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Sunday, June 23, 2024
The Observer

Irish begin home ACC play against Syracuse

Over Notre Dame softball’s last four regular seasons, there have been two constants. First, the Irish have largely handled business against their ACC foes. Even though the conference is usually regarded as one of the sport’s best, the Irish have an impressive 59-28 mark in conference play since 2019. The only thing more consistent than their success in ACC play is their domination at home. Since 2019, the Irish are a near-perfect 43-3 at Melissa Cook Stadium. Their lone loss in the last two seasons, during which they’ve gone 30-1, required an improbable four-run ninth-inning by Georgia Tech.

The Irish will combine these two dominant factors once again this weekend for the first time in 2023. Notre Dame has not been its typical self so far in conference play, going just 3-3 out of the gate. But Notre Dame’s home debut went according to plan, as the Irish offense dominated en route to a five-inning, 11-3 victory over Miami (Ohio). After Wednesday’s game against Western Michigan was postponed, the Irish will get ready to defend their home field for the second time in 2023 this weekend.

Notre Dame can also look to last year for reasons to be confident. The Irish played their lone two games against Syracuse on the road in 2022. Yet they still won both by a combined 14-2 margin. Junior infielder Karina Gaskins went deep in the first contest as graduate student Payton Tidd and sophomore Shannon Becker combined to allow just one earned run and five hits, striking out seven. And that was not even Notre Dame’s most dominant performance. The Irish won the second game 9-0 in just five innings, with senior infielder Miranda Johnson launching a long ball as well.

The short game Tuesday and the unexpected off-day Wednesday leave Notre Dame’s pitching in excellent shape. Against Miami, Tidd threw just 49 pitches and Becker only 26. Both are looking to get back on track after spectacular 2022 campaigns. Those two, combined with emerging freshman ace Micaela Kastor, have the potential to be one of the sport’s deadliest pitching trios. All three will be critical in getting the Irish past the first round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time under head coach Deanna Gumpf.

As for their chances this weekend, it also helps that Syracuse is struggling so far in 2023. After a respectable 26-21 2022 campaign, albeit with a poor 7-15 record in conference play, the Orange have limped to a 9-14 start in 2023. They have lost all six ACC games they have played, scoring a meager total of two runs. Three of those games have ended via mercy rule after just five innings.

However, the Orange do enter this weekend on the heels of a doubleheader sweep over Canisius. That included a seven-run outburst in the second game, their highest total in just over a month. There have not been a lot of positives to take away on a team level so far for Syracuse. In fact, the Orange are dead last in the ACC in batting average and slugging percentage. They also hold the conference’s second-worst ERA. Freshmen Madelyn Lopez and Madison Knight are off to strong starts at the plate. And Knight has the team’s second-best ERA as well. Both look like strong players for years to come and should give the Irish a tough test this weekend.

Notre Dame and Syracuse will take the field at Melissa Cook Stadium this Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The games begin at 4:30 p.m., 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., respectively. Friday and Saturday’s games are on ACC Network Extra, while Sunday’s is on the ACC Network.