Notre Dame posts 1-3 record at Big Ten/ACC Challenge
Tyler Reidy | Tuesday, February 21, 2023
Notre Dame softball visited Clemson for its second weekend of action, competing against Ohio State and No. 14 Northwestern. The Irish beat the Buckeyes in Friday’s opener but dropped the final three games of the event. The weekend began positively, as the Irish hit OSU well and tested the Wildcats. However, ND’s final 11 innings in Clemson revealed where it can improve most. Reflecting on the four-game set, head coach Deanna Gumpf appreciated the opportunity in front of her team.
“We really got to see our strengths and weaknesses against tough competition,” Gumpf said. “The best thing is that this can be a learning experience for us.”
The weekend began with three scoreless frames between OSU and ND. Ohio State broke the ice with two in the fourth, but the Irish immediately countered. With two runners aboard, senior infielder Joley Mitchell clubbed a double to the left-center field gap, cutting the deficit in half. Then, with two still on base, graduate infielder Lexi Orozco had her first big moment with the Irish. The Utah State transfer slugged a three-run homer out to left-center field, putting Notre Dame ahead 4-2. It was her 40th career long ball and her first with Notre Dame.
Payton Tidd kept the Buckeyes hitless in the next two innings, maintaining the narrow lead. In the bottom of the sixth, she called her own number for a major dose of run support. With two outs and two runners in scoring position, Tidd mashed a second three-run home run to left field. That quickly, Notre Dame led by five with just three outs to go. Gumpf stuck with Tidd in the circle, and she sealed the deal on the 7-2 victory. Tidd now owns 31 complete games, including four in which she also homered.
“We felt really good on Saturday morning,” Gumpf said. “Obviously, Payton did a great job of leading us off.”
Notre Dame’s offense slowed down against Northwestern, generating three hits in Saturday’s first game. Freshman Micaela Kastor started in the circle for Notre Dame and lived on the edge for two-plus innings of work. She walked four and allowed three hits, but Tidd came on to bail her out in the third. The fifth inning saw Northwestern finally strike first. Angela Zedak sent a go-ahead double to right-center, and Nikki Cuchran followed her up with an RBI single. That was all graduate student pitcher Cami Henry needed to finish off the Irish with a complete game. Notre Dame had been shut out for the second time after going empty just once all of last season.
After a tough morning game, the Irish bats initially responded masterfully on the doubleheader’s back end. Through four innings, Notre Dame collected six hits and jumped out to a 4-0 lead. At the same time, sophomore Shannon Becker was cruising, having retired nine of the first 11 Buckeyes. Ohio State responded in the bottom of the fourth, putting the first two hitters on ahead of senior outfielder Meggie Otte. She tripled them both home, drawing OSU back within two.
Sophomore catcher Rachel Allen put a damper on Ohio State’s momentum in the fifth, belting her first home run of the year. Becker then worked a one-two-three inning, and Notre Dame appeared in prime position for a win, leading 5-2 in the sixth. The Buckeyes made two quick outs, but refused to fade away. Hannah Church doubled in between two walks, cutting the deficit to two and forcing Becker out of the game. Payton Tidd entered to pitch for the third time in 24 hours, but Ohio State scored another run on a walk. The Buckeyes still trailed 5-4 in the seventh but swung with the confidence of a team up ten. Destinee Noury opened the frame with a double and Otte tied the game with an RBI double of her own. Tidd stranded two baserunners to avoid a walk-off, setting up extra innings.
Both teams missed out on opportunities in the eighth. The Irish put runners on first and second, but junior catcher Kloss and junior first baseman Karina Gaskins couldn’t come through. Ohio State did the same thing, but Noury lined into an inning-ending double play. After another quiet half-inning from the ND offense, the Buckeyes completed the comeback in the ninth. Tidd allowed the game-winning run to reach base on a hit-by-pitch, and Church drove her in with a double to the left field corner.
“We just didn’t finish,” Gumpf said. “There were too many free passes and we didn’t make things happen.”
The Wildcats flexed their muscles Sunday morning, never letting the Irish see the lead. Becker pitched for the Irish and encountered major trouble in the third inning. With two runs already in, Cuchran ripped a three-run double to open a 5-0 Northwestern lead. Notre Dame played long ball in the inning’s bottom half to counter with three runs, as Kloss and Orozco each whacked their second homers of the season.
As the game moved on to the fifth inning, Northwestern struck for three more runs off Micaela Kastor. The ‘Cats closed with two runs off freshman Paige Cowley in her collegiate debut, finishing out a lopsided victory. Notre Dame’s offense surged early behind three hits from sophomore infielder Jane Kronenberger, but Wildcat pitching controlled the Irish in the later innings.
Kronenberger went 7-for-14 on the weekend, while Lexi Orozco cracked two homers and drove in five runs. Among the pitching staff, Gumpf noticed a widespread issue: free bases. Irish pitchers walked 13 and hit seven batters in the final two contests.
Notre Dame will play six more games next weekend at The Spring Games in Madeira Beach, Florida. Oakland, UT Martin, FIU, Siena and Dartmouth will take on the 5-4 Irish.