Notre Dame prepares to open season at tournament in Mexico
Observer Sports Staff | Wednesday, February 6, 2019
Notre Dame is ready to escape the frigid weather in South Bend for sunnier days in Mexico. The Irish will begin their season with the three-day Puerto Vallarta College Challenge in Puetro Vallarta, Mexico.
The team will look to build off of a strong 2018 season, which saw them earn the fifth seed in the ACC tournament and a trip to the conference semifinals. The Irish season ended with a 6-1 loss at the hands of eventual ACC and national champion Florida State, and then a failure to advance out of the Lexington regional of the NCAA tournament. The Irish have more than the regionals on their mind this season, as they return eight of their nine leading hitters by batting average and three of their four pitchers from 2018.
Headlining those returning is senior outfielder Ali Wester. Wester appeared in all 57 games for the Irish last season, hitting .365 with 20 runs batted in. She was also a nightmare for opposing catchers, stealing 15 bases on 17 attempts. Wester was named to the ACC all-tournament team last season and will likely hit out of the leadoff spot once again for the Irish to start this season.
Sophomore outfielder Abby Sweet and senior infielder/pitcher Cait Brooks will look to support Wester at the top of the Irish lineup. The pair combined for 64 runs batted in and 12 home runs last year, hitting .333 and .272, respectively. The duo will look to begin building on last year’s numbers in Mexico this weekend.
Sophomore pitcher Alexis Holloway also returns for the Irish. Holloway was on the mound for 228 of the 374.1 defensive innings the Irish played last season, and posted a team-leading 2.55 ERA along with a 22-15 record over 45 appearances. As a freshman, the workhorse pitcher was named to the all-ACC second team as well as the NFCA Mid-Atlantic All-Region First Team, becoming just the third Notre Dame freshman pitcher to earn First-Team all-region honors in program history.
The Irish will begin their opening weekend against Duke on Thursday inside Mexico’s Nancy Almaraz Stadium. The Blue Devils took two out of three games in South Bend last year against the Irish, but failed to advance out of the play-in round of the ACC tournament last year. On Friday, the Irish will turn their attention to Liberty. The Flames and Irish are both currently listed just outside the college softball rankings.
The tournament schedule does not get easier from there, as the Irish will take on No. 9 South Carolina and No. 2/3 Washington in their next two games. The Saturday doubleheader will serve as perhaps one of the tougher tests the Irish will have to face this season, as the Gamecocks and the Huskies could provide what may likely be tougher competition than what the Irish will see in the ACC, as just one ACC team (No. 1 Florida State) was listed in the preseason softball rankings.
Looking ahead to the full season, the Irish will compete in a series of weekend tournaments before ACC play kicks off with Notre Dame traveling to take on the defending-champion Seminoles in the middle of March.
The Irish aim to start their season in full swing, beginning by facing the Blue Devils on Thursday. First pitch is scheduled for 9:30 p.m.