April 14, 2016
by Tony Jones
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Thursday’s game may not have featured the fast start that the University of Notre Dame softball team has become known for, but the Irish resolve to close out ballgames ultimately shined through. Two runs in the third inning and three runs in the fourth inning backed up a brilliant pitching performance in a 5-0 Notre Dame nonconference win over Butler on a sunny night at Melissa Cook Stadium.
No. 19/20 Notre Dame (29-6) won its 18th straight nonconference home game in the regular season dating back to March of 2013. The Irish improved to 30-2 all-time against Butler (22-16), and have now outscored the Bulldogs by a cumulative run count of 130-15 in series history.
“We were very in control throughout the game,” Notre Dame head coach Deanna Gumpf said. “I asked the team what we needed to do a little differently earlier in the game and they said attack early, which is what I wanted them to say. I also told them I was very proud of the way that we played defense.”
Allie Rhodes (13-4) worked around a two-out walk in the top of the first inning to retire the Butler side on strikes. Maggie MacBeth, Sarah Dixon and Kaitlin Doud each went down swinging to secure the shutout inning for Notre Dame.
MacBeth located an infield single to kick start the Butler offense with one out in the top of the third inning. After MacBeth stole second to move into scoring position, Rhodes forced Dixon into a groundout to second base. Dowd struck out swinging chasing a 0-2 pitch to leave two runners stranded.
The Notre Dame offense finally broke through against Butler starter Kristin Gutierrez (9-8) in the bottom of the third inning. Maddie McCracken was hit by a pitch to open the inning and advanced to third base following an infield single and throwing error created by co-captain Carly Piccinich. A sharp ground ball by co-captain Karley Wester two batters later was mishandled by Butler third baseman Alyssa Lach, allowing McCracken to score for the 1-0 Irish lead. A sacrifice fly down the third base line by Ali Wester enabled Piccinich to tag and cross home plate for the 2-0 Notre Dame advantage.
Rhodes battled against the game Butler offense to keep the Bulldogs off the scoreboard in the top of the fourth inning. A Lach leadoff walk looked to get Butler in motion, but Chelsea Norwood lined into a double play that covered Micaela Arizmendi at first and Morgan Reed at second base for two quick outs. Rhodes followed by ringing up Cheyenne Thompson swinging for the final out of the stanza.
Notre Dame continued to ramp up the offensive pressure against Butler reliever Mikeila Boroff in the bottom of the fourth. Caitlyn Brooks led off with a rocket single into left field, and Arizmendi and Reed followed with base hits to load the bases with nobody out. A fielder’s choice on a ground ball to the circle retired Brooks at home for the first out, setting the stage for pinch hitter Kimmy Sullivan to break through with a two-run single up the middle one batter later. Reed and Arizmendi each scored on the two-RBI base knock to push the Notre Dame lead to 4-0. Karley Wester later added a perfect RBI chop slap single back to Boroff to score McCracken and up the Irish cushion to 5-0.
“I thought the turning point was Kimmy Sullivan,” Gumpf said. “We had two runners on base and she smoked that ball up the middle. That was the difference in the game. That changed everything, and all of a sudden it went into our hands and we weren’t going to let up.
“That’s the hardest thing in the game to do, come in and pinch hit, pinch hit well,” Gumpf added. “(Kimmy) is probably one of the best in the country doing that, so I give her a lot of credit.”
Rhodes closed out the top of the fifth inning with the same brilliant pitching acumen she showed all evening. Zoe St. Cyr, Krosley Ogden and MacBeth all struck out swinging to sit Butler down in order during the inning.
“When Allie’s changeup is on, she is so tough to hit,” Gumpf said. “It makes all of her pitches better.”
Rhodes scattered two hits in her five full innings of work, walking three while striking out a career-high 12 batters. The Bulldogs managed to push only one runner past second base, MacBeth in the top of the third, during the game against the Notre Dame southpaw.
Katie Beriont picked up where Rhodes left off and notched a scoreless top of the sixth inning in the circle. Dixon grounded out to Arizmendi unassisted at first base before Doud grounded into a 5-4-3 double play to put Brandyce Sallee out at second base and close the Butler ups in the sixth.
Notre Dame threatened with a pair of hits off Kacey Starwalt in the bottom of the sixth inning, as Piccinich laced a single into left field before Karley Wester followed with her own base knock into left two batters later. Starwalt made a nice play on a high chopper off the bat off Ali Wester to make the third out at first and cool the Irish offensive surge.
Karley Wester and Piccinich each paced the Notre Dame order with two hits, while Wester and Sullivan each chipped in two RBI and Wester a successful stolen base. McCracken led all Irish players by scoring a pair of runs.
Beriont made fast work of the Butler order in the top of the seventh to nail down the Notre Dame victory. Lach popped out to second base on a nice play on the run by Piccinich, Norwood lined out to Piccinich on the spot at second and Katelyn Cahill popped out to Reed at shortstop to cap the 1-2-3 inning.
Notre Dame resumes Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) play with a three-game series at Virginia Tech, which opens Saturday at noon (ET) in Blacksburg, Virginia. All three games at the Tech Softball Park will air live on ESPN3.
“Virginia Tech is a very good team, and they start a very strong player on the mound in Maggie Tyler,” Gumpf said. “She is a really good pitcher. If we play good softball we will be fine. The key is consistency and attacking early, and we need to keep their hitters in the park while attacking early and playing consistent.”
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.