Irish to put unbeaten home record on the line vs. Virginia
Greg McKenna | Friday, April 16, 2021
Deanna Gumpf isn’t complaining. Notre Dame has had its last five scheduled games cancelled following positive COVID-19 tests within the program last week, but the Irish head coach said her team has dealt with too much to let rust be an excuse when Notre Dame (18-12, 9-10 ACC) hosts Virginia (13-21, 9-16 ACC) for a four-game series this weekend at Melissa Cook Stadium.
“It’s been tough,” Gumpf said. “This spring has not been easy and we’ve had a lot of challenges. So regardless of how many practices we’ve had or haven’t, we’ve got to make the most out of these opportunities and be the very best softball team we possibly can be.”
Gumpf, who picked up her 770th win as Irish head coach in an 8-1 win over Western Michigan last time out, did admit this season was “hands-down” unlike any other during her twenty years at the helm in South Bend.
“I think this has been so unusual just because you plan for the unexpected,” she said. “But at the end of the day, we’re all dealing with something that nobody has ever dealt with before.”
With the victory over the Broncos last Wednesday, Notre Dame extended its home winning streak to ten games. The Irish have not lost at Melissa Cook since April 2019.
The midweek victory provided an opportunity for Notre Dame to rebound from an Easter weekend sweep against ACC-leaders and current No. 9-ranked Florida State. The Irish entered Tallahassee on a seven-game winning streak, but Notre Dame only managed one run in four games against the Seminoles and were eight-run ruled in both games of the Saturday double header.
The Irish bats came alive with 13 hits against the Broncos, however. Gumpf said Notre Dame’s offense is what can truly set the Irish apart.
“And when that’s clicking really well, we’re really, really tough,” she said. “So we know that we have the ability to stay in any ballgame with our defense and our pitching. But our offense really does everything that makes us shine.”
At the top of the lineup, Notre Dame has statistically the most potent one-two punch in the conference in senior captains and California natives Abby Sweet and Emma Clark, who have the first and third-highest batting averages in the ACC among qualified players, respectively.
Sweet not only paces the conference with her .484 average, which ranks 8th nationally, but also leads the ACC with 79 total bases and 12 doubles. The center-fielder is also tied for the ACC lead with 46 hits.
Clark, who typically plays in right-field, is currently batting .427 and is fifth in the conference with 41 hits.
Clark and Sweet combined for four hits against the Broncos, but the Irish got huge contributions further down the lineup as well.
Senior pitcher Alexis Holloway, who only gave up one run on three hits in four innings of work against Western Michigan, also went 3-3 at the plate vs. the Broncos, including a solo home run to lead off the fourth inning that gave the Irish a 2-1 lead.
Gumpf said Notre Dame relies on both Holloway and junior Payton Tidd to be not just great pitchers, but hitters and all-around athletes.
“The way that they’ve been able to be huge forces in the middle of our lineup and also keeping us in all of our ballgames, that’s a lot to take on,” Gumpf said. “But they handle it with pure maturity, and they just do a great job with it.”
Holloway’s home run against the Broncos was her second of the year. Tidd has recorded 8 extra base hits this season, including three home runs.
Senior infielder Sarah Genz, who serves as a captain with Sweet and Clark, also had a big day in just her 13th start this season for the Irish. Genz, who got the start at first base over freshman slugger Karina Gaskins, went 3-4 on the day, including a two-run RBI double in the fifth.
The Lakeville, Minn., native is currently batting .195 on the year. Gumpf said that while Genz struggled at the plate early in the season, she believes the senior’s offensive production will be a key factor down the stretch for the Irish.
“We really needed Sarah to step up against Western Michigan,” Gumpf said. “And she did exactly what I hoped she would do. [She] came up big for us in big situations, and we know that Sarah is capable of doing that.”
Notre Dame has historically dominated Virginia and leads the all-time series against the Cavaliers 17-3.
A series win this weekend could go a long way towards propelling the Irish into the top half of the ACC standings. Notre Dame currently sits seventh in the conference after being picked to finish third in the preseason poll.
Despite a losing record in ACC play, Notre Dame appears poised to make its 22nd consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.
The Irish are currently ranked 34th in the country in RPI, and Gumpf said she does not think her team will be fazed by any extra pressure related to being on or near the bubble.
“I think it’s just part of the game and part of a long season that we play,” she said. “I love that it’s [Notre Dame] softball’s legacy to be a postseason team. I love that about us; I think that it makes us really special.”
First-pitch Friday is scheduled for 5 p.m. The entire series will be broadcast on ACC Network Extra.