Irish set to open season with tough road trip
Observer Sports Staff | Wednesday, February 7, 2018
No sport is a stranger to prolonged road trips. It’s just the nature of collegiate athletics.
But the start of Notre Dame’s softball season marks a series of road games that few teams can match.
Over the next month, the Irish will being their season by traveling to Tempe, Arizona; Tallahassee, Florida; Cathedral City, California, and Kissimmee, Florida, in consecutive weekends.
Over the course of the month-long set of games away from South Bend, the Irish will see some of the best teams in the nation.
In the Kajikawa Classic this weekend in Tempe, Notre Dame will face off against No. 23 Arizona State on Saturday.
The next weekend at the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, the Irish will take on No. 16 Minnesota and No. 18 Michigan.
And the weekend after that (Feb. 22-23), Notre Dame finds itself going up against No. 13 Auburn, No. 6 Texas A&M and No. 4 Washington.
But the whirlwind of away games in warm-weather locations is nothing new to the Irish. Each year, Notre Dame begins its season with a number of road trips against nationally-ranked opponents.
Last year, the Irish played a similarly tough slate of games and came away with wins over three top-15 teams — Oklahoma, Michigan and Georgia.
The 2018 team that will fly out to Tempe looks largely similar to last year’s squad that earned a berth in the NCAA tournament.
Many of Notre Dame’s key bats from 2017 will return again including junior outfielder Ali Wester, senior shortstop Morgan Reed, junior pitcher/infielder Cait Brooks and junior infielder Melissa Rochford. All four players hit over .300 last season and combined to hit 22 home runs.
Last season, the Irish finished third in the ACC in batting average, runs scored and hits.
However, as the Irish gear up for the start of the year, they will be without a few key contributors from the previous year, as the Irish lose captain and four-year contributor Karley Wester.
Wester racked up 67 hits in last year’s campaign and led the Irish in steals with 31, in addition to posting a strong .981 fielding percentage in center field. To replace Karley Wester’s production, Notre Dame may look to her sisters Ali and Riley. In her first two years with the team, Ali Wester has cemented her spot in the Irish starting lineup, earning All-ACC honors in each of her first two years. Riley Wester, a freshman, will look to make an impact in her first year at Notre Dame and sported a .418 career batting average in high school.
On the mound, Notre Dame loses Rachel Nasland from last year’s team. Last year, the Irish relied significantly on Nasland as she led the team in wins, innings pitched, starts, strikeouts and saves.
With Nasland gone, Notre Dame will turn to senior Katie Beriont to shoulder the load on the mound. Last season Beriont posted a solid statline with a 12-6 record, an ERA of 3.97 and her first career no-hitter against conference-foe North Carolina.
Completing the rotation for Notre Dame will be Brooks and freshmen Alexis Holloway and Morgan Ryan. Holloway hails from Crown Point, Indiana, and was named the Gatorade Indiana Softball Player of the Year and the top pitcher of the 2017 high school class. Meanwhile, Ryan was named the Gatorade Pennsylvania Softball Player of the Year.
Notre Dame will begin its season at the Kajikawa Classic with games against Seattle, Saint Mary’s, South Dakota, No. 23 Arizona State and Fresno State over the weekend.