March 18, 2014
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – It may have taken the surroundings some time to get caught up, but Tuesday afternoon at Melissa Cook Stadium finally looked, and felt, like spring. For the first time during the 2014 calendar year, the University of Notre Dame softball team was able to practice outdoors on its home field.
The No. 24/25 Irish (19-7, 3-3 ACC), nearly 30 games into their season, took full advantage of the warm weather and favorable conditions. Thanks to the tireless efforts of the Notre Dame grounds crew over the past few weeks in the face of prolonged unseasonable weather, Melissa Cook Stadium is in game shape for this weekend’s Atlantic Coast Conference series against Pittsburgh (WatchND).
“It just feels great to be out here,” Notre Dame head coach Deanna Gumpf said. “It’s funny, when you’re on your own field and you see the sun shining, you feel like it’s the best day you’ve had in months. We were so glad to be back on our field, at our stadium and preparing for practice, then going on our field and having it be picture perfect.
“Two weeks ago I would have never thought it could happen, but our grounds grew did such a great job,” she said. “It’s ready to go, we could play a game on it today. I don’t think any of us can wait, I am almost afraid they are going to be too giddy the first day this weekend.”
Here are the rest of this week’s Details From The Diamond:
The Irish Are #1 Nationally In Doubles
In the second installment of the NCAA national statistical rankings for the 2014 season that was released on Monday, Notre Dame checked in as the number one team in the country in doubles per game. Through 26 contests, the Irish have averaged 2.08 two-baggers per game to pace all of Division I softball.
Notre Dame also maintained its lead in the ACC in batting average (.325), total doubles (54), hits (234) and sacrifice bunts (30). The recognition as one of the best offensive teams in the league, in reality, means only one thing to Gumpf and the Irish.
“It says that when we hit, we win,” she said. “Our experience has shown that when we hit well we score a lot of runs and win ballgames. We are capable of scoring a lot of runs, and we just have to make sure we don’t get too tight offensively when we are not scoring early.”
Back On Track After Spring Break
Notre Dame’s Spring Break road trip that saw stops at Georgia Tech, UCF and Virginia Tech yielded mixed results for the Irish during a 4-4 game slate last week. A two games to one series win in Atlanta, Ga. over Georgia Tech gave Notre Dame its first ACC series victory, but a doubleheader split during a midweek stop in Orlando, Fla. against FIU and UCF, and a 2-1 series loss at Virginia Tech changed the tune and tone of the trip.
Collectively, the Notre Dame squad emerged from the weekend feeling that the experience gained on its 10-day voyage away from home will be immeasurable as the ACC schedule rolls on.
“There is no one on this team that doesn’t believe that it’s in our hands, 100 percent, because of last week,” Gumpf said. “I think last week solidified that because when we brought a good game, pitched strongly and hit, we made things happen and were very successful. When we didn’t do those things we weren’t, and it was obvious. Last week was a great experience for this team because it made us realize that it’s on us, not our opponent.”
ACC Observations After Series Two
After two series against ACC opponents this season, Notre Dame sits in sixth place in the league standings with a 3-3 conference record. The limited exposure to ACC competition thus far has reaffirmed for Gumpf her overall assessment of the new Irish conference entering the 2014 campaign.
“The league is exactly what I thought it would be, and the ACC is what I think is one of the best hitting leagues in the country,” Gumpf said. “There are some powerful hitters in the ACC, and we have seen that already. Of all of the ballgames we have already played against quality teams this season, the ACC hitters are right up there with anybody. We just need to keep our focus to remain successful in the ACC.”
Welcoming Pittsburgh This Weekend For First Home ACC Series
It seems fitting that Notre Dame’s first ever ACC opponent at Melissa Cook Stadium will be one of its longtime rivals from the BIG EAST Conference, the University of Pittsburgh. The Irish and Panthers have met a total of 31 times since the 1999 season, with Notre Dame emerging as the victor on 29 occasions.
Casting past series history aside, and keeping the team’s mindset and focus on its own game, is what Gumpf feels will be the key for the Irish in the series.
“Pitt is going to play their best games against us, they always do and it’s always a tough game against them,” Gumpf said. “They have a pitching staff that keeps them in ballgames, along with some nice hitters. What we need to do is play our best softball, and focus on our game.
“Pitt is a good opponent, and it does sound crazy, but we are mainly focused on what we do and how we approach the game,” she added. “We have to make sure we do the little things right, put the ball in play on the ground and throw good pitches, making sure we are executing exactly how we want to execute.”
-- Tony Jones, Media Relations Assistant