March 12, 2016
by Tony Jones
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – With conference play in full swing, the University of Notre Dame softball team faced a difficult Saturday test against Virginia. The Irish capitalized on timely hits and baserunning to sweep the Cavaliers 9-2 and 7-3 in the opening Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) doubleheader of the 2016 season.
No. 20/23 Notre Dame (20-3, 2-0 ACC) stretched its current winning streak to 16 games, taking its opening ACC series for the second time in three seasons as a conference member. The 20 Irish wins in the season’s first 23 games keeps pace with the 2001 Notre Dame team.
The Irish out-hit Virginia (8-17, 0-2 ACC) 16-7 during the doubleheader, finishing the afternoon with six extra-base hits and five stolen bases. The Notre Dame pitching staff chipped in 13 strikeouts and in 14 full innings.
Freshman Melissa Rochford paced the Notre Dame offense with a home run and five RBI, while fellow freshman Maddie McCracken added two doubles and two RBI. Freshman Ali Wester and sophomore Morgan Reed each finished with three runs scored.
Senior Allie Rhodes (9-2) spun a one-hit complete effort in the 9-2 game one victory, walking four with five strikeouts. Junior Rachel Nasland (6-0) added a solid six innings of five-hit softball in the nightcap against Virginia, ending the contest with seven strikeouts.
Notre Dame and Virginia are set to close the three-game series on Sunday at The Park. First pitch in the ACC finale is scheduled for Noon (ET).
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 opened the game with a single up the left field line in the top of the first inning before stealing her 70th career base against Virginia starter Erika Osherow (6-10). A sacrifice bunt from Ali Wester moved the lead runner to third base, where a Melissa Rochford RBI groundout scored Karley Wester to give Notre Dame the 1-0 lead.
Aimee Chapdelaine provided Virginia its first lead of the afternoon in the bottom of the first inning. After Allie Arneson worked a full-count walk, Chapdelaine clubbed a two-run home run off the foul pole in left field to put the Cavaliers in front 2-1. Allie Rhodes ended the inning by retiring three straight Cavalier hitters, striking Madison Labshere out swinging to end the Cavalier frame.
Notre Dame tied the game in the top of the second. A leadoff single for Micaela Arizmendi and a full-count walk issued to Maddie McCracken got the Irish half started. After Arizmendi advanced to third base on a Virginia fielding error that would have ended the inning, Bailey Bigler brought the run home with an RBI groundout to shortstop to score Arizmendi and square the contest at 2-2.
Rhodes found her groove in the circle in the bottom second frame. Osherow struck out swinging, Allison Davis grounded out to Morgan Reed at shortstop and Iyana Hughes struck out swinging.
Arizmendi led off the top of the fourth inning with a single into right field, and pinch runner Carly Piccinich moved into scoring position with a steal of second. McCracken stung an RBI double down the left field line to bring Piccinich around and put Notre Dame back in front 3-2. Back-to-back fielding errors by Virginia on hard-hit grounders from Ali Wester and Rochford plated three more Irish runs, pushing the Notre Dame lead to 6-2.
A one-out walk issued to Kaitlin Fitzgerald in the bottom of the fourth snapped Rhodes’ streak of 10 straight hitters retired, but the Notre Dame southpaw shut Virginia down from there. Consecutive ground ball outs stalled the Cavalier offense.
The Irish added a pair of runs in the top of the fifth frame. Bigler came through with a two-out single through the left side to score Reed and McCracken, stretching the Notre Dame lead to 8-2.
Following a 1-2-3 frame for Rhodes in the bottom of the fifth inning, Notre Dame manufactured an insurance run in the top of the sixth. Ali Wester reached on an infield single and advanced to second base on the fifth Virginia error of the afternoon. Caitlyn Brooks connected on an RBI single to center field to score the run and up the Irish cushion to 9-2.
Rhodes ultimately allowed one base runner over her final two innings, a one-out walk to Katie Park in the bottom of the sixth. Rhodes stormed through the Virginia lineup in order in the bottom of the seventh inning. A Lacy Smith foul out to right field ended the opening contest.
Ali Wester reached against Virginia starter Lacy Smith (1-5) with an infield single in the top of the first inning. Classmate Melissa Rochford took care of the RBI opportunity one batter later, crushing a home run deep and gone over the left field fence. Rochford’s third home run of 2016 vaulted Notre Dame in front 2-0.
Rachel Nasland worked around a one-out walk in the bottom of the first against Aimee Chapdelaine to strand the Virginia runner at first base. Katie Park flew out to left field and Danni Ingraham struck out swinging for the frame’s final out.
Virginia found the scoreboard in the bottom of the second inning after Madison Labshere slapped an RBI double down the right field line, bringing Kaitlin Fitzgerald home to trim the Notre Dame lead to 2-1.
Allie Arneson led off the bottom of the third inning with a single and a stolen base against Nasland, but the Notre Dame right-hander settled in from there. Three straight ground ball outs, including an Ingraham roller back to Nasland in the circle, stranded Arneson at second base.
Nasland turned in an impressive three-up, three-down inning against Virginia in the bottom of the fourth frame. Fitzgerald grounded out to shortstop, Smith grounded out to second base and Labshere struck out swinging at a 3-2 pitch to hold the Cavaliers off in the inning.
Notre Dame added an insurance run to chase Smith from the circle in the top of the fifth inning. Carly Piccinich walked on four straight pitches before stealing second base later in the inning with one out. After moving to third base on a passed ball, Karley Wester clocked a sharp grounder to second base that allowed Piccinich to come in and make it 3-1 Irish.
Virginia cut into the Irish advantage in the bottom of the sixth on a towering home run to left field by Ingraham, scoring two runs to bring the Cavaliers within one run at 4-3. Nasland withstood a two-out single to left field before striking out Labshere swinging to leave the tying run on the pond.
Notre Dame found its offensive stroke in the top of the seventh inning against reliever Erika Osherow. Rochford smacked a one-out double to center field, and after Brooks reached on an error Rochford came around to score to up the Irish advantage to 5-3. Micaela Arizmendi was hit by pitch before Reed drove an RBI double to right center, widening the Notre Dame lead to 6-3. Maddie McCracken drilled an RBI double off the wall in right field to bring in Reed (7-3).
Sophomore Katie Beriont was called upon to throw the bottom of the seventh frame in relief. A single and two walks by the Virginia offense loaded the bases with two outs, bringing the tying run Ingraham to the plate. Beriont got Ingraham to chase a 1-2 pitch in the dirt for strike three to nail down the victory.
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.