Irish overcome slow start to make 19th straight NCAA tournament
Darcy Dehais | Friday, May 19, 2017
Throughout many highs and lows this season, Irish head coach Deanna Gumpf said the team’s focus was to take things “one inning at a time,” focusing on the present moment without worrying about overall outcomes.
Notre Dame (33-21-0, 13-11-0 ACC) began the season with a tough schedule against many ranked opponents, often facing them on the road. Losses to No. 2 Minnesota, No. 17 Michigan, No. 10 UCLA, Texas and No. 22 Arizona State left the Irish with an 4-8 record after their first twelve games.
Gumpf said the demanding schedule early in the season was ultimately beneficial, allowing her team to learn from its mistakes and identify what needed to be changed.
“I don’t think we could have planned a more difficult schedule,” Gumpf said. “Looking back on it, through that time, we figured out who we wanted to be and who we needed to be to play well. We’ve seen the team that does it, and we’ve seen the team that doesn’t. There’s no doubt — if you asked every single player on this team who we need to be and what they need to bring, they’re going to know exactly what they need to do.”
When ACC play began, Notre Dame’s struggles continued, as they lost two of three games at Georgia Tech and dropped another three games at No. 4 Florida State.
Despite its troubles early on, Notre Dame managed to turn a corner after these series. It won seven games in a row to close out March and start April on the right note, including victories over ACC opponents Virginia Tech and Louisville.
Gumpf said the pitching against Virginia Tech (19-34-0, 5-19-0) and Louisville (31-19-0, 14-8-0) made the difference in the wins, noting that holding their opponents to no more than three runs is a key to success.
“We just straight-up played better softball,” Gumpf said. “Our pitchers gave us a chance to win the game. If you can keep a team three runs or under, you’re going to give our offense a chance to win the game. We know that three is the magic number. If we can stay within three runs, we can win the ballgame, and that’s a pitcher’s job.”
The season was filled with ups and downs from then on, highlighted by three wins in the series against North Carolina State.
Gumpf said the length of the NCAA softball season means there are typically strong and weak points for every team. She emphasized the importance of staying consistent throughout the season.
“When you’re playing a 60-game season, you’re going to see the good, the bad and the ugly,” she said. “We’re going to see our very best softball at some points, and we’re going to see our very worst softball at some points. It’s just the name of the game and the name of the season, and there’s not a team out there that hasn’t had their highs and their lows. As long as we remain somewhere in the middle and stay consistent, we’re fine.”
A high point in the season came on April 8 against one of the ACC’s top offenses in North Carolina when junior pitcher Katie Beriont threw her first career no-hitter to secure the 2-0 win for the Irish at Melissa Cook Stadium.
Gumpf praised Beriont, calling her performance “awesome” and “beautiful.”
“It was really fun to watch Katie do that because, that day, she didn’t do anything extra special,” Gumpf said. “She just hit spots so well and kept them off-balance with her change up.”
The Notre Dame team was led this year by seniors Dana Bouquet, Rachel Nasland, Kimmy Sullivan and Karley Wester. Gumpf said the class of 2017 set an important example for the underclassmen on the team and provided critical leadership throughout the season.
“All four of them bring such a different and important aspect to our team,” Gumpf said. “Combined, they’ve done an amazing job of having a good standard for this team and knowing what’s expected of them. All four of them are so important and a huge part of the puzzle. When they’re intact, good things happen.”
The Irish closed out the regular season with a series win over Boston College. They defeated the Eagles (31-22-0, 14-9-0) once again in the first round of the ACC tournament. They fell in the second round, however, to Florida State (50-6-1, 24-0-0). Their play down the stretch was just enough to qualify them for the NCAA tournament for a 19th straight season, meaning their season is not over just yet. On Sunday, Notre Dame found out it would first challenge California in the first round of NCAA regional action.
The Irish and Golden Bears will square off Friday at 2 p.m. at Jane B. Moore Field in Auburn, Alabama.