April 27, 2016
by Tony Jones
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Returning to its home field to officially open the stretch run of the 2016 NCAA regular season, the University of Notre Dame softball team packed a familiar offensive punch that has become its trademark on Wednesday against DePaul. A total of 13 team hits and a five-run fourth inning revved up the Irish, with another solid pitching performance topping off an 8-0 Notre Dame shutout victory in five innings during the final nonconference midweek game of the season at Melissa Cook Stadium.
No. 19/18 Notre Dame (36-8) won its 21st straight nonconference home game in the regular season dating back to March of 2013 with its run-rule triumph over DePaul (21-24). Including the 2016 tournament schedule Notre Dame has now downed 22 consecutive nonconference opponents since Feb. 20, winning for the seventh time in nine meetings against DePaul since the 2012 campaign.
Allie Rhodes (17-5) cruised through the top of the first inning with a 1-2-3 frame against the DePaul order. Dylan Christensen grounded out to second base, Morgan Maize popped up to shortstop and Nicole Pihl struck out looking.
DePaul found slightly more success in the top of the second, as Naomi Tellez started things off with a leadoff single through the left side. Megan Leyva worked a full-count walk before Rhodes answered with a looking strikeout of Sabrina Kuchta for the first out. Alysia Rodriguez would immediately follow with a single to left to load the bases with one out. It was all in the hands of the Notre Dame southpaw from there, with Rhodes striking Gena Lenti out looking before Angela Scalzitti grounded into an inning-ending fielder’s choice at third base.
A roped single up the middle by Maddie McCracken looked to get the Notre Dame offense started in the bottom of the second inning, but the DePaul starter Leyva (5-10) forced an infield pop out for the third out to slow the Irish surge.
Rhodes steered out of danger once more to halt DePaul during the top of the third frame. Christiansen walked to reach base, but Rhodes induced a pop out to second base, a fielder’s choice out to shortstop and a lineout to Melissa Rochford at third base to leave the runner on the pond.
Notre Dame found its first lead of the night with two outs in the bottom of the third. Co-captain Karley Wester had reached on a crafty slap single earlier in the inning but was called out for leaving early at first base for the all-important second out. Ali Wester responded with an infield single to shortstop, moving to second base on a hard-hit single up the middle by Rochford. Caitlyn Brooks cleared the bases with a hot-shot double to the left center field gap, scoring both runners to put Notre Dame in front 2-0.
Rhodes made short work of DePaul once more by cutting a blistering pace in the top of the fourth inning. Leyva struck out looking, Kuchta flew out to center field and Rodriguez grounded out to second base to send the Blue Demons back to the field.
Rhodes allowed two hits in her four full innings of work, walking two and adding four strikeouts to pick up her team-high 17th win of 2016. Rhodes improved to 12-2 overall against nonconference foes this season with the win against DePaul.
The offensive explosion that had been building for Notre Dame in the early innings finally came to fruition in the bottom of the fourth. Morgan Reed dropped a sneaky bunt single to third base with one out before McCracken clubbed a single of her own through the right side that sent Reed all the way to third base. Co-captain Carly Piccinich successfully claimed second with a stolen base pinch running for McCracken, allowing Megan Sorlie to load the bases on a full-count walk. Bailey Bigler seized the RBI opportunity with a two-RBI single through the right side that plated both Reed and Piccinich for the 4-0 Notre Dame advantage.
The Irish bats were not yet done in the fourth inning, with Karley Wester rocking the first pitch she saw from Leyva into the left center gap for a bases-clearing double that scored Sorlie and Bigler and vaulted Notre Dame ahead 6-0. After Karley Wester stole third and Ali Wester reached with an infield single to third base, the Wester tandem executed a perfect double-steal that forced a throw to second base and allowed Karley to easily score the inning’s final run (7-0).
Rachel Nasland took to the circle for Notre Dame in the top of the fifth inning and tossed a scoreless stanza of relief on only nine pitches. Marsha’ Pendilton struck out swinging, Micah Fitzgerald lined out to the left fielder Bigler playing shallow to guard against the slap and Cherelle Chambers was retired on a solid play from Nasland in fielding and throwing a bunt attempt to Ali Wester covering at first base.
Micaela Arizmendi wasted no time in smashing a leadoff double to the wall in left center off Leyva to open the bottom of the fifth inning, putting the winning Notre Dame run at second base. A Reed groundout to the right side shifted Arizmendi to third base, where she remained as McCracken walked on a 3-2 offering. Sorlie ripped the first pitch she saw as the next batter up the middle into center to score Arizmendi and cap the Notre Dame win at 8-0.
Ali Wester closed the ballgame a perfect 3-for-3 at the plate against DePaul, adding a stolen base and run scored, while Karley Wester, Brooks and Bigler each chipped in two RBI apiece. McCracken reached in all three of her plate appearances, tying a career-high with two hits.
Notre Dame welcomes Louisville to Melissa Cook Stadium for a three-game Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) series that begins on Saturday at 1 p.m. (ET) on ESPN3. The series coincides with the sixth annual Strikeout Cancer festivities hosted by the Irish, an event that has raised more than $150,000 to directly benefit pediatric cancer patients since 2011. More information on this weekend’s events can be found at UND.com/strikeoutcancer.
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.