Irish lose 3 of 4 in pitching-dominated weekend to open ACC play
Aidan Thomas | Thursday, February 25, 2021
Notre Dame softball got its ACC schedule started early this past weekend, as the Irish battled through four hard-fought games — one against Syracuse and three against Duke — and walked out with a 1-3 record ahead of this weekend’s five-game Liberty Classic against Villanova and Liberty.
The weekend got off to a disjointed start for the Irish, as two cancellations led to just a single game, instead of the originally scheduled three, against the Orange. When the Irish finally did play, it was a pitching duel between senior Alexis Holloway and Syracuse’s Alexa Romero. The difference in this one was a fourth-inning home run by Syracuse left fielder Toni Martin, whose blast over the center field fence staked the Orange to a 3-0 lead.
Romero was lights out through five innings, but the Irish were able to find some offense in the sixth, forcing Romero from the game. After a pair of groundouts started the frame, senior center fielder Abby Sweet rapped a single, and freshman infielder Karina Gaskins worked a walk. Sophomore left fielder Leea Hanks capitalized on the opportunity, clearing the bases with a double, trimming the deficit to one run. However, Syracuse made a pitching change, and Kaia Oliver closed it out, issuing one walk, but escaping the jam and firing a perfect seventh inning to issue Notre Dame a tough loss in their ACC opener.
“I knew it was going to be a tough adjustment early, jumping right into ACC play,” head coach Deanna Gumpf said. “You don’t know what to expect. We’re not playing our best softball right now, but I wouldn’t want us to be in February.”
After the clash with Syracuse, Notre Dame made the short trip from the neutral site in Chapel Hill to face Duke on the road. The Blue Devils were expected to be one of the top teams in the ACC this season, and this series lived up to the billing. Notre Dame claimed the opener with a comeback victory, knocking out 11 hits after mustering just three in the battle with the Orange. Junior pitcher Payton Tidd starred in the circle with five sparkling innings, surrendering just two unearned runs on five hits and striking out four. After giving up the two runs in the second inning, Tidd also got the Irish offense rolling, leading off the third frame with a double, coming around to score on a single from graduate student third baseman Chelsea Purcell. Notre Dame tied in the fourth, courtesy of a triple from speedy sophomore right fielder Emma Clark, who flew home on senior designated hitter Sarah Genz’s RBI single.
Tidd held things down in the circle from there, as the tense battle unfolded into the sixth inning. The late-game heroics belonged to last game’s starting pitcher, however, as Holloway came to the plate with one out and runners on second and third. She tattooed an offering into left field for a two-run double, putting the Irish ahead for good. Holloway came around to score on a single by Hanks. The senior from Crown Point, Indiana, closed things out with her arm, tossing two innings of one-run ball in relief of Tidd to shut the door on a 5-3 victory.
Unfortunately for Notre Dame, the team couldn’t quite get that same comeback magic in its ensuing games, as runs were at a premium for both teams throughout the series. Holloway dueled with Duke’s Shelby Waters in game two of this series, with the two squads knotted at one run apiece through five innings. Holloway nearly wormed her way out of sixth-inning trouble, but a two-out triple from Deja Davis spelled doom on the Irish hopes of quelling the Blue Devils in consecutive games. Davis knocked in the go-ahead run with her triple and scored on a single to provide insurance, as Duke won 3-1. The Irish cracked just four hits, with a pair coming from freshman infielder Karina Gaskins, who, by the end of the weekend, led the team with four doubles and seven RBIs on the season.
“Karina will never be cheated at the plate,” Gumpf said. “She’s going to be a lot of fun over the next four years.”
The series finale saw even less offense from the Notre Dame bats, as they were shut down by Peyton St. George of the Blue Devils, who scattered three hits and a walk while striking out eight in a complete-game shutout. Clark, Tidd and graduate student second baseman Katie Marino had the lone hits for Notre Dame. Tidd pitched an admirable game from the circle, facing Duke for the second time in three days, but her 5 1/3 innings of three-run (two earned) ball were simply outclassed by St. George, who could not be touched Sunday afternoon. Duke led 1-0 into the sixth inning but rattled Tidd for two more runs in the frame to seal the victory. Senior Morgan Ryan escaped the jam with a pair of strikeouts in relief of Tidd, but the damage was done, as St. George closed out the Irish in the seventh.
For Notre Dame the offense simply wasn’t there this weekend outside of the lone win against Duke, but that was somewhat to be expected. The Irish were jumping into an intense four-game weekend of conference play with just three games under their belt. Outside the 11 hits in the opener versus Duke, the Irish mustered just 10 across their three other contests, with just eight runs over four games. However, Gumpf was less concerned about the offensive performance, as she trusts the bats to come along.
“Our bats tend to get better and better throughout the year, and I think the more pitches we see, the better we’re gonna get,” Gumpf said. “The ACC has some of the top pitchers in the country.”
The Irish travel to Virginia for five games this weekend in the Liberty Classic. They will take on Villanova three times and Liberty twice, looking to improve on their 3-4 overall record. The Irish resume conference play on March 12 against UNC.