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Monday, Feb. 26, 2024
The Observer

ND looks to carry late-season surge into postseason

With the NCAA postseason set to begin Friday, the Irish have built an impressive resume this season. Notre Dame (36-16, 18-6 ACC) is currently in second place in the ACC heading into the NCAA tournament after a tough 2-0 loss to Florida State in the second round of the conference tournament.

The team has two hitters — senior outfielder Ali Wester and senior designated player Cait Brooks hitting impressive batting averages of .425 and .422, respectively. Brooks has 20 home runs, the team leader. Irish head coach Deanna Gumpf said she is pleased with the team’s hitting.

“This team has a lot of returners that are getting the job done for us this year,” Gumpf said. “They learned a lot from last season because if you would ask each one of them, I feel like they would say they did not perform at the level that they are capable of last year, and I think that they are this year. They’re putting in the time and the work to be able to be confident enough to have those numbers and get it done.”

Allision Thornton | The Observer
Irish junior infielder Katie Marino hits a pitch during Notre Dame’s 8-0 win over IUPUI on April 2 at Melissa Cook Stadium.

Prior to their loss in the second round of the ACC tournament, the team rode a 10-game win streak, with seven on the road and all against conference opponents. The momentum pushed the Irish up the standings and gave them confidence in the back half of the season. Gumpf emphasized that the team is not worried about streaks, choosing to focus on each game as an individual challenge.

“We don’t look at the streaks — we just look at the next game and what we have to do to win that game. This team realizes that it’s coming down to the crunch time. This is what we have played all year for,” Gumpf said. “Our goal is to play the very best softball we can be playing as a team right now for the entire year, and if we’re not what do we need to do to get there.”

While most of the hitting is coming from returners, freshman pitcher Payton Tidd added a trusted arm to the team’s pitching corps. Last season, sophomore pitcher Alexis Holloway threw 228 out of the team’s defensive innings played. While the ace pitcher had a strong performance, she was forced to shoulder more of the load than was ideal. This season Tidd has thrown 168.2 innings and Holloway has thrown 112.1, with sophomore Morgan Ryan and Brooks combining for 50.3 innings pitched as well. This more balanced approach should keep Irish pitchers fresher, and Gumpf believes Tidd’s breakout gives her more options.

“Alexis carried the load all year last year. For Payton to come in and be a massive contributor for us has given us options,” Gumpf said. “It’s let Alexis breathe a little bit. Payton has done a great job flat out competing, because she’s a competitor and that’s why she has had so much success.”

As the team approaches the NCAA tournament, it will continue to lean on its seniors as it has all year. The four seniors — Wester, Brooks, infielder MK Bonamy and infielder Melissa Rochford — have all made significant contributions as mainstays in the Irish lineup. Gumpf had high praise for her seniors as the end of their collegiate careers approaches.

“The seniors have been incredible all year especially in conference play. I think they have really guided the way on what it takes to be successful in our conference,” Gumpf said. “We’re in a good position right now in our conference to head into the tournament and make some noise.”

The Irish will begin their NCAA postseason run against Wisconsin this Saturday in Norman, Oklahoma. The first pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m.