March 9, 2016
by Tony Jones
MIAMI – As has been the case throughout the first 21 games to open the 2016 season, the University of Notre Dame softball team continues to find diverse ways to win. A high-octane offensive effort in game one of a Wednesday doubleheader at Florida International resulted in a 17-8 victory, and a balanced hitting and pitching effort in the nightcap yielded a 6-3 triumph for the Irish to sweep the day at Felsberg Field at FIU Stadium.
No. 20/23 Notre Dame (18-3) added two more victories to its current 14-game winning streak, equaling the 2001 Irish squad for the best 21-game start in program history. Notre Dame finished with a slight 26-20 edge in total hits over FIU (14-10), which included a 23-8 mark in RBI for the twin bill.
Junior co-captain Karley Wester batted .667 (6-for-9) with two RBI, three stolen bases and six runs scored to pace the Notre Dame offense for the day. Wester’s four runs in the opening game against FIU equaled a single-game Irish program record, which she and seven other players previously shared. Wester is the first Notre Dame player to hit the four-run plateau twice in her career.
Freshman Melissa Rochford added five hits, five RBI and three runs scored, while senior Casey Africano chipped in a home run and five RBI. Freshman Ali Wester connected on five hits, four RBI and three runs, and freshman Caitlyn Brooks drilled two tape measure home runs and four RBI.
Senior Allie Rhodes (8-2) won her seventh straight start after throwing four innings of effective softball in the first game against FIU. Rhodes scattered seven hits and three earned runs on 83 pitches, striking out three Panther hitters.
Junior Rachel Nasland spun four shutout innings as the nightcap starter, allowing two hits while punching out five FIU batters. Katie Beriont (4-1) threw three efficient innings of relief with two strikeouts to claim the victory,
Notre Dame officially opens conference play this weekend, taking on Virginia in three Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) games Saturday and Sunday in Charlottesville.
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.
Co-captain Karley Wester led off the opening game with a single to left field before stealing second base against FIU starter Abby Summers (5-2). An Ali Wester sacrifice bunt and a Melissa Rochford RBI groundout to shortstop made it 1-0 Notre Dame. Caitlyn Brooks turned on a 3-2 Summers offering one batter later and crushed a solo home run through a strong right to left breeze. Brooks’ fourth home run of the season increased the Irish advantage to 2-0.
FIU struck for a run of its own in the bottom of the first half thanks to an RBI single from Gabby Spallone, which scored Ashley Leon to trim the Panther deficit to 2-1. Irish starter Allie Rhodes worked out of a bases loaded jam with one out to retire Deven Kennedy and Kaitlyne Musa with outs to Ali Wester at second base to maintain the Notre Dame lead.
Notre Dame immediately answered with three runs in the top of the second inning to pad its lead. Morgan Reed opened the inning with a single up the middle before Maddie McCracken reached on a hit by pitch. Karley Wester slapped a tester to Summers that forced a bad throw at first with two outs, scoring Reed to put the Irish in front 3-1. Ali Wester then reached first on a throwing error by the FIU catcher Musa to plate McCracken (4-1). Rochford laced an RBI single one batter later to score Karley Wester and make it 5-1 Notre Dame.
FIU chipped away at the lead in the bottom of the second thanks to a two-out RBI single up the middle by Spallone, cutting the Notre Dame cushion to 5-2. Rhodes came back with a swinging strikeout of Dani Mowry to leave two Panthers on base and end the inning.
An RBI single from Jessica Hallett scored Musa in the bottom of the third inning to bring FIU within two at 5-3, but a great throw from Karley Wester in center field retired Erin Eiland at the plate as the trailing runner for the inning’s third out.
Ali Wester located an effective RBI groundout against FIU reliever Rachel Dwyer in the top of the fourth to score Bailey Bigler and put Notre Dame in front 6-3. Rochford reached on an FIU error one batter to plate Karley Wester and put the Irish up 7-3.
After FIU had narrowed the gap to 7-4 with a run in the bottom of the fourth frame, the Panthers loaded the bases against Brooks with two outs in the bottom of the fifth. Brooks remained unfazed and grounded out Leon to leave the bags full.
Notre Dame struck for 10 runs on eight hits against reliever Hunter Scharf in the top of the sixth and seventh innings to open a 17-7 lead. A two-run single by Micaela Arizmendi and a three-run home run by Casey Africano in the sixth frame, and an RBI double by Africano in the Irish ups in the seventh inning highlighted the Notre Dame offensive surge.
FIU pushed a run across against Brooks in the bottom of the seventh inning, but the Notre Dame freshman dug in to finish the contest. A strikeout of Mowry and an A.J. Belans fly out to left field gave Brooks her first collegiate save.
Karley Wester led off with an infield single to shortstop in the first inning against FIU starter Corinne Jenkins (1-3). After the elder Wester stole second base, Ali Wester moved the lead run to third with a single to left field. Melissa Rochford cashed in the RBI chance with a seeing-eye single up the middle, scoring Karley Wester for the 1-0 Notre Dame lead.
After a pair of quick strikeouts to open the bottom of the first inning by Notre Dame starter Rachel Nasland, Gabby Spallone laced a two-out double to the right center field gap to start the FIU rally. Aleima Lopez grounded out to Rochford at third base to strand the runner at second base.
FIU drew a pair of walks against Nasland in the bottom of the second, with Jessica Hallett grinding out a free pass with two outs to place two Panther runners on base. Nasland responded with a swinging strikeout of Sammi Green to strand two FIU runners on the deck.
Notre Dame added an insurance run against Jenkins in the top of the third inning. A Karley Wester single and advance on an FIU error set the table for Ali Wester, whose RBI single made it 2-0 Notre Dame.
Nasland worked around a four-pitch walk and wild pitch with one out in the bottom of the third frame to hold FIU at bay. Spallone and Lopez each flew out to Karley Wester in center to leave the Panther runner at second base.
FIU managed to score a pair of unearned runs against Katie Beriont in the bottom of the fifth inning after two Notre Dame errors in the field prolonged the inning, tying the contest at 2-2. Beriont forced A.J. Belans to fly out to Ali Wester in left field for the frame’s final out.
Notre Dame manufactured a run to retake the lead in the top of the sixth. Morgan Reed roped a leadoff single to start the inning and advanced to second base on a wild pitch. Casey Africano sent a Texas Leaguer toward shortstop two batters later that allowed Reed to tag up from third base, sliding in under the catcher Lopez for the 3-2 Irish advantage.
Ali Wester reached with a two-out single to shortstop in the top of the seventh inning, advancing to second base on a Rochford walk. Caitlyn Brooks then demolished a full-count pitch deep and gone to left field for her second home run of the doubleheader. Brooks’ fifth of the year made it 6-2 Notre Dame.
FIU took one run back in the bottom of the seventh on a Jackie Schoff solo home run (6-3), but Beriont settled in from there to close out the victory. A strikeout and fly ball outs to each corner outfield position ended the ball game.
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.