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Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024
The Observer

Irish record 4-game sweep in ACC/Big Ten Challenge

Over the weekend, the Notre Dame softball team traveled to Raleigh, North Carolina, to compete in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Irish (7-2) recorded wins in all four of their games, two each against Illinois and Ohio State, while outscoring their opposition 24-6.

The Irish began the tournament Friday with an afternoon matchup against the Fighting Illini (5-3), and the game quickly proved to be a pitcher’s duel. Junior right-hander Alexis Holloway got the start for the Irish and worked around a one-out single with a double play to post a clean first inning.

Irish senior infielder Kate Marino steps up to the plate during Notre Dame's 6-0 victory over IUPUI on April 3 at Melissa Cook Stadium.
Irish senior infielder Kate Marino steps up to the plate during Notre Dame's 6-0 victory over IUPUI on April 3 at Melissa Cook Stadium.

The Illini sent sophomore righty Sydney Sickels to start the game in the bottom half of the inning, and Irish sophomore outfielder Emma Clark led off with a single. Two batters later, she stole second, putting her in scoring position and allow her to come around on a single from senior infielder Katie Marino.

Notre Dame clung to that one-run lead for the rest of the game, as each team got several runners on base, but the other team’s pitcher and defense locked down and didn’t allow another run, and the final score was 1-0 in Notre Dame’s favor.

Both Holloway and Sickels pitched complete games, with Holloway earning her first shutout, second complete game and third win of the season. She improved her ERA to 0.56 and added five strikeouts to her season total of 15.

On Saturday, the Irish played a pair of games, starting the day with a morning matchup against the Buckeyes (3-5). Holloway also started this game, and once again she made her presence felt. She threw six innings, only giving up one unearned run while striking out nine, walking none and surrendering four hits.

On the other side of the scorecard, Notre Dame’s offense held scoreless for the last five innings Friday, surged during this game, scoring seven runs, including four in the seventh inning to put the game out of reach. Holloway also made significant contributions on the offensive side, hitting her second career home run to start the second inning, giving the Irish a lead they would never relinquish.

After a few scoreless innings, Notre Dame found the long ball once again in the sixth. Junior center fielder Abby Sweet led off the inning with a single and promptly stole second. The steal was unnecessary, however; freshman infielder Joley Mitchell was next at the plate, and she capped off a nine-pitch at-bat with her first career home run.

In the bottom half of the frame, the Buckeyes got one back, but Holloway limited the damage by getting a strikeout to leave the bases loaded.

In the seventh, the Irish put the game away with a four-spot. A hit-by-pitch and two walks put the bases loaded with one out, and freshman first baseman Miranda Johnson scored two with a single, followed by Holloway plating two more with another single.

Junior Morgan Ryan entered the game to close out the match for the Irish, which she did cleanly by inducing three groundouts, securing a 7-1 Irish victory.

Later in the day, the Irish once again faced off against the Illini, a game that proceeded similarly to the morning. Marino led off the game, and she wasted no time putting the Irish on the board, launching a home run three pitches in.

The score remained the same until the bottom of the fourth, when Illinois took advantage of a leadoff double and evened the score on a fielder’s choice. Irish starter sophomore Payton Tidd limited the damage, however, and got a strikeout to strand three and end the inning.

Notre Dame answered right back in the next inning, with Sweet hitting a grand slam to give the Irish a 5-1 advantage.

Two frames later, Sweet got the Irish scoring started again, leading off the seventh with a double. A Mitchell walk and a Johnson single set the stage for back-to-back RBI singles from freshman outfielder Leea Hanks and freshman infielder Brooke Marquez, scoring three. The next two batters recorded productive outs, grounding out but driving in two more. The Irish loaded the bases once more but could not add to their total.

Ryan once again entered to finish the game and allowed a one-out single before dialing up a double play to give Notre Dame the win, 10-1.

On Sunday, the Irish played the Buckeyes again to finish the weekend, with Tidd starting at the pitcher’s mound. An error allowed the first Ohio State player to reach, but a pickoff by sophomore catcher Shelby Grimm and successful run-down helped Tidd enter the dugout with the game still scoreless.

Like she did in the previous game, Marino hit a home run to lead off the bottom half of the first. This sparked a five-spot for the Irish and an early exit for the Buckeyes pitcher, who recorded only one out.

Tidd wasn’t at her best, letting Ohio State creep back in by giving up four runs over 2.2 innings, but her teammates made sure the Irish never trailed over the whole weekend. Mitchell launched her second homer of the weekend — and her career — in the fifth inning to provide a key insurance run. Holloway entered in relief in the third and pitched 4.1 scoreless frames, only giving up one hit and two walks. The Irish held on to win 6-4, giving Holloway her fifth win.

Next Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Notre Dame will travel to Palm Springs, California, for the Mary Nutter Classic, where they will play six games against San Diego State, BYU, Seattle, Oregon, Arizona State and Cal State Fullerton.