What to know about Notre Dame Softball before NCAA Tournament opener
SOUTH BEND — For the 22nd consecutive season the Notre Dame softball team is competing for a spot in the College World Series. The Irish's road to Oklahoma City begins Friday with regional play in the Evanston, Ill. regional, hosted by No. 9 Northwestern (40-10).
Along with the Wildcats, second-seeded Notre Dame is in a group with No. 4 seed Oakland University (26-15) out of the Summit League and No. 3 McNeese (38-19), winners of the Southland Conference who the Irish open with at 2 p.m. May 20 (EPSN+).
Regionals are played in a double-elimination format with the winning team advancing to a best of three series in the Super Regionals. The winner of Notre Dame's Regional will play the winner from the Tempe Regional, hosted by No. 8 Arizona State, and also includes San Diego State, LSU and Cal State Fullerton.
The Irish have never advanced to a Super Regional in program history. But after a 39-10 season, their most wins since the 2016 season, this year's team has as good of a shot as ever.
Here are four things to know before Notre Dame's opening tournament game.
The Irish finished fourth in the ACC
The only teams to finish higher than Notre Dame in the ACC this year are all hosting Regionals this weekend. Virginia Tech (41-7, 21-2 ACC) is the No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Duke (41-8, 19-3 ACC) is hosting a Regional as the tournament's No. 12 seed and Florida State (52-5, 19-5 ACC), last year's national runner-up, as once again a title contender as the No. 2 seed.
Notre Dame only played one game against these teams, beating Duke, 8-1 in its only meeting. It would have been interesting to see the Irish matchup more times against the ACC's best because statistically they looked the part this season.
Offensively, Notre Dame finished second in the ACC in batting (.330), third in runs (313), second in hits (441), third in slugging percentage (.518) and second in on base percentage (.397).
Pitching was just as strong. The Irish finished fifth in team ERA (2.39), fourth in earned runs (109), seventh in strikeouts (254) and fifth in opponent batting average (.223).
Recent Tournament Success
Over the past five NCAA Tournaments, Notre Dame has a combined 7-8 record.
Last year was Notre Dame's best opportunity to reach a Super Regional, winning games against Miami (Ohio) and Kentucky before losing in back-to-back games to the host Wildcats.
Notre Dame players to watch
► Karina Gaskins — For the second consecutive year, Gaskins, a sophomore, has made a huge impact with her bat. She leads Notre Dame in batting average (.434), fourth in hits (56), first in RBI (59) and in homers (13)
► Emma Clark — A senior out of California, Clark was as consistent as it gets at the plate this year. She led the Irish with 63 hits, while batting.360 with 21 RBI and 10 extra base hits.
► The pitching staff — Notre Dame has three capable pitchers who coach Deanna Gumpf isn't afraid to use. Shannon Becker, a freshman, leads the team in ERA (1.63), but has only made 11 starts and pitched a team-low, 81 2/3 innings. However, she's been very affective, striking out a team-high 70 batters in that span. Alexis Holloway, a graduate senior, leads the Irish with 20 starts, compiling a 2.99 ERA in 114 2/3 innings but has also given up a team-high 49 earned runs. And Payton Tidd, another senior, has a 2.51 ERA in a team-high 30 appearances, striking out 96 batters in 128 1/3 innings.
What to know about Regional opponents
Northwestern hosts a regional for the fifth time in program history and is a top-10 seed for the first time since 2007.
Oakland is making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2015 and hasn't won a postseason game since 2005.
McNeese ranks 55th in the country in scoring (5.32 runs per game).