado said. “They weren’t pretty wins, but a win is a win. We hit the ball hard all weekend and [we] will continue to strive to do this in our upcoming games.”

The Irish head back on the road tomorrow as they travel to Tampa to take on No. 27 South Florida (32-16, 12-1 Big East), before they return home to kick off a six game homestand.

“We are very excited to play in USF’s new stadium,” Maldonado said. “We look forward to taking two wins on their new home turf. As long as we play our game, we should win. We will need solid defense and great hitting to keep them out of the ball games and give us our best chance to win.”

The Bulls’ strong conference record puts them tied with DePaul at the top of the Big East standings, and the doubleheader will be Notre Dame’s chance to steal that title. The Irish face a top-tier pitcher in freshman Sara Nevins, who did not give up a single run in 11.1 innings of work in last week’s three-game series against Connecticut. She also leads the nation with eight saves this season.

The showdown between two of the top freshman pitchers in the conference takes place today in Tampa, Fla., at noon and 2 p.m.