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Wednesday, April 17, 2024
The Observer

Notre Dame softball prepares for pivotal weekend series with Virginia Tech

Max Petrosky/The Observer
The Notre Dame softball team lines up to sing the alma mater following after beating Indiana 9-1 on April 12, 2023, at Melissa Cook Stadium.

This weekend, Notre Dame softball will face an important Top 25 test when they welcome Virginia Tech to Melissa Cook Stadium.

The Hokies vary in their specific ranking among the various softball polling services, but they rank high in all. USASoftball slots them in at 17th nationally. Softball America ranks them 22nd, D1Softball puts them at 20th and the National Fastpitch Coaches Association has them at 14th. Mathematically, they rank 21st in RPI rankings. 

The Irish will enter, however, with positive recent experience against nationally regarded opposition. Notre Dame put forth one of their best games of the season in their last outing on Wednesday, run-ruling Indiana 9-1. The Hoosiers are widely regarded across polling services as a top 30 team as well. 

The win over Indiana showcased everything the Irish will look to put on display against Virginia Tech (and possibly national pollsters as well.) Graduate student Payton Tidd was a force in the circle, pitching a complete game and allowing just three hits. Tidd’s seven strikeouts tied a personal best for a single game this spring. 

A strong outing mid-week from Tidd will be a major boost for Notre Dame heading into their clash with the Hokies. A five-year veteran starter, Tidd all but certainly will be entrusted with the start in Friday’s game one. Tidd’s experience and consistency is a major reason why the Irish have won the first game in three of their five ACC series so far in 2023.

Tidd won’t be the only Notre Dame pitcher called upon to be at their best on the weekend. Virginia Tech possesses one of the ACC’s most potent offenses, as their 263 total runs scored on the year rank second in the conference. Outfielder Emma Ritter leads the way, ranking among the ACC’s best in most hitting statistics. Ritter currently resides in the top ten in batting average, slugging percentage, hits, doubles and home runs. 

Thankfully for head coach Deanna Gumpf, the midweek was a strong week for all of her usual pitchers. Tidd excelled in a duel with one of the Big Ten’s best in Brianna Copeland on Wednesday. On Tuesday, freshman Micaela Kastor and sophomore Shannon Becker combined to shut out Michigan State in another run-rule win. 

Gumpf spoke after the Indiana victory about the importance of her entire rotation getting positive game action in midweek contests heading into a weekend series.

“I wish I would have put one in earlier [today],” Gumpf said. “But they all got action. They all got a good workout. All of them got some good innings, and now it’s like ‘lets go.’”

At the plate for the Irish, expect a combination of power from junior first baseman Karina Gaskins and small ball from the rest of the lineup to be Gumpf’s recipe for success at the plate. Gaskins, the reigning ACC player of the year, has been exceptional so far this month. The junior infielder has had six home runs across eight April games for the Irish.

In the win over Indiana, however, contact hitting did the job for the Notre Dame offense. The Irish notched only one extra-base hit against the Hoosiers, a third-inning double by senior outfielder Macie Eck. However, Notre Dame also racked up 11 singles, and pushed across over half of their runs on five of those singles.

If the Irish bats stay hot, the series against the Hokies' strong offense should be a high-scoring one. And if the pitching from Notre Dame's midweek contests is backing up a potent attack at the plate, the Irish could steal a statement series against one of the ACC’s best squads.

Notre Dame softball will return to action on Friday against Virginia Tech at Melissa Cook Stadium. First pitch is set for 6 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on ACC Network Extra. Saturday and Sunday's games begin at 5 p.m. and noon, respectively. Saturday's is available on ACC Network, and Sunday's is back on ACC Network Extra.