Irish softball ready for stiff competition at Liberty Classic
Matt Smith | Friday, February 26, 2021
After kicking off ACC play last weekend with games against Syracuse and Duke, Notre Dame softball will travel to Lynchburg, Virginia, this weekend to take on Villanova and Liberty in the 2021 Liberty Classic.
With COVID-19 forcing teams to readjust their schedules, the Irish (3-4, 1-3 ACC) were thrust into conference games much earlier than in a typical year.
“I knew it was going to be a tough adjustment early,” head coach Deanna Gumpf said. “Jumping right into ACC, you just never know what to expect. Obviously, we’re not playing our best softball yet, which I don’t really want us to be, so we need time to keep getting better and that’s the plan.”
Although Notre Dame has endured growing pains early on, the team has also discovered potential bright spots in its pitching staff. Senior Alexis Holloway and junior Payton Tidd have led the way so far, with both pitchers starting three games, while senior Morgan Ryan has contributed in limited innings as well.
“They’ve done exactly what I’ve wanted them to do,” Gumpf said. “They are definitely prepared for the competition. They have done an awesome job of leading the way in the circle, and I’m just so proud of how they’ve handled adversity and how they’ve handled unexpected things that have happened.”
However, the offense has struggled to match its pitchers’ strong performances. The Irish only scored nine runs across four games last weekend, but Gumpf believes the team will continue to improve as the season progresses.
“Typically, what you’ll see with Notre Dame softball is our bats tend to get better and better and better throughout the year,” she said. “The more pitches we see, the more pitchers we see, the better we’re going to keep getting.”
With only one home run this season, Gumpf does not see her lineup as a team of power hitters. She said the squad will have to scratch out runs with the ACC being a pitcher-dominant conference, and she wants the offense’s goal to be to lead the country in doubles. First-year first baseman Karina Gaskins has gotten the message, as she leads the team with four doubles and seven RBIs on the season.
“I love the way she attacks the ball at the plate,” Gumpf said. “She will never be cheated at the plate, and it makes her very special. She is going to be one to watch the next four years, she’s going to make a lot of things happen here.”
Notre Dame hopes Gaskins will carry over her strong start to the Liberty Classic, as the offense will have a difficult task matching up against Villanova and Liberty’s pitching staffs.
“Liberty and Villanova are both the top-two teams in their conferences,” Gumpf said. “They both have really good pitching. Liberty is known for its power-hitting. I think this is great competition to prepare us for opening up our conference series ahead.”
With both of Villanova’s games against George Washington postponed last weekend, the Wildcats will play their first contests of the season this weekend. In the shortened spring 2020 season, Villanova finished with a record of 14-13 thanks to the efforts of senior Paige Rauch. As a pitcher and first baseman, Rauch was named a third-team All-American by Softball America, and Notre Dame will need to be aware of her presence at the plate and in the circle.
Liberty has already played ten games, and the Flames (6-4, 0-0 ASUN) have been pitching well with a 3.50 earned run average. First-year pitcher Karlie Keeney has been strong through 32.2 innings, throwing 18 strikeouts to go along with a 3.43 ERA. The power-heavy offense is led by senior infielder Amber Bishop-Riley, who has blasted three home runs and seven RBIs.
The Irish will face the Wildcats three times this weekend with games at 9:00 a.m. Friday, at noon Saturday and 9:00 a.m. Sunday. Notre Dame will have two matchups against Liberty at 11:30 a.m. Friday and 5:30 p.m. Saturday. All games except for Sunday’s contest against Villanova can be seen on ESPN+.