Notre Dame overcomes slow start, goes 3-2 at tournament to start season
Observer Sports Staff | Monday, February 10, 2020
Participating in the NFCA Leadoff Classic in Clearwater, Florida, the Notre Dame softball team got off to a sluggish start to their season, losing a pair of games to Missouri and Auburn by 3-1 and 4-1 scores respectively. But a first-time opponent in Missouri State was the perfect recipe to jumpstart the Irish offense, as they trounced the Bears 16-0 for their first win of the year. The win fueled the Irish, who ended up concluding their weekend with three straight wins, polishing off Ole Miss, 7-5 and South Alabama, 3-1.
After months of hype, it was freshman infielder Joley Mitchell from Rosebud, Arkansas who made headlines in her college debut, as she hit .538 on the weekend to lead the Irish offensive attack over the Jaguars. Senior infielder and captain Katie Marino hit .353 while junior utility player Abby Sweet bashed her way to a .368 clip. In the pitcher’s circle, the Irish were led by junior pitcher Alexis Holloway who recorded a 2-1 record as well as a save throughout the weekend. Junior pitcher Morgan Ryan picked up the win in the final game.
In their season opener, Notre Dame sent their sophomore ace in pitcher Payton Tidd to the mound, and for much of the game Tidd was engaged in a thrilling duel with freshman Missouri pitcher Jordan Weber. Both teams loaded the bases in the first inning, but neither squad could break through. Missouri went up 1-0, but in the bottom of the third, freshman outfielder Leea Hanks singled and stole second, eventually completing her trip around the bases on Marino’s RBI single. Having tossed six sparkling innings, Tidd came out for the seventh and immediately surrendered a single and issued a walk. Ryan replaced Tidd and got two fly outs, but Missouri struck with two-out magic, as redshirt sophomore infielder Kendyll Bailey stroked a run-scoring single to give the Tigers a 2-1 lead. Missouri got one more run on a wild pitch and then handed the ball to closer Eli Daniel who breezed through a 1-2-3 inning with two strikeouts to close out the Tigers’ victory.
A late game collapse doomed the Irish in their second game as well, as they trailed 1-0 for most of the game. It could have been worse but a few stellar defensive plays from Mitchell at third base, as well as an outstanding diving catch from Hanks to strand the bases loaded, kept Auburn at bay. Hanks again sparked the offense, knocking a single and getting to third on consecutive wild pitches. Marino bunted her home to knot the score. Unfortunately, fatigue once again struck, as Holloway, after an outstanding six innings of work, cracked and Auburn struck three times in the seventh to pick up the victory.
A new day brought better luck at the plate for the Irish, as after a slow start, they dominated Missouri State. Scoreless into the bottom of the second, the Notre Dame offense, which had been virtually dormant for the first 15 innings of the season, exploded for eight runs. Sophomore infielder Quinn Biggio and Holloway both cracked RBI singles to start the scoring. A ground out, error and a botched rundown allowed three more runs to score before Sweet doubled in two runs, and Biggio blasted an RBI double to increase their advantage to 8-0. Notre Dame scored eight more times in the third — highlighted by Hanks’ two-run triple. With the advantage 16-0, the final two innings were a mere formality as Notre Dame closed the books on a mercy-rule win for their first victory of the year.
Tidd had a rare shaky performance against No. 21 Ole Miss, as the Irish dug themselves a 4-0 hole in the first inning. A two-run base knock from freshman infielder Brooke Marquez sliced the deficit in half. In the fifth inning, Notre Dame turned to their senior captain to engineer their gutsy comeback. After a ground out scored a run and cut the Ole Miss lead to 4-3, the Rebels intentionally walked Mitchell to face Marino, a decision which did not pay off, as Marino drilled a two-run double to gift the Irish a 5-4 lead. Another ground out scored another run, and Notre Dame had a lead they would not relinquish. Ole Miss came within 6-5, but Marquez restored the two-run advantage with a single to account for the 7-5 final score.
Notre Dame got all the offense they needed in the tournament finale in Clearwater with a two-run first inning. Sweet lined a rocket to deep center field for a run-scoring double, eventually coming around to score on an error. Tidd made her third start of the year, pitching three solid innings and allowing just one run. Both teams scored in the third inning, but that was all the Notre Dame pitching staff would allow for the day. Ryan picked up the win with two innings of scoreless relief, and Holloway matched her output with two scoreless frames of her own for the save.
Notre Dame finished the weekend at 3-2 and they’ll head to Raleigh, North Carolina to take on Illinois and Ohio State twice each as part of the Big 10 versus ACC challenge.