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ND Softball

Irish drop two in weekend series with Tar Heels

| Tuesday, March 27, 2018

With the bases loaded and nobody out, Notre Dame looked poised to take an early lead in the rubber match of its series against North Carolina.

Junior left fielder Ali Wester singled, freshman center fielder Abby Sweet was hit by a pitch and senior shortstop Morgan Reed reached on a bunt single.

But the Irish (20-10, 5-3 ACC) were unable to capitalize, failing to score a run then and the rest of the way, as the Tar Heels (16-16, 6-3) went on to win a 1-0 pitcher’s duel and take a 2-1 series win over the Irish.

“You don’t realize the impact of that until it doesn’t happen again,” Irish head coach Deanna Gumpf said. “We had a huge opportunity in the first inning, and that’s where we’ve been really great, that first inning. That was uncharacteristic of us to not be able to scrap one through.”

With the momentum on their side after escaping the first inning, North Carolina looked to start a two-out rally in the top of the second inning with a double and a walk. The next Tar Heel batter hit a bloop single to left field, but Wester scooped up the ball and made a strong throw home to beat the runner and allow the Irish to escape the inning scoreless.

The game soon turned into a pitcher’s duel, as freshman right-hander Alexis Holloway got out of a few situations with runners in scoring position. In addition to Wester’s throwout in the second inning, Holloway got a key strikeout with a Tar Heels runner on second base in the top of the fourth.

Meanwhile, North Carolina sophomore left-hander Brittany Pickett was in the zone after the first inning, allowing just five hits all game with no walks and six strikeouts.

“It was the pitching,” Gumpf said. “Pickett from North Carolina … she got better and made an adjustment against our hitters [from Friday to Sunday], and that’s typical. What we have to do as hitters is counter that adjustment and make our adjustment to hit her better, and that’s where I feel we fell short.”

Though Pickett was stellar, Holloway was solid as well, giving up just one run in her own complete game effort.

“[Holloway’s] young and this is all new for her, and I think she’s handled things really, really well,” Gumpf said. “Friday night, I left her in way too long, I should have got her out earlier. But [Sunday], she showed a lot of character coming out and handling them very well.”

In the end, North Carolina broke through first in the top of the seventh inning. Tar Heels junior center fielder Kiani Ramsey managed an infield single that Reed couldn’t quite handle. A bunt moved Ramsey to second, and Tar Heels junior third baseman Berlynne Delamora knocked in the game’s first run on a single through the left side of the infield.

Down to its last chance, Notre Dame tried to answer. Sophomore second baseman Katie Marino bombed a double to deep left field. A bunt moved Marino to third with one out. Senior pinch hitter Sara White and sophomore right fielder Alexis Bazos could not score Marino, however, and the Irish fell, 1-0.

The Irish started the homestand Friday with a 7-4 loss. Holloway started on the mound for Notre Dame, allowing seven runs, but only three of them were earned.

The Tar Heels used a five-run third inning to break the game open after the Irish raced out to an early 2-0 lead. North Carolina benefitted from an Irish fielding error to plate five runs, only one of them earned. Irish junior pitcher and designated player Cait Brooks attempted to will Notre Dame back in the game with a solo home run in the bottom of the sixth, but the Irish were unable to mount a comeback, falling 7-4.

On Saturday, Notre Dame fared better, taking a 9-1 victory in a blowout. Reed started the Irish scoring with an RBI double to the left field gap to score Sweet. Junior third baseman Melissa Rochford brought Reed home with a single to make it 2-0 Notre Dame after one inning.

And Notre Dame was just getting started offensively.

A passed ball by North Carolina brought home another Irish runner in the second, and two Tar Heel errors in the third led to another run and a 4-0 lead after three innings. A three-run bottom of the fourth — capped off by a two-run double by Rochford — broke the game open and gave Notre Dame a 7-1 lead.

The Irish added two more runs later on and senior left-hander Katie Beriont was stellar on the mound to lead Notre Dame to a 9-1 win in six innings. Beriont improved her record to 7-4 with the win.

Next up, Notre Dame has a Tuesday game with Eastern Michigan, set to start at 4:30 p.m., followed by a quick turnaround and a game against Purdue on Wednesday at 5 p.m. Both games will be at Melissa Cook Stadium.

“I’m excited to get back on the field and get back to work,” Gumpf said. “Right now, we just have to focus on hard work and continue to improve our game. We’re letting things happen to us that are detrimental to the wins and loss category.”

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About Marek Mazurek

Marek is a senior history major and is a former resident of Carroll Hall. He has lived in Mishawaka or South Bend for all 21 years of his life and covers Notre Dame football and men's basketball. He has loads of hand-eye coordination but lacks the height to be any good. Marek is also a proud esports supporter.

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