ND meets UNC in vital series
Andrew Robinson | Friday, April 24, 2015
Notre Dame’s spotless 17-0 home record, as well as its 24-game win streak, will be on the line this weekend when the team takes on conference rival North Carolina in a three-game set at Melissa Cook Stadium.
The No. 24 Irish (38-11, 16-5 ACC) are in third place in the ACC and are coming off a convincing 11-1 win over Toledo on Wednesday, in which a balanced offense caught fire for a seven-run fourth inning to run away with a five-inning victory.
The Irish will have a chance to take advantage of their momentum and leapfrog the second-place Tar Heels (34-11, 15-4) if they can win at least two of the three games this weekend.
Overcoming North Carolina will be no easy task though; the Tar Heels have one of the most high-powered offenses in the NCAA, notching 82 home runs on the year compared to Notre Dame’s 49. Tar Heels junior shortstop Kristen Brown leads the ACC and is tied for fourth in the NCAA with 21 home runs on the season.
“They’re a really good hitting team,” Irish head coach Deanna Gumpf said. “They’re probably one of the best hitting teams, not only in the conference, but in the country, so we have to do a good job with keeping them off balance. We have to do a good job making them hit pitches we want them to hit, [and] not so much them hitting our mistakes.”
Despite a strong record and a strong offense, North Carolina has struggled on the road this season, with just a 6-7 record away from Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Meanwhile, Notre Dame is undefeated at Melissa Cook Stadium.
With the postseason fast approaching — the Irish have just one game against Michigan State remaining after this weekend before the ACC tournament begins May 7 — Gumpf said North Carolina will provide a challenging litmus test for her team.
“They’re the perfect team for us to see right before postseason,” she said. “I love seeing a team like that because we’ll have to be ready to go, and we have to be playing really good ball [for the ACC tournament], and that’s exactly what we want to be doing [this weekend].”
The Irish, however, have a lot of momentum already. Since a 12-0 win against the conference leading No. 10 Florida State on March 15, Notre Dame has been 24-0, outscoring opponents 204-39 in that stretch.
However, Gumpf said the streak is secondary to the overall goals she has for the team and the Irish feels no added pressure to keep winning.
“We don’t really look forward, honestly,” she said. “A lot of people are talking about it. I could care less about it because all that matters is the next game. The win streak is great and everything, but it doesn’t matter. All that matters is how we play tomorrow, and the next day. It’s great, and I’m happy, but it’s something that I don’t focus on, and I hope the girls don’t either.”
Sophomore outfielder Karley Wester, who was 3-for-3 in the game with a home run and three RBIs against Toledo, has been a key contributor for Notre Dame during the streak, with a .444 average and a team-high 52 runs scored. Senior infielder Katey Haus powers the team at the plate, leading the Irish in home runs (11), doubles (13) and extra-base hits (25).
The Irish will take on the Tar Heels in a three-game set at Melissa Cook Stadium, with matchups Saturday at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. and Sunday at noon.