Softball to begin ACC play at Duke
Greg McKenna | Friday, February 28, 2020
After managing to go .500 against stiff competition in the Mary Nutter Classic, Notre Dame will face another test this weekend when the team travels to Durham, North Carolina, to begin a three game series against Duke on Friday. The series marks the first games on the conference slate for two talented squads lurking just outside the current top-25.
The Irish’s (10-5) 3-3 performance last weekend was punctuated by a 7-3 win over No. 16 Arizona State. Sophomore pitcher Payton Tidd picked up the win after holding the Sun Devils (12-5) to only three runs in four innings of work. Junior pitcher Alexis Holloway then continued her trend of being virtually unhittable this season, holding the Sun Devils scoreless in the final three innings to earn the save. The Irish also did damage at the plate early, forcing Arizona State to go to the bullpen in just the second inning after putting up three runs in the first two innings. Notre Dame extended the lead to 6-0 in the top of the fourth, and though the Sun Devils responded with three runs of their own in Tidd’s final inning of action, the advantage would not be relinquished.
On the bus to Durham, Notre Dame head coach Deanna Gumpf explained that she has been pleased with her team’s response to a challenging schedule thus far, and she thinks the quality of competition will help the Irish improve.
“I think we’ve done a really good job of playing a really tough schedule,” Gumpf said. “I think it really shows us … some areas where we need to get better. When you play good teams, they’re going to expose things that we need to work on. So I like the fact that we played some really good competition, that we played well … and it has shown us areas [where] we need to really focus and improve.”
The Irish were not able to end their trip to Palm Springs, California, with a win, however. The Irish held a 3-1 lead against Cal State Fullerton heading into the bottom of the sixth, but a two-run home run, some more timely hitting and throwing errors resulted in a four run inning for the Titans (10-5). The Irish were able to score once and put the tying run on base in top of the seventh but were unable to capitalize.
Gumpf acknowledged that Notre Dame has occasionally left too many runners on-base and has costly errors but largely attributes some of mistakes and missed opportunities to growing pains.
“One game, we left 11 runners on base. … If we can get a couple of those people in, it changes the game,” she said. “We’ve had some errors that have gotten us in some trouble. But that’s going to happen. And that’s how you grow and learn, so … I feel like it’s all worth it, as long as we get better.”
Notre Dame has been able to consistently rely on the pitching of Holloway, Tidd and junior Morgan Ryan to keep the Irish in games. Holloway has performed especially well, posting a 0.24 ERA and holding opposing batters to a .186 batting average in 58 and two-thirds innings pitched.
Gumphf emphasized that she was happy with all three.
“I think our pitching staff overall has done a really nice job,” Gumpf said. “Every single game [they have] given us a chance to win.”
The top of Notre Dame’s order has been an almost impossible challenge for most opposing pitching staffs. The alum of the Pingry School has also maintained a batting average just under .400, which is second only to reigning ACC player of the week Abby Sweet.
Sweet, a junior center-fielder hailing from Newhall, California, recorded 10 hits at the Mary Nutter Classic, including four doubles and a home run. She leads the team with 18 RBIs and a .413 batting average.
“I think Sweet’s been phenomenal,” Gumpf said. “[Senior second baseman] Katie Marino has had a great season so far. … They’re on fire.”
Duke (14-2) will enter Friday’s game on a five-game win streak which includes a 1-0 victory at No. 3 Texas. The Blue Devils are lead at the dish by sophomore right fielder Caroline Jacobsen, who hit for a .417 average and six home runs. The Irish will also have to be prepared to earn every run this weekend, as no Duke pitcher has an ERA above 2.00.
Gumpf was very complimentary of the Blue Devils, but was adamant that the Irish will just need to approach this series like any other.
“Duke’s a really good team,” she said. “I think they’re a very mature team right now because they’re kind of the same group of girls on the same team for the third year in a row. … They hit well, … and their pitching definitely has really risen to win them some big ball games. …They’re great opponents; they’re going to play great softball. It’s just about us making sure we’re playing our game and know what we need to do to win. … That’s all that matters.”
Though Notre Dame has plenty of non-conference games remaining on the schedule, Gumpf is excited to begin ACC play and anticipates a very competitive year in the conference.
“We have, I think, five teams currently ranked in the top-30, which is crazy,” Gumpf said. “I think that’s a really great start for the ACC, and I think it’s just going to keep getting better. I would expect to be six teams in the NCAA [tournament] the way that teams are going right now.”
First pitch on Friday is scheduled for 5 p.m.