Irish softball kicks off their fall season on Monday taking Purdue at home in Melissa Cook Stadium.
This past season, Notre Dame posted an 18-6 record in conference and a 37-18 record overall. However, in the postseason Notre Dame struggled to replicate its success, notching one victory in the both the ACC tournament and the NCAA Tournament with a pair of losses by a combined three runs in the latter.
While the upcoming fall season does not impact the regular season, it provides an opportunity for head coach Deanna Gumpf to see her team in action for the first time as the Irish look to make a deeper postseason run in 2020.
“We’re really lucky because in the fall we get to spend time on the process of the game, and we get to take time to teach everything we need to teach before February comes around,” Gumpf said. “Right now, I’m just looking for consistency and just doing the little things right. Working together, execution on all sides of the game, and taking things a little bit slower. It really allows them to get used to each other, and how they can become the best team they can become together.”
One of the benefits of the fall season, Gumpf said, is that freshman can get their first glimpse at the college game. For the Irish, this means a chance to see their six recruits in action and get an idea of the impact they can have for this team. Notre Dame’s freshmen include switch-hitting infielder and 2019 All-USA High School Softball Team Player of the Year Joley Mitchell, a potential impact arm in Alex McManus, a pair of outfielders in Macie Eck and Leea Hanks and infielders Miranda Johnson and Brooke Marquez.
As for the team as a whole, the Irish hit .331 as a team in the regular season. However the Irish graduated Cait Brooks, the first ever First Team All-American in program history, MK Bonamy (.310 average, .886 OPS), Ali Wester (.440, .907, 25 stolen bases) and Melissa Rochford (.328, .828). Even with the surplus of freshman talent and returning players, the question lingers as to how the Irish will replace a player who put up one of the best seasons in Notre Dame history, as well as a trio of prolific bats.
“We lost four of our top hitters, so we’re going to look very different offensively, but I don’t think it’ll be worse; I actually think we could be better,” Gump said.
Although it may be surprising to suggest the Irish could be better offensively after sustaining the graduation losses they did, returning talent like sophomore Emma Clark, who slapped her way to a .367 average despite just five extra-base hits, senior Alexis Bazos, who is hitting .283 on her career despite a tough junior year campaign, and Katie Marino, who ripped the cover off the ball to the tune of a .344 average last year, also offer promise in the batter’s box for the Irish.
An area that the Irish figure to maintain excellent production is in the pitcher’s circle. While McManus is a promising talent joining the team this year, time will tell if she will be healthy enough to contribute this year. However, the Irish figure to be able to take their time with McManus, as they return their core trio of hurlers from last season in Payton Tidd, Alex Holloway and Morgan Ryan. Tidd was the ace of the staff, hurling two complete games in the NCAA Tournament. Although a tough-luck loser in both games, Tidd gave up just two earned runs combined. Overall, she posted a superb 3.01 ERA over 31 starts. Holloway was a solid second starter with a 4.15 ERA in 24 starts, recording the victory in Notre Dame’s lone NCAA regional win. Ryan offered depth, starting three games and making 21 appearances out of the bullpen en route to a 3.40 ERA. With all three returning and McManus joining the ranks, the pitching figures to be strong this year for the Irish.
“Alexis Holloway dominated her freshman year. Peyton came in last year and took a lot of innings which helped us. I’m looking for [junior] Morgan Ryan to step up. She has thrown innings for us, but I think she will throw a lot more. She’s getting a lot of consistency and confidence in her game and approach to hitters, and I really like where’s she’s at,” Gumpf said of her returning throwers.
This fall’s seven-game slate includes matchups with Purdue, Purdue Northwest (twice), Northern Illinois, Valparaiso, Western Michigan and Loyola Chicago.
“I want this team at the end of the day to play our best softball when our best softball was needed,” Gumpf said.