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ND Softball: Irish triumph over Cleveland State with close play

Mike Monaco | Friday, April 20, 2012

While the scorekeeper decided to score the play as an error, the momentum of the game swung in favor of the Irish, who went on to defeat Cleveland State 6-5 on Thursday at Melissa Cook Stadium.

The play was a hard-hit ground ball off the bat of freshman outfielder Emilee Koerner with two outs in the bottom of the third inning and the Vikings (13-31, 5-7 Horizon League) leading 2-1. The ball went under the glove of Cleveland State junior first baseman Dara Toman, and Notre Dame second baseman Jenna Simon came in from third to tie the game.

Two pitches later, junior catcher Amy Buntin blasted a two-run home run to straightaway center field to give the Irish (23-13, 5-3 Big East) a 4-2 lead. Irish senior first baseman Dani Miller then took the first pitch she saw and sent it over the right-center field fence to increase the lead to 5-2.

Regardless of how it happened, Irish coach Deanna Gumpf said the Irish are just happy to get a win.

“[Toman’s error] was a big play, and then we had the two home runs,” Gumpf said. “Right now we’re celebrating all the little things, and a win against a great-hitting team is a great win in my book.”

Junior pitcher Brittany O’Donnell started for Notre Dame and went the first four innings. O’Donnell ran into trouble in the third when Toman laced a double to center field to put runners on second and third. Vikings senior pitcher Megan Bashak then ripped a two-run double to take the short-lived 2-1 lead. O’Donnell settled down in the fourth, and was relieved by sophomore pitcher Laura Winter, who tossed the final three innings.

Winter allowed three runs in the fifth, but she shut out Cleveland State for the remainder of the game.

“I thought both pitchers had great innings except for one,” Gumpf said. “Both pitchers, I felt, didn’t throw well in one inning. So out of the seven innings we played, we had five great innings from our pitching staff, but we need seven.”

With Thursday’s win over the Vikings and Wednesday’s 6-3 win against Valparaiso, the Irish are hoping to ride the momentum of their midweek wins, Gumpf said.

“We have to carry this momentum,” Gumpf said. “In my mind, these midweek games are practice for the Big East. Our goal is just to get better every day.”

The Irish will look to put their practice to work in this weekend’s Big East series against DePaul. The Blue Demons (26-14, 8-3) have won eight of their last 10 games, and will try to keep recent success going in Melissa Cook Stadium. However, the Irish are 10-2 at home this season.

Because the teams are so evenly-matched, Gumpf said she thinks the games will come down to who comes out stronger.

“I think we’re very similar to DePaul,” Gumpf said. “I think we’re really similar teams if you look at us on paper. Similar records, similar batting averages, similar pitching. So I just think whoever plays better is going to win those ball games and I expect us to play better.”

Sophomore pitcher Kirsten Verdun leads the Blue Demons with an 18-7 record and a 1.64 ERA. Verdun, who has 20 complete games, is also fifth in the Big East with 146 strikeouts.

To put together an offensive attack against Verdun, the Irish will rely on a total team effort, Gumpf said.

“I think for us it will be piece-by-piece on offense [against DePaul],” Gumpf said. “I think we definitely need to string hits together, and I think our speed needs to be a factor.”

The Irish square off with DePaul at Melissa Cook on Saturday at 12 p.m. and again at 2 p.m., and return Sunday to conclude the series at 12 p.m.


Contact Mike Monaco at [email protected]