Irish to return to conference play with series against Pittsburgh
Marek Mazurek | Friday, April 8, 2016
Following a brief interlude against IUPUI, No. 20 Notre Dame returns to conference play and hosts Pittsburgh in a three-game series this weekend.
The Irish (27-6, 5-3 ACC) enter the series against the Panthers (24-13, 5-7 ACC) having won two games in a row, including a 5-4 walk-off victory against No. 9 Florida State. Sophomore left fielder Bailey Bigler’s game-winning single handed the Seminoles their first ACC loss of the year, and clutch hitting has been a trend for the Irish in their recent contests.
In addition to Bigler’s single, freshman designated player Caitlyn Brooks broke the IUPUI game open in the second inning with a three-run home run that turned a 3-2 Irish lead into an insurmountable 6-2 advantage. Irish head coach Deanna Gumpf said she has been impressed with her team’s ability to get hits in key situations.
“I think if you look at our games this entire spring, we have done a great job of, even when we’re behind, making things happen throughout the lineup,” Gumpf said. “Luckily it’s somebody new everyday. We don’t have to depend on just three hitters. We can depend on nine, and that’s really nice. I think it’s something our team is very confident with, if we can get a runner on, we can score.”
But the Irish offense isn’t only performing when the spotlight is on. Led by junior center fielder Karley Wester, Notre Dame is currently eighth in the nation in batting average at .346 and 11th in runs per game with 7.30. Wester sports an average of .437 and leads the team with 55 hits and 29 stolen bases.
The Panthers will bring offensive firepower when they come to town as well. Sophomore catcher Giorgiana Zeremenko highlights a Pittsburgh lineup that averages just under seven runs a game. The Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, native is hitting .429 on the year with 42 RBIs and a slugging percentage of .952, currently seventh in the country. Zeremenko also leads the Panthers with 12 home runs.
“[Pittsburgh is] very powerful,” Gumpf said. “We want to keep them in the yard and make them swing at pitches we want them to swing at. So if we’re doing that, we’re doing some things really well.”
On the mound, Notre Dame has relied on senior left-hander Allie Rhodes and junior right-hander Rachel Nasland to carry the bulk of the load. Rhodes paces the Irish with 12 wins in 18 starts and has accumulated 104 strikeouts on the year.
Nasland, on the other hand, leads the Irish with a 1.93 ERA and picked up her 10th win of the season against the Jaguars on Tuesday. Gumpf said Rhodes and Nasland have been performing well and need to continue to keep games within reach.
“The one thing our team always needs is, they need someone to keep us in the ballgame,” Gumpf said. “I think Rachel and Allie have both proven that they are capable of doing that and give us a chance to win. That’s their whole goal. Their goal isn’t to be perfect. Their goal is to give us a chance to win, keep us in the ballgame.”
As it currently stands, the Irish and the Panthers will play a doubleheader on Saturday, followed by a noon matchup on Sunday. However, unusually cold weather in South Bend may force some or all of the games to be cancelled. Notre Dame already postponed its game against DePaul from Thursday to April 27. Gumpf said the possibility of a cancellation will not affect her team’s preparation.
“That’s completely uncontrollable,” Gumpf said. “We try not to worry about that as much as possible. We’re going to go out Saturday ready to play and if we play, if we get [the games] in, we’ll get them in.”
The Irish and the Panthers are currently slated to begin action Saturday at 1 p.m. at Melissa Cook Stadium.