March 22, 2016
by Tony Jones
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Home has certainly been where the heart is thus far for the University of Notre Dame softball team at Melissa Cook Stadium. For the second straight contest inside their friendly confines the Irish scored 10 runs to secure a five-inning victory, downing Eastern Michigan 10-2 on a sunny Tuesday night on the Notre Dame campus.
No. 19/17 Notre Dame (23-3), which earlier in the day achieved its highest ranking ever in the ESPN.com/USA Softball Top 25 poll, won its 19th straight game dating back to Feb. 19. The Irish also claimed their 15th straight nonconference regular season game at Melissa Cook Stadium dating back to 2013, outhitting Eastern Michigan (9-15) 11-4 on the day and finishing with seven two-out RBI.
“We really try to do a great job of just looking at what we learned today and how do we get a little bit better tomorrow,” Notre Dame head coach Deanna Gumpf said. “That is 100 percent all that we care about. All we care about is our next game (against Michigan State on Wednesday).”
Allie Rhodes (11-2) made quick work of the first three Eastern Michigan hitters in the top of the first inning. Lucy Lopez and Olivia Logan struck out swinging and Abi Clark popped out to shortstop for the inning’s final out.
Notre Dame wasted no time in getting on the board in the bottom of the first. Co-captain Karley Wester walked on four pitches offered by Eastern Michigan starter Nicolle Miranda (4-9) before stealing second base. Ali Wester ripped an RBI single through the right side one batter later, putting the Irish ahead 1-0. After Melissa Rochford and Caitlyn Brooks both reached on Eagle fielding errors, Morgan Reed clocked a two-run double to the left center gap to vault Notre Dame in front 3-0. Maddie McCracken followed with an RBI single up the middle to score Reed and close the inning with Notre Dame ahead 4-0.
“It starts at the top,” Gumpf said. “When Ali and Karley get their job done early, all of a sudden it opens things up. We had some really quality at-bats that first inning and made them make a lot of mistakes early. Those first two hitters made them get on their heels quick, and that’s what they both are capable of doing.”
Rhodes posted a scoreless top of the third frame against the Eastern Michigan order while notching two strikeouts in the inning. Sam Saporito and Lopez were each frozen looking for the second and third outs to end the stanza.
Eastern Michigan clawed back with two runs against the Irish in the top of the fourth inning to trim its deficit. A two-run single off the bat of Amanda Akles brought the Eagles within two at 4-2. Rhodes came back by forcing Brandice Olmos to ground out to third base to strand Akles on base.
Rhodes tossed four innings of four-hit softball, issuing no walks with six strikeouts of Eastern Michigan hitters. Rhodes has won her last 10 starts dating back to a Notre Dame victory against Cal Poly on Feb. 20.
“Allie will just battle, and the team loves to play behind her,” Gumpf said. “She is a fighter and will battle, she will do anything to win.”
Notre Dame quickly made it a four-run lead once more in the bottom of the fourth. Singles by co-captain Carly Piccinich and Bailey Bigler set the table for Rochford, who drilled a two-run single off the second base bag to extend the Irish cushion to 6-2.
“That was the thing that I was the most proud of today for the team, and that was the one thing I talked about in the locker room,” Gumpf said. “My favorite part of today was that they got two and then we changed the momentum right back in our favor. That changes everything. The minute we scored two we knew that this was all ours, and we just took care of it.”
“Momentum is very big for us,” Reed, who tied career-highs with three hits and four RBI, said. “Coming back and showing that we weren’t going to give up even if they scored runs was big.”
Katie Beriont worked around a Notre Dame fielding error to post a scoreless top of the fifth inning. Lopez lined out to third base, Logan struck out looking and Clark followed with a swinging strikeout to leave the Eagle runner stuck at second base.
“Katie has had a couple of starts as well, but she is so effective and different than both Rachel Nasland and Allie,” Gumpf said. “I like seeing Rachel and Allie start games, and what I like about KB is that she’s so different that it throws hitters off.”
Notre Dame clinched the win with a four-run bottom of the fifth inning against Miranda. Micaela Arizmendi led off by reaching on an Eastern Michigan fielding error, which paid dividends as Reed sent her second home run of the season soaring over the left center fence to up the Notre Dame lead to 8-2.
After a pair of outs following the home run, Bigler sparked a two-out rally with a sharp single up the middle. Bigler took second base on a steal attempt and advanced to third on an errant throw, where Karley Wester drove her in with an RBI infield single (9-2). Wester also stole second base and cruised into third as the winning run due to another Eastern Michigan throwing error. Ali Wester completed the four-run fifth with a walk-off single up the chute to add another win to the Notre Dame column.
“We don’t keep track of (any streaks), we just go one game at a time,” Reed said.
Along with Reed’s three hits and four runs batted in, Bigler added two hits, a stolen base and two runs scored. Ali Wester chipped in two hits and two RBI, while Karley Wester swiped two bases to tie Megan Ciolli (’05) and Jenna Simon (’15) for the Notre Dame career stolen bases record of 76 in her 137th career game.
Notre Dame closes its three-game homestand with a 5 p.m. (ET) meeting with Michigan State on Wednesday at Melissa Cook Stadium, with the game set to be the first live ESPN3 softball broadcast emanating from the Notre Dame campus. The Irish have defeated the Spartans four straight times dating back to 2012.
“Michigan State’s a really good team,” Gumpf said. “They have had really good pitching and their hitting has come along, and they are a very tough team. I think that we’ll have our hands full with them, they are going to play a great game against us and we just need to attack them.”
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 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.