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Irish gear up for ACC/Big Ten Challenge

| Thursday, February 15, 2018

Notre Dame will look to get its momentum back as the Irish head into the second of four weekend trips to warm climates.

This weekend, the Irish (3-2) will take on No. 20 Michigan and No. 14 Minnesota as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Notre Dame started its season last weekend in Tempe, Arizona, with three straight wins over Seattle, Saint Mary’s and South Dakota. In those games, the Irish outscored their opponents 21-12.

But the next two games proved to be tougher sledding for Notre Dame, as the No. 18 Arizona State squad proved to be too much for the Irish to handle in a 9-1 loss. Then, Fresno State mounted a comeback victory over Notre Dame to take a 5-4 win in the final day of the Kajikawa Classic.

To pick up some wins against ranked competition, Notre Dame will look to senior shortstop Morgan Reed and sophomore second baseman Katie Marino to keep up their offensive production. Reed is hitting .438 and Marino is hitting .462, and the pair have five combined home runs between them.

A few new contributors stepped up last week in Arizona as well. Freshman center fielder Abby Sweet batted .375 over the weekend, picking up six hits in 16 at-bats, including two doubles and a walk. Sophomore left fielder Alexis Bazos also posted a .556 average in three starts with five hits over nine at-bats.

A duo of freshman pitchers also saw their first action in Notre Dame uniforms last weekend: Morgan Ryan and Alexis Holloway. Holloway, especially, looked strong in her 14.2 innings of work. The Crown Point, Indiana, native tallied 21 strikeouts, pitched two complete games and gave up 11 earned runs.

The other Irish pitcher who saw a heavy dose of time on the mound was senior Katie Beriont. Beriont exited the weekend with a 2-1 record and a 3.15 ERA. If Irish head coach Deanna Gumpf sticks to the gameplan from the Kajikawa Classic, Beriont and Holloway will see a significant amount of playing time versus Notre Dame’s two Big Ten foes this weekend.

The weekend’s action will be split up across three days. On Friday, the Irish will play one game against the Wolverines (3-2) before a rematch on Saturday, followed by the first game against Minnesota (5-0). On Sunday, the Irish will face the Golden Gophers a final time.

Like Notre Dame, both Michigan and Minnesota played a series of five games in season-opening tournaments. The Wolverines picked up three wins in their opening weekend in Tampa, Florida, losing to USF and No. 2 Florida.

Michigan’s pitchers also put up strong outings in its opening weekend of play. Freshman Meghan Beaubien and senior Tera Blanco both posted ERAs of under 1.92 in 19 and 11 innings pitched, respectively. Beaubien also struck out 29 opposing batters.

Meanwhile, Minnesota traveled to Nevada for its opening stage of play and went 5-0, though the Golden Gophers did not face another ranked team. The Golden Gophers outscored their opponents 27-11 in their five games, and shut out UNLV and North Dakota State.

The ACC/Big Ten Challenge marks the beginning of a difficult stretch of the schedule for Notre Dame. Starting this weekend, the Irish will play a number of highly-ranked teams, including No. 13 Auburn, No. 6 Texas A&M and No. 4 Washington.

But in the present, the Irish will have their eyes on Michigan and Minnesota, with action beginning this Friday in Tallahassee, Florida.

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