2014 NFCA All-America third team selection Emilee Koerner

Irish Softball To Face The Nation's Best As Part Of 2015 Spring Schedule

Dec. 3, 2014

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NOTRE DAME, Ind. – A hallmark of the University of Notre Dame softball program has been the willingness of the Irish to rise to the competitive occasion. Playing a national schedule year after year has led Notre Dame to 19 all-time appearances in the NCAA Championship, including bids to NCAA Regionals in each of the last 16 seasons.

As the calendar flips to 2015, Notre Dame will again return to the softball diamond for its second season in the formidable Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) sporting one of the most difficult schedules in program history. A total of 13 NCAA Regional qualifiers, including four NCAA Super Regional and one NCAA Women’s College World Series foes from 2014, adorns the 55-game spring slate that was officially announced by Notre Dame head coach Deanna Gumpf on Wednesday.

“This might be the toughest schedule we have put together in the preseason,” Gumpf said. “The great thing is that we have a lot of young pitching that needs to get that confidence early, and really get the experience. Throwing our pitching staff into these games will be a great indicator of how they will handle things throughout the year. We’re going to find out quickly the maturity of our pitching staff and what they can handle, and I think that’s a good thing to find out fast before the ACC (schedule) starts.”

Notre Dame is set to play a total of 19 games against 2014 NCAA Championship qualifiers, the most scheduled contests against previous year postseason opposition in recent program history. Gumpf believes the Irish are ready to answer that call.

“Our pitchers know if they can handle these early games, then they can handle games in the ACC,” Gumpf said. “If our hitters can handle these early games then they can handle the ACC, and I like that. I also like the fact that we will go against a bunch of good teams that have great offense, and it just gives us a lot of good work. The first half of the season doesn’t have to define us, or it can be a really great opportunity for us to take some games early and put us in a position to be 100 percent prepared for the end.

“You don’t really know exactly whom you’re playing when you plan on the places we’re going,” she added. “But we did know going out to Palm Springs, going down to LSU, going to Fullerton, Los Angeles and Orlando, we knew we were going to get big-time NCAA Regional teams. We did that for a reason. We knew we could potentially have this schedule, we expected it, and we’re going to fight every game to have a good showing.”

Notre Dame kicks off the 2015 season where the 2014 campaign concluded, Easton Stadium in Los Angeles, California. The Irish open the So Cal Collegiate Classic against Utah and 2014 NCAA Super Regional qualifier UCLA (Feb. 6) on the opening day of the tournament, looking to avenge a heartbreaking NCAA Los Angeles Regional loss to UCLA last May. Notre Dame travels to Fullerton, California for games against 2014 NCAA Regional competitor Northwestern State (Feb. 7) and Cal State Fullerton (Feb. 7-8) later in the weekend to cap the event.

“Our returners have a lot of confidence in going early with UCLA,” Gumpf said. “(Last year) left a sour taste in our mouth, and we’re going to give them a fight again. The one thing I want to make sure of is that we don’t focus too much on them, because they are one of many great teams that are out there. We need to take it one game at a time, it doesn’t matter who our opponent is.

“We planned this tournament trip because we wanted the good weather early,” Gumpf added. “We were unable to play nine games last year due to weather, so we really focused on trying to go early to some great weather. I think we have a great shot in going out to Los Angeles and Fullerton, and we really want to get those games in.”

Notre Dame will make its return to the state of Louisiana for the first time since 2003, taking part in the LSU Tiger Invitational at Tiger Park in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The tournament’s first day will feature a pair of Irish games against Central Arkansas and host LSU (Feb. 14), with Notre Dame concluding the bayou barnstorm with 2014 NCAA Regional qualifiers Hofstra and LSU (Feb. 15) the following day.

For the second straight season, Notre Dame heads to one of the most prestigious regular season collegiate softball tournaments in the nation, the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic at the Big League Dreams Sports Complex in Cathedral City, California. The Irish will meet 2014 NCAA Super Regional foe Tennessee and Maryland (Feb. 19) to begin the event, with a single game against UNLV (Feb. 20) the following day. The road gets no easier on the final day of the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic, with Notre Dame taking on perennial national contenders in 2014 NCAA Regional qualifier Texas and 2014 NCAA Super Regional foe Georgia (Feb. 21) to finish off the West Coast gauntlet.

“There’s no surprises at Palm Springs,” Gumpf said. “Out of the five games you play out there, you have to expect that four out of five will be against top 25 programs. That’s why you go out there, and why you go down to the Diamond 9 tournament at Disney.”

The aforementioned Diamond 9 Citrus Classic at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Kissimmee, Florida will serve as the fourth and final in-season tournament stop for Notre Dame. Showdowns with 2014 NCAA Regional qualifier Missouri and former BIG EAST foe Georgetown (Feb. 27) set the stage for a second early season meeting with Maryland (Feb. 28) on day two. The Irish complete the tournament schedule against 2014 NCAA Regional competitor Mississippi State (Feb. 28) and Indiana (March 1) to close the showcase at Disney World. Notre Dame is a combined 15-3 (.833) all-time at the Diamond 9 Citrus Classic, outscoring opponents by a combined 58-17 run differential at the tournament.

ACC play will commence the following weekend, as Notre Dame makes its first-ever conference trip to Raleigh, North Carolina to face 2014 NCAA Regional qualifier North Carolina State (March 7-8) at the Dail Softball Stadium to open a weeklong Spring Break road trip. The Irish and the Wolfpack officially met on the diamond for the first time in 2014, with the teams splitting a pair of games at Melissa Cook Stadium last April.

“NC State has a great returning team coming back, a very experienced team,” Gumpf said. “They’re going to be tough, and it’s a great opening series for us. We will be coming off a little break ourselves, so we will be ready to go.”

The North Carolina tour continues with two nonconference midweek stops for the Irish, with Notre Dame’s inaugural trip to Bules Creek, North Carolina to face Campbell (March 10). A stop in Durham the following day against North Carolina Central (March 11) at the Parkwood Athletic Field adds further space to the Spring Break game schedule.

“The best part about it is nothing really changes,” Gumpf said of the earlier ACC slate taking the place of Notre Dame’s longtime California tournament stops in March). “On Spring Break we were used to playing 10 games in 10 days so this is no different, playing eight games in 10 days. It’s actually a little bit more of a break, so we should be fine. We should be fresh then.”

Perhaps the marquee series of the 2015 ACC regular season concludes Notre Dame’s nine-day road excursion, with three games against defending conference champion and 2014 College World Series qualifier Florida State (March 14-15) at JoAnne Graf Field in Tallahassee, Florida. The Seminoles took two of three decisions against the Irish in 2014, including a 3-1 victory in the ACC Championship game in May, but the teams have split the last six meetings in series history.

“We will be very prepared for Florida State with the competition we have on the schedule early,” Gumpf said. “We should be very prepared for all of our conference games, there are not going to be any surprises. I thought that was the best thing about last year, getting our feet wet against the top teams in the ACC. This year there will be no surprises.”

The third week of March finally brings home softball back to the Notre Dame campus, as the Irish usher in the 2015 home schedule with a nonconference tilt against Cleveland State (March 18). The nine-game homestand continues with the season’s first ACC series at Melissa Cook Stadium against Georgia Tech (March 21-22). Notre Dame secured its first-ever ACC series win over the Yellow Jackets last March in Atlanta, and holds a 6-1 (.857) lead in the all-time series between the teams (38-16 run differential).

A midweek meeting with IPFW (March 25) bridges the gap to Virginia Tech’s (March 28-29) return to the Notre Dame campus for the first time since 2004. The Hokies took two of three games against the Irish last season in Blacksburg, Virginia, with Notre Dame stunning Virginia Tech with a 9-6 comeback victory in the semifinals of the 2014 ACC Championship in College Park, Maryland. The Irish hold a 13-6 (.684) series lead over the Hokies, including a combined 7-2 (.778) mark in league competition split between the BIG EAST Conference and ACC.

Eastern Michigan (April 1) flips the calendar for Notre Dame in a nonconference matchup, closing a three-week stay for the Irish at Melissa Cook Stadium.

“Playing at home always seems a bit easier, but I love having the girls confident that they can win on the road,” Gumpf said. “That’s what is so great about traveling so much early is that we learn to win on the road early, and most teams don’t have that luxury. We learn to win on the road early, and that just makes playing at home easier.”

A brief three-game road trip takes Notre Dame back to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for an ACC set against Pittsburgh (April 3-4) at the Petersen Sports Complex. The Irish and Panthers, formerly longtime BIG EAST foes, were scheduled to meet for the first time in ACC play last March in a series that was canceled due to inclement weather. Notre Dame leads the all-time series with Pittsburgh by a sizeable 29-2 (.935) margin, including 28-2 (.933) in conference matchups.

Two regional opponents will make the voyage to Melissa Cook Stadium the following week, as Notre Dame welcomes Western Michigan (April 7) and Butler (April 8) for nonconference showdowns. The Irish are a combined 54-8 all-time (26-6 (.813) against Western Michigan; 28-2 (.933) against Butler) in the respective series histories with both programs.

Notre Dame concludes its ACC road schedule by returning to Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts for the first time in more than 10 years to face former BIG EAST rival Boston College (April 11-12) at Shea Field. The Irish swept all four meetings with the Eagles last May, winning all three ACC regular season games at Melissa Cook Stadium before downing Boston College 3-0 in the quarterfinals of the ACC Championship at Maryland. Notre Dame is 21-6 (.778) all-time against Boston College, with a 17-5 (.773) mark in conference meetings.

The Irish return to Melissa Cook Stadium to embark on a season-long 10-game homestand, meeting Bowling Green (April 14) and 2014 NCAA Regional qualifier Northwestern (April 15) in nonconference midweek action. Notre Dame has won eight straight games against Bowling Green dating back to the 1999 season, leading the all-time series against the Eagles 13-6 (.684). Northwestern is in search of its second straight win over the Irish, with Notre Dame trailing the Wildcats 7-12 (.368) in all-time meetings.

In its first four years of existence, Notre Dame’s Strikeout Cancer initiative has emerged as one of the most unique and successful causes of its kind in collegiate softball. The Irish have raised more than $100,000 since 2011 for children battling cancer, with proceeds directly benefitting South Bend’s Memorial Children’s Hospital and children afflicted with cancer throughout the state of Indiana.

To commemorate the fifth annual Strikeout Cancer celebration at Melissa Cook Stadium, Syracuse (April 18-19) becomes the first opponent to return for Notre Dame’s signature weekend after competing in the second annual Strikeout Cancer series in 2012. It will be the first time the former BIG EAST members will meet in ACC play after last season’s three-game series at Syracuse was canceled due to inclement weather. Notre Dame leads the all-time series with Syracuse 20-5 (.800), including an 18-5 (.783) edge in BIG EAST games.

“That will be such a fun weekend, and I appreciate that Syracuse is going to be our opponent,” Gumpf said. “I like their coaching staff and I appreciate the help they have given to Strikeout Cancer in the past. They are a great opponent, and a tough opponent, to have at home for that weekend.”

The homestand rolls on with midweek tilts against DePaul (April 21) and Toledo (April 22) to cap Notre Dame’s nonconference schedule at Melissa Cook Stadium. The Irish have won seven of the past eight meetings with DePaul at home, narrowing the gap in the all-time series with the Blue Demons to 29-34-1 (.461). Notre Dame is a perfect 17-0 in official contests against Toledo, including 14-0 in home matchups.

“Playing each of those regional opponents later on is a really great thing,” Gumpf said. “We are going to have a sense of who we are at that point, and we want to send a message that we are the team to beat from the Mideast. We want to send that message, and being able to play those teams is very important going into postseason.”

The final Notre Dame ACC series of 2015 brings North Carolina (April 26-27) to Melissa Cook Stadium for the first time. The Irish swept a conference doubleheader from the Tar Heels last season in Chapel Hill during an inaugural ACC series meeting with North Carolina. Notre Dame has won eight straight games against the Tar Heels dating back to the 1999 season, and is 10-2 (.833) against North Carolina all-time.

A final nonconference trip to Michigan State (April 28) completes Notre Dame’s 2015 regular season schedule. The Irish downed the Spartans 11-4 last April during a midweek tilt at Melissa Cook Stadium. Notre Dame holds an 8-1 (.889) lead in the all-time series with Michigan State, outscoring the Spartans 39-14 in those nine games.

Eligible teams will qualify for the 2015 ACC Championship, set for May 7-9 at the Tech Softball Park in Blacksburg, Virginia. Virginia Tech will serve as the tournament host for the second time as a conference member, previously welcoming the 2010 ACC Championship to the Tech Softball Park.

Notre Dame looks to earn its 20th all-time NCAA Championship bid when NCAA Regional play begins on May 15 at various campus sites, with Super Regionals to follow starting on May 21. The 2015 NCAA Women’s College World Series will be held May 28-June 3 at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, Okla.

“The girls do a good job communicating that NCAA Regionals are a program standard, and we talk a lot about who we want to be all the time,” Gumpf said. “Our schedule reflects that. We’re not afraid to go out and play the very best to be the very best, and we need to know what it takes early. We’re going to get that, and there’s no question that this team knows where they should be, and who they want to be.”

Tickets for the 2015 softball season are expected to go on sale early in January. For more information, contact the Murnane Family Athletics Ticket Office, located inside the Rosenthal Atrium at Gate 9 of Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center. The ticket office is open from 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. (ET) Monday-Friday, and also can be reached by phone at (574) 631-7356. In addition, tickets may be purchased online through the official Notre Dame athletics ticketing web page (UND.com/tickets) — all major credit cards are accepted and service charges may apply.

For the latest news and updates on all things Notre Dame softball, visit www.und.com/softball, follow the Irish @NDsoftball and @NDcoachGumpf on Twitter and at Instagram.com/notredamesoftball, and Like the team at Facebook.com/NDSoftball.


— Tony Jones, Media Relations Assistant