Irish enter ACC play on hot start
Evan Anderson | Thursday, March 6, 2014
Notre Dame travels to Atlanta this weekend to face Georgia Tech for its inaugural series as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference.The No. 22 Irish (15-3) are in the midst of a torrid start that has included several lengthy win streaks, including eight victories in a row that spanned tourneys at Auburn and Jacksonville University and a trip to California for the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic. The team has currently won five games in a row after going undefeated last weekend at the Diamond 9 Citrus Classic in Kissimmee, Fla., at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex.
The Citrus Classic was Notre Dame’s second perfect tournament of the young season and included wins over Fordham, Illinois State, Ohio State, Radford and Omaha.
Sophomore first baseman Micaela Arizmendi, whose 15 RBI in just 17 appearances has already topped her total from her freshman campaign, said that the team’s consistency during the hot start would lend momentum to the team heading into conference play.
“We’ve been feeding off of each other’s energy all year long, and there is always someone different who steps up and swings momentum in our favor,” Arizmendi said. “Especially after a 5-0 series in Orlando, we are very confident right now.”
But the Yellow Jackets (12-4) have started off their season strong as well. Led by senior catcher and two-time all-ACC performer Alysha Rudnik, who currently sports a .378 batting average, four home runs and a team-high 16 RBI, Georgia Tech won 11 of its first 13 games before dropping pair of contests to Boston College in its first conference series. That hot streak included a 2-1 victory over Tulsa on Feb. 21. The Golden Hurricane rank just ahead of the Irish in ESPN.com’s national rankings at No. 21.
The Yellow Jackets were tabbed to finish eighth in the ACC by the coaches before the season, but have far outperformed that expectation thus far. Arizmendi said the Irish are expecting a battle.
“In this conference, every team we play is going to be tough,” Arizmendi said. “We are going to prove that we belong.”
The sophomore also said that it she and her teammates felt a definite responsibility to make a statement with the team’s debut in the Atlantic Coast Conference, traditionally one of the nation’s strongest softball leagues.
“It feels like we are making history just by being in the ACC,” Arizmendi said. “We want to prove to everyone there that we belong … more than that, we want to prove to everyone there that we are a force to be reckoned with.”
Led by senior right-hander Laura Winter (9-2), the second-winningest pitcher in program history, and an offense that leads the ACC thus far in batting average (.342), hits (166), doubles (40) and total bases (241), Arizmendi said that the Irish are confident that they can do just that.
“What we need to do this weekend is to do exactly what we have done all [season],” Arizmendi said. “We want to keep things simple, stay patient and play with confidence.”
The Irish play the Yellow Jackets on Saturday at 1:00 and 3:00 p.m. before the rubber match Sunday afternoon at 1:00 p.m. They will then split the remainder of their spring break between Orlando, Fla. and Blacksburg, Va. to play the Knights of UCF and the Hokies of Virginia Tech, respectively.
Contact Evan Anderson at [email protected]