Irish to face No. 8 Northwestern and Ohio State in Big Ten/ACC Challenge
J.J. Post | Thursday, February 16, 2023
This weekend, Notre Dame softball will face its first major challenge of the season at the Big Ten/ACC Challenge in Clemson, South Carolina.
The Irish got their season off to a solid start in San Diego, posting a 4-1 record last weekend. That being said, they didn’t face any major tests, seeing just one ranked opponent in the five games. Notre Dame did beat No. 22 Arizona State, but the Sun Devils are an early-season mystery, fluctuating in their ranking amidst various databases. They also lost to a San Diego State squad that saw similar votes in the preseason poll as the Irish.
In South Carolina, the Irish will get a chance to prove themselves with two games against one of the sport’s elites in Northwestern. The Wildcats are a consensus top-15 team and are fresh off a trip to the College World Series in 2022. The ‘Cats are anchored by one of the nation’s premier aces Danielle Williams. She led the Big Ten in ERA, strikeouts and wins last season.
The Irish will also get a pair of games against a battle-tested Ohio State squad. While the Buckeyes’ record doesn’t catch the eye at just 2-2, their two losses came against a pair of top-20 squads in Georgia and UCF. Ohio State is also coming off an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2022, its first since 2019.
For the Irish to build on their momentum from San Diego and potentially grab a statement win, they’ll need contributions from all over the lineup. One notable breakout performer from the opening weekend is junior catcher Carlli Kloss, who debuted as a leadoff hitter after spending most of last season hitting in the 7th or 8th slot when she started. Kloss hit .500 over Notre Dame’s first five games, with five RBIs, eight hits and six total runs scored. All three of those totals account for team leads.
If Kloss represents a breakout player stepping up in the Irish lineup, Karina Gaskins is the proven commodity. The Irish will rely on Gaskins to continue her greatness through this season. She led the Irish in just about every conceivable hitting metric last season. While Gaskins hasn’t started off as torrid as Kloss, there’s plenty of evidence that she’s well on her way to another terrific season.
Gaskins’ 13 home runs in 2022 more than doubled the next closest Irish hitter. She clubbed her first long ball of the season in San Diego and also notched a pair of RBI. In a sign of the increased respect she might get at the plate this year after her terrific 2022, Gaskins drew six walks over the first five games, leading all Notre Dame players. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the Irish offense either. More runners getting on base means more potential runs to be scored, but Notre Dame will need to lean on the back half of their order to produce in order to take advantage.
On the mound, veteran ace Payton Tidd will likely handle Notre Dame’s biggest starts in Clemson. Tidd made up a one-two punch with Alexis Holloway last season. With Holloway’s graduation, Tidd is the only upperclassmen member of the Irish rotation in 2022.
Head coach Deanna Gumpf put Tidd on the mound for Notre Dame’s biggest game in San Diego, a win over Arizona State. The graduate student is all but a lock to get the start in at least one of the squad’s showdowns with Northwestern.
Also in line for some feature moments in the pitcher’s circle, however, is sophomore Shannon Becker. Becker quietly excelled as the third option for the Irish in 2022, and once again notched some stellar numbers in San Diego. Although Becker currently stands as the only Notre Dame pitcher with a loss on their record, she posted a remarkable 1.05 ERA over the course of four appearances over the weekend.
It seems highly unlikely Becker will overtake the proven veteran Tidd in the rotation. However, Becker should serve as a rather overqualified second option. That’ll help keep Tidd rested and provide a valuable resource in the Irish bullpen.
Notre Dame will look to continue their strong start to the season on Friday against Ohio State. The first pitch is slated for 12:00 pm in Clemson, South Carolina.