Irish head to Citrus Classic
Christina Kochanski | Thursday, February 27, 2014
The No. 24 Irish leave the freezing temperatures behind this weekend as they head to the Diamond 9 Citrus Classic in Kissimmee, Fla., where they are slated to face five teams in three days.
The Irish (10-3) will open up the tournament weekend Friday afternoon with a tough matchup against Fordham. The Rams (5-8) are predicted to win their second consecutive Atlantic 10 title by the conference’s coaches. Notre Dame and Fordham both lost to No. 6 Oregon in the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic. The Irish fell to the Ducks in nine innings 2-0, while the Rams lost to the Ducks 3-2.
Irish coach Deanna Gumpf said the loss to Oregon offered a learning experience for the team.
“We can take a lot from that [loss],” Gumpf said. “Some things we just have to improve on, but it’s so early in the season. … We’re battling, and I like that.”
Friday will also see the Irish face off with Illinois State later in the afternoon. The Redbirds (5-9) took second place in a preseason poll of the Missouri Valley Conference and named three players to the Preseason All-Conference Team.
On Saturday, the Irish take on Ohio State in the afternoon and Radford in the early evening. The Buckeyes (4-6) are coming off a shutout over Utah Valley, which featured a no-hitter from freshman pitcher Shelby Hursh. The Irish, too, can expect strength in their own circle. Senior pitcher Laura Winter is coming into the tournament with a 2.11 earned runs average this season and was named Big East Player of the Year last year.
Gumpf said the team looks to Winter for consistency and leadership.
“She’s a real leader for us, and we always expect she’ll pitch well,” Gumpf said.
Radford’s roster also features a tough pitcher. Sophomore Rachael Walters earned a place on the all-conference first team with her rookie season performance. The Highlanders (2-4) got a delayed start to their season last Wednesday because of weather issues.
The Irish round out the weekend against Nebraska-Omaha. The Mavericks (11-3) are the only opponent with a winning record that Notre Dame will face in the tournament. The Mavericks earned a perfect 5-0 record in the UTSA Tournament last weekend.
Against Nebraska-Omaha, the Irish will have to face sophomore catcher Campbell Ditto, who currently leads the team with 18 runs in 14 games. Ditto was named Summit League Freshman of the Year in 2013.
Junior outfielder Emilee Koerner currently holds the most runs and RBIs for the Irish, with 15 and 14, respectively, in 13 games.
The Irish hope to build on their success in previous tournaments, most recently, the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic. The team earned a 4-2 record over the weekend and shut out three of their opponents. The two losses were by a margin of two runs each.
Gumpf said the team’s performance revealed some areas for improvement.
“I don’t think we’re there yet, but we have plenty of work to do,” Gumpf said. “We have to focus on continuing to get better every weekend.”
This weekend presents the Irish with an opportunity for such growth as the team heads to the Diamond 9 Citrus Classic.
Contact Christina Kochanski at [email protected]