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ND Softball

Irish softball looks to capitalize on struggling Wolfpack

| Thursday, March 9, 2023

Notre Dame softball will head back to the Tar Heel State for its second ACC series of the year. The Irish (11-6, 1-2), will face NC State (5-13, 0-3) at Dail Softball Stadium. Last weekend, both teams suffered series losses against ranked opposition. Notre Dame took No. 15 Duke to the wire, but dropped game three in dramatic fashion. Meanwhile, the Wolfpack went winless at No. 11 Virginia Tech, scoring just four runs in three games.

Notre Dame ready for a step forward

After a highly competitive series with the top-tier Blue Devils, the Irish know they can handle the best. Now, they want to begin solidifying their place in the top half of the ACC. Statistically, nothing stands out about Notre Dame; the Irish sit near the conference average both at the plate and in the circle. But, a big weekend in Raleigh, N.C. could send them on the upswing before a four-game departure from league play.

Offensively, Notre Dame’s middle part of the lineup has been solid. The Irish have five players with an OPS of at least .800. Among them, graduate student infielder Lexi Orozco and junior infielder Karina Gaskins have combined for seven home runs. However, in comparison to other ACC teams, Notre Dame doesn’t have a true game-changer at the plate. Gaskins, the 2022 ACC Player of the Year, could be that hitter, but teams have forced her to be patient and take 16 walks. Against what has been a brutal NC State pitching staff, the Irish will look to get the whole lineup going and free up Gaskins in the process.

Notre Dame has another opportunity to get it right this weekend with sophomore pitcher Shannon Becker. While graduate student Payton Tidd and freshman Micaela Kastor have thrived, Notre Dame’s third arm hasn’t quite been her usual self. After posting a 1.95 ERA as a freshman, Becker currently has a 3.95 in 39 innings of work. She ended February well, but allowed five runs in 2.2 innings on Saturday. The Wolfpack’s lineup, which hit .134 last weekend, offers Becker a chance to find her form again.

Wolfpack working through a transition year

For an NC State team returning only ten players, the season’s first month was rough. After opening the year 0-6 and losing twice to James Madison, NC State relieved Jennifer Patrick-Swift of her head coaching duties. Through 18 games, the Wolfpack yields the worst batting average (.235) and fielding percentage (.946) in the conference. NC State’s ACC-worst 7.00 ERA sits more than two and half runs higher than that of 12th place Syracuse. Opponents have made a pinata of the Wolfpack’s staff, swinging away to a batting average of .355.

Even so, there were a handful of promising signs scattered throughout the 5-13 start. NC State’s freshman class ranked as the fourth-best in America according to Extra Elite 100. Two-way freshman Madison Inscoe has led the group with a 4.11 ERA in the circle. She is susceptible to hit parades but throws strikes and has the capacity to pitch deep into games. 

Despite its offensive woes, the Wolfpack can put the ball over the fence. After the Virginia Tech series, NC State placed 24th in the country with 1.22 home runs per game. Over the final six games of February, the Wolfpack belted 13 long balls and currently has 22 for the season. Taylor Ensley has a team-high five round-trippers. In addition to the freshmen, the transfer portal has helped NC State out. Graduate outfielders Rebecca Murray and Katyln Pavlick have OPS’s north of 1.000.  

Notre Dame and NC State did not meet last year, but the Irish swept the Wolfpack in South Bend two years ago. The Irish lead the all-time series 12-10 and are 4-7 in Raleigh. First pitch times for the series are 6:00 p.m. Friday, 2:00 p.m. Saturday and noon Sunday. The final game will be available on the ACC Network.

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