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Notre Dame looks to maintain offensive efficiency vs. Butler

| Thursday, April 14, 2016

No. 20 Notre Dame will look to win its 19th-straight nonconference game when it hosts Butler on Thursday at Melissa Cook Stadium.

The Irish (28-6, 6-3 ACC) have largely been led by their offense over the course of the last few weeks, scoring at least 10 runs in five of their last eight wins. In fact, the Irish rank sixth and 10th nationally in batting average and runs per game, respectively. Co-captains junior center fielder Karley Wester and senior infielder Carly Piccinich credit the team’s approach and coaching for the success they have found thus far.

“I think it’s the pitch by pitch [approach],” Piccinich said. “That’s just something we’ve really been focusing on this year. And kind of just working together — I mean, we’re really big into sequencing, so like getting the leadoff [hitter on], moving her and scoring her, and that’s just our focus — every inning, working together to string together runs.”

“We hit a lot,” Wester said. “[Associate coach Lizzie Ristano] is a great coach, and she works with us all the time, so we don’t really have a ton times where a lot of players are in a rut. There’s usually somebody coming up big for us.”

Irish senior pitcher Allie Rhodes winds up for a pitch during Notre Dame’s 5-4 win over Florida State at Notre Dame Stadium.Kathleen Donahue | The Observer
Irish senior pitcher Allie Rhodes winds up for a pitch during Notre Dame’s 5-4 win over Florida State at Notre Dame Stadium.

That’s not to say the effort on the mound hasn’t been strong either. In its last 13 games, Notre Dame’s pitching staff has held opponents to three runs or fewer nine times. Although Irish head coach Deanna Gumpf has not named a starter for the game against the Bulldogs (22-15, 5-3 Big East), it will likely be either junior right-hander Rachel Nasland or senior left-hander Allie Rhodes, as the duo has started 29 of the 34 games for the Irish. Both pitchers have an earned-run average under 3.00 and double-digit wins for Notre Dame this season.

Butler has some talent of its own, however. In their lineup, the Bulldogs have five players reaching base at a clip above .400, and four of them are hitting over .300 from the dish. Additionally, the Irish will likely face Bulldogs senior pitcher Kristin Gutierrez. The left-hander has a team-best 1.73 earned-run average and has gone the distance in 12 of the 18 games she has started for the Bulldogs. While Gutierrez could pose a challenge for the red-hot offense of the Irish, Piccinich said she is confident Notre Dame will be able to continue its success.

“Our coaches are really good at preparing us for what other pitchers are throwing and what we can do to be successful, so there’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll be able to [find success],” Piccinich said.

And although they have won 18 nonconference games in a row by an average margin of victory of nearly six runs, the Irish have not overlooked any of their opponents, regardless of their record. Instead, they see each game as an opportunity to maintain their rhythm, regardless of their opponent, Wester said.

“We’ve had a big mentality this year of just ‘pitch by pitch,’ ‘game by game’ so we don’t really look too far in advance to the weekend,” Wester said. “It’s ‘We’re playing the game that day, and we’re winning the game that day.’”

“I think [midweek games] definitely get us ready for the weekend,” Piccinich said. “ … It’s great to get games in midweek just to keep us going and keep us kind of in the groove of playing games. They definitely help us for ACC [play] going into it having to play during the week.”

The Irish and Bulldogs will square off at Melissa Cook Stadium on Thursday. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.

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About Benjamin Padanilam

Ben is a senior and The Observer’s former Editor-in-Chief, now serving as its interim Sports Editor. He is in the Program of Liberal Studies (PLS) and also pursuing minors in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) and Business Economics. He hails from Toledo, Ohio, and has enjoyed the few highs and many lows of being a Cleveland sports fan.

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