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Friday, April 12, 2024
The Observer

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Notre Dame softball looks ahead to Jacksonville Invitational

After an up-and-down opening weekend, Notre Dame softball will be back in the Sunshine State this weekend for the Jacksonville/North Florida Invitational.

The slate of contests should offer an easier road for the Irish than their first five, which saw them play a highly ranked Utah squad as well as a pair of mid-majors in Central Arkansas and Liberty that hovered just outside the preseason top 25. 

This weekend Notre Dame will square off against a quartet of opponents — Samford, Jacksonville, North Florida and Mercer — that have between them just one winning record in 2024 and just two wins against power five opposition in 2023. 

The Irish found their success last weekend in Clearwater through strong pitching outings, a theme that will likely continue in Jacksonville. Four pitchers saw action for the Irish over their first five games, all of whom enjoyed varying degrees of success. Shannon Becker and Kami Kamzik each earned saves against Iowa and Central Arkansas respectively, while the majority of innings in the circle went to Alexis Laudenslager and Micaela Kastor.

Kastor and Laudenslager combined to pitch 27 of Notre Dame’s 34 total innings of action, allowing just nine runs and six extra-base hits in the process. The duo also struck out a combined 20 batters.

If the pitching in Clearwater allowed the Irish a solid foundation from which to build, offensive output will be a point of emphasis in said building this weekend. Notre Dame’s bats struggled for long stretches of their opening games, scoring three runs or fewer in every game but one. The Irish scored in just eight total innings over the course of the five contests.

Carlli Kloss offers Notre Dame a staple in the leadoff spot, with one of the team’s best hitters in 2023 picking up where she left off last spring. Kloss hit .400 for the weekend in Florida, with her three RBIs tied for the team lead. Karina Gaskins, one of the ACC’s top power hitters, uncharacteristically failed to tally an RBI, but still hit .357 over her 14 trips to the plate. Gaskins also drew a team-high five walks.

One of the key success stories of opening weekend offensively for the Irish was left fielder Emily Tran, who proved productive in rotational reps in the order’s No. 9 slot. Tran, who entered 2024 with just six career at-bats to her name, hit .400 across three starts. A pinch runner during her first two years in South Bend, Tran’s speed proved useful in the lineup with two of her four trips to first base eventually turning into runs.

With strong pitching and an offense in need of further development, Notre Dame should head to Jacksonville with both a blueprint for victory and a visible path to improvement. First pitch for the team’s opening game against Samford is set for 12 p.m., with the game available to follow on statbroadcast.