The Florida sun shined bright on Notre Dame softball over the weekend. At The Spring Games, the Irish posted a perfect 5-0 record and improved to 10-4 on the season. Between three hurlers, Notre Dame pitched to an impressive combined ERA of 1.80.
“We had five games with teams who came to play hard against us,” head coach Deanna Gumpf reflected. “I think we grew a lot because they weren’t easy and we had to battle through some adversity. I'm really proud of [the team].”
Game one: Notre Dame 8, UT Martin 7
Few would have predicted a 5-0 weekend after three innings of play on Friday. The Skyhawks punished sophomore pitcher Shannon Becker to the tune of five runs in three innings, eventually taking a 7-1 lead to the fourth. Notre Dame buckled in a similar spot against Northwestern last Sunday, but not this time. Sophomore infielder Jane Kronenberger singled home two in the fourth, and the rally was underway.
The Irish put two runners on to start the fifth, bringing graduate infielder Lexi Orozco to the dish. She had come through in big spots before, and the Utah State transfer did it again, sending a three-run home run to center field. By way of her third long ball of the year, Orozco had tied it up, and the damage still wasn’t done. In the sixth, senior outfielder Leea Hanks put the Irish up 8-7 with a two-out single. All the while, graduate pitcher Payton Tidd was dealing in the circle. Retiring 12 of the last 14 Skyhawk hitters, she put a bow on a thrilling Irish victory.
“What we didn't do well — the week before — was we didn't fight back,” Gumpf said. “And this time we did, and we took it to them. I think [the players] realized they have a shot no matter what, and they proved that this week.”
Game two: Notre Dame 4, FIU 0
Premier pitching carried on into Saturday for Notre Dame. Tidd started game one, working around five walks to toss six scoreless innings. She also scored the go-ahead run in the fifth and extended her lead to two with a double in the sixth. After the Irish struck twice more in the seventh, Becker entered and picked up the final three outs.
Game three: Notre Dame 2, Siena 0
It didn’t take long for Notre Dame to turn its first shutout of the year into another one. This time, Becker carried the load. Bouncing back from her Friday start, she punched out seven in her first complete-game shutout of the season. Notre Dame’s offense totaled only four hits, but a quartet of Siena errors gave the Irish all they needed. Tidd and Becker had secured a winning weekend for the Irish, and Gumpf praised their composure.
“To go from our weather here — we've played in the 60s and 50s — and to go out into the high 80s, and both were high pitch count games,” she recalled. “How they handled it was really impressive.”
Game four: Notre Dame 4, FIU 3
The comeback Irish were at it again on Sunday. Despite falling behind 3-0 early with Becker in the circle, Notre Dame kept fighting. Kronenberger kicked things off with a two-run homer to left in the fifth, and two more runs followed in the sixth. At the same time, freshman pitcher Micaela Kastor shredded the Panther hitters. Over 4.1 innings, she allowed no hits and struck out five. Now that the rookie is healthy again, Gumpf is excited to see more innings out of her.
“I was really proud of Micaela Kastor because she came in and really shut the door for us,” Gumpf said. “We needed her badly and she did a great job.”
Game five: Notre Dame 7, Dartmouth 4
Notre Dame had a weekend sweep on its mind from the get-go in the weekend’s final game. Two of the Irish's first three hitters reached, and junior infielder Karina Gaskins plated one with a sacrifice fly. Then, the Irish opened the gap. The third inning saw both Gaskins and Tidd leave the yard — the latter on a two-run shot. By the end of the fifth inning, Notre Dame led 6-4, and Kastor’s number was called yet again. Tidd had pitched a strong first four innings, but used up 77 pitches. Becker replaced her, but immediately conceded two runs in the fifth. That set the stage for the freshman to throw two perfect innings, ending The Spring Games with a 7-4 Irish victory.
After pitching paved the way on Saturday, Notre Dame’s offense returned to form Sunday. The Irish attack, which collected 13 hits, was catalyzed by freshman outfielder Mickey Winchell. Working out of the ninth hitting position, she earned four hits to act as a secondary leadoff hitter.
“It’s funny, because a lot of her hits don’t leave the infield, but she makes things happen because she's fast,” Gumpf said of Winchell. “And then she puts the ball in play, and when you’re fast and put the ball in play, good things happen.”
In the big picture, Notre Dame’s lineup contained a laundry list of contributors. Lexi Orozco and Jane Kronenberger each homered and drove in five runs, while Payton Tidd hit .500 with a pair of doubles. Gumpf spotlighted Leea Hanks, who went 8-for-17 with five doubles and four runs scored.
Up next, the Irish will open ACC play with a visit to No. 14 Duke. The Blue Devils are 13-3 with four wins over top 25 opposition already.
“They are a very good team, but we will be ready for them,” Gumpf said of Duke. “That's a tough first ACC opponent, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.”