April 19, 2016
by Tony Jones
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – What at times looked to be a smooth sailing evening for the University of Notre Dame softball team was turned on its head thanks to a three-run rally by Western Michigan. In the end, the resolve of the Irish on their home turf proved to be the difference, as Notre Dame regained the control it held for the majority of the game to secure a 6-3 win on Tuesday in front of an energized Melissa Cook Stadium crowd.
No. 18 Notre Dame (33-6) remained unbeaten at home during midweek contests in 2016, racing out to an early 6-0 lead over Western Michigan (18-20) thanks to a fourth-inning grand slam from co-captain Karley Wester before the Broncos scrapped back with a three-run top of the fifth inning. Stellar relief pitching down the stretch slowed the Western Michigan rebound and gave Notre Dame its 15th win in its past 16 games against the Broncos.
“We dominated for six innings, and Western Michigan did a great job with that one inning when they put bat on ball,” Notre Dame head coach Deanna Gumpf said. “I was super proud of the way we attacked for six of the seven innings, and the girls did what they needed to do.”
Allie Rhodes (16-4) worked an efficient 1-2-3 top of the first inning to hold back the Western Michigan offense. Ivy Schaaf grounded out to Micaela Arizmendi at first base, Melissa Palmer lined out right to Arizmendi at the first base bag and Sabrina Gamboa popped out to Ali Wester at second base.
Western Michigan opened the top of the second with a leadoff single up the middle by Kelsea Cichocki. Rhodes struck Abby Stoner and Erin Binkowski out swinging before Courtney Sleeman walked to put two runners on. Brooke Wyman grounded out to Ali Wester at second base to strand both Bronco runners.
Caitlyn Brooks opened the Notre Dame bottom of the second in the same way Karley Wester ushered in the bottom of the first, with a leadoff single. A groundout and Maddie McCracken hit by pitch moved Brooks into scoring position at second base, but Western Michigan starter Allyson Kus (13-10) forced an inning-ending groundout one batter later.
Brooks broke through again during her second at-bat of the evening to give Notre Dame the lead in the bottom of the third inning. Karley Wester ripped a one-out double off the center field wall, and advanced to third base on an Ali Wester sacrifice bunt. After Melissa Rochford drew a 3-1 walk and stole second base, Brooks dropped a two-run single down the right field line to clear the bases and give the Irish a 2-0 cushion.
Rhodes put the finishing touches on a scoreless top of the fourth inning to keep Western Michigan off the board. Gamboa flew out to Megan Sorlie in foul ground down the right field line, Cichocki struck out swinging and Stoner struck out swinging for the three-up, three-down frame.
The Notre Dame offense broke the game open in the bottom of the fourth inning against Western Michigan reliever Jordan Kurth. Morgan Reed started things off with a single up the middle, moving over to second base on a McCracken single through the left side. Reigning Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Player of the Week Bailey Bigler worked a one-out walk to load the bases for Karley Wester, who smashed a full-count pitch over the wall in left field for the first Notre Dame grand slam of 2016. Wester’s second home run of the season pushed the Irish in front 6-0.
“One of our small-ball players was the one who hit the grand slam, and she does such a great job with that,” Gumpf said. “Karley had a great day and did everything, she completely dominated her at-bats using small-ball and going with power. I was really proud of the way she attacked all day today.”
Just when it looked as if Notre Dame was in full control, Western Michigan began to battle back in the top of the fifth inning. An RBI single to right field by Schaaf allowed Geordin Craun to slide under a great throw home by Sorlie to cut the Irish lead to 6-1. Palmer followed with a two-run single through the left side, and after Erin Barg miraculously avoided the tag on great block at the plate by McCracken it was suddenly a 6-3 contest. Rhodes bounced back from a two-out walk to line Stoner out to second base and leave the bases loaded.
Rhodes concluded her day allowing five hits in five full innings, walking three with seven strikeouts. The reigning ACC Pitcher of the Week earned the win for a fourth consecutive start.
“The top of the fifth was a tough inning, and we were talking about the little things that we could do better,” Gumpf said. “Even though we did a good job after that inning shutting the door, I still think there are things we can improve on to minimize that and slow it down a little bit.”
Notre Dame reliever Katie Beriont struck out Binkowski swinging to open the top of the sixth before Sleeman and Wyman notched consecutive singles. Those would be the final Western Michigan baserunners of the game, as Aspen Williams and Schaaf both went down to ground ball outs to Rochford at third base to cap the sixth inning.
The Irish pushed for an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth inning thanks to a Bigler single up the middle and a Karley Wester soft slap hit up the line at third base. Anissa Sanchez buckled down from there and forced consecutive infield outs to keep Notre Dame from padding its lead.
Karley Wester finished the day 4-for-4 at the plate with a double, grand slam, four RBI and two runs scored. Brooks added two RBI on her third-inning single to her two hits, while Bigler reached base twice and scored one run.
Beriont hammered down her first save of the season with a 1-2-3 inning in the top of the seventh against the Western Michigan batting order. Palmer grounded out to first base unassisted on a great play at the bag by Arizmendi, Gamboa struck out looking and Cichocki grounded out right to Beriont to end the game.
Notre Dame returns to Melissa Cook Stadium on Wednesday to host Valparaiso on the final day of its brief two-game homestand, with first pitch set for 6 p.m. (ET) on WatchND.
“I just want to play really good softball (against Valparaiso), and if there’s anything to improve on from today it’s just really minimizing that one inning,” Gumpf said. “Things are going to happen, we just need to do a good job of slowing it down.”
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, athletics communications assistant director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 2012 and coordinates all media efforts for the Notre Dame softball and men’s soccer programs. A native of Jamestown, New York, Jones is a 2011 graduate of St. Bonaventure University, and prior to arriving at Notre Dame held positions at the University of Louisiana at Monroe and with the National Football League’s Buffalo Bills.