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Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024
The Observer

ND Softball: West Coast is only so nice to visiting Notre Dame squad

The Irish showed they could play with some of the best teams in the country over spring break, as the squad earned a win over No. 12 Arizona State and dropped a pair of one-run games to No. 3 Texas and No. 6 Alabama.

Notre Dame began its West Coast trip by sweeping a doubleheader against Cal Poly SLO (9-16). The games showcased Notre Dame's starting pitchers, Heather Booth and Brittany Bargar, who each threw complete games for wins over the Mustangs.

In the first game, a 3-1 victory for the Irish, Booth surrendered just one run on five hits, while striking out eight in the win. Cal Poly's lone run came in the bottom of the third, when a Lisa Modglin double scored left fielder Kelly Comstock to give the Mustangs a one run lead. The game continued on scoreless until the top of the seventh, when right fielder Stephanie Brown knocked in two runs on a single up the middle to give the Irish the lead. Shortstop Sara Schoonaert provided some insurance with a single to right to drive in Brown. Brown took the circle and pitched a perfect seventh to seal the win.

The second game was a 1-0 pitcher's duel between Bargar and the Mustangs' Jenna Maiden, both of whom pitched complete games and gave up no earned runs. The only run came in the top of the fourth, when pinch runner Sarah Smith scored off a throwing error by Cal Poly shortstop Jackie Gehrke-Jones. This proved to be all the run support Bargar would need, as her eight-strikeout shutout helped the Irish win the second game of the doubleheader.

Notre Dame then traveled to Fullerton, Calif. to play five games in the Judi Garman Classic.

The first game of the tournament for the Irish was a rematch against Cal-State Fullerton (15-13), which beat Notre Dame 9-3 in their first matchup on Feb. 19. This time the Irish were able to hang tough against the Titans, but lost 3-2 in extra innings after a sacrifice fly to center field scored first baseman Katie Gollhardt.

Notre Dame took an early lead after two innings, with an RBI single by Meagan Ruthrauff in the first and a home run by Katie Laing in the second. Fullerton responded in the second with an unearned run caused by an error by Schoonaert. In extra innings, the Irish were shut out in the top of the eighth, but a bunt and deep fly ball by Kiki Munoz scored Gollhardt from second base, ending the game and giving the Irish their third extra inning loss of the season.

The Irish rebounded by winning their next two games, a 3-2 victory over No. 12 Arizona State (28-2) and a 1-0 win against Florida State (20-13).

The upset over the Sun Devils ended in dramatic fashion, with a two-run, walk-off home run by right fielder Stephanie Brown, her second dinger of the season.

The win against the Seminoles was just as dramatic, but this time because of its pitching performances. Booth gave up only three hits and struck out 11 in the complete game win, while her counterpart, Tiffany McDonald, struck out three and scattered three hits. But Notre Dame managed key hits and the right time, as consecutive two out singles by Brown and Alexandra Kotcheff - combined with Brown's ninth steal of the season - gave the Irish the only run they would need in the win.

The game was played over the course of two days, beginning Friday, but rain forced the last three innings to be played Saturday morning.

Catcher Mallorie Lenn was especially proud of her teammates.

"It was great that we could remain focused for playing the next day," Lenn said. "We showed huge intensity especially in this game."

The win against Florida State pushed Notre Dame into the championship bracket against No. 3 Texas (17-1), who defeated the Irish 6-5.

Notre Dame took a 5-1 lead into the fourth inning against the Longhorns, then it fell apart. After Bargar gave up back-to-back-to-back doubles to start off the frame, she managed to get the first two outs, but gave up an RBI single to Amber Hall to cut the lead to 5-4. Booth replaced the starter Bargar and surrendered an RBI double down the right field line to Megan Willis before ending the inning. With the score tied going into the bottom of the sixth, Booth gave up a solo shot to Rachael Cook to give Texas its first lead of the day at 6-5.

Notre Dame finished off its spring break schedule with a 4-3 loss to Alabama Sunday. The Irish took the lead in the fourth with a two-run homerun by Lenn, but lost it in the bottom of the inning to the Tide, who rallied for three unearned runs against Booth. A home run by Jordan Praytor gave Alabama a crucial insurance run in the bottom of the sixth to make the score 4-2. A home run by Linda Kohan in the top of the seventh brought the Irish to within one, but that was all the offense Notre Dame could muster, as it fell to the sixth-ranked Crimson Tide 4-3.

Lenn said she is impressed with the play of the pitching staff so far this season.

"All the pitchers, Heather [Booth], Brittany [Bargar], and even Kenya [Fuemmeler, the third pitcher on the Irish staff] have fought hard this year," she said. "Heather is doing a great job leading this staff and Brittany is showing what she can do."

The Irish continue the season with a doubleheader against Western Michigan in Kalamazoo on Saturday at 1 and 3 p.m.