ND Softball: No problems in beginning the home season this year
BY MATT LOZAR
Associate Sports Editor
Last year, the Irish played their first home game 12 days after their home opener was initially scheduled.
This year, there will be no wait.
With today's forecast calling for mostly sunny skies and a high of 54 degrees, Notre Dame will begin its home campaign against No. 24 Northwestern this afternoon at Ivy Field at 3 p.m.
"We are very excited. At this point of the season, just getting games in is what we want since we have missed eight already," Notre Dame coach Deanna Gumpf said. "It is exciting to be looking outside and seeing the sun."
Just like any team, the benefits to playing at home are the same in softball.
"There is nothing like playing at home," Gumpf said. "You are comfortable, people are in the stands cheering for you and we get to sleep in our own beds afterwards."
In the 2002 season, the Irish were 18-2 at home and had a home winning streak of 26 games snapped against Syracuse in April.
So far this year, the Irish are 10-9 and the comparisons to last year's 8-12 start have started. In 2002, the Irish won 36 of 41 games to end their season and finished one game short of the College World Series, losing to Nebraska in the regionals.
"It is very similar, I just hope the finish is similar. If we can just win one more game at regionals, that's our goal," Gumpf said. "Starting the way we started isn't what we wanted. These girls know they can still do it. The start of our season was spring training and we need to learn from it."
Notre Dame started the regular season portion of its schedule last weekend in sweeping a doubleheader at Western Michigan. In that game, the Irish came out and scored five runs in the first inning of game one and five runs in the first three innings of game two. Taking control of the game early, as they did last weekend, needs to happen today against the Wildcats.
"We need to hit the ball. If we hit the ball well, that takes them out of their comfort zone," Gumpf said. "If we score in the first inning, that changes momentum like we did when we scored in the first two innings at Western Michigan."
Northwestern (13-6) and Notre Dame haven't played since the 1997 season. Its top win this season came Feb. 28 when Northwestern defeated defending national champion California 4-3 in eight innings.
To stay with the higher-ranked opponent this afternoon, the Irish need to take care of the basics.
"They are very aggressive, very well-coached, very disciplined and do the little things well," Gumpf said. "Our pitchers need to be in control for seven innings and we need to play strong defense. If we play well in those three areas, then we should have a good chance at winning the game."
All Sports Stories for Wednesday, March 26, 2003