April 10, 2016
by Tony Jones
NOTRE DAME, Ind. — The more that the skies opened up during Sunday’s Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) showdown between the University of Notre Dame softball team and Pittsburgh, the stronger the Irish seemed to become. Notre Dame scored six runs in the bottom of the fourth inning, most of which was played during a steady rain shower, on its way to defeating Pittsburgh 13-1 in five innings on a soggy but successful day at Melissa Cook Stadium.
Sunday’s scheduled second game of the ACC doubleheader was officially canceled due to the accumulation of rain on the playing surface, as the opening contest was delayed on two separate occasions for over an hour of total time due to inclement weather. The standalone meeting in the originally slated three-game league set between Notre Dame and Pittsburgh gave the abbreviated conference series to the Irish.
No. 20 Notre Dame (28-6, 6-3 ACC) won its 24th conference series in 36 such matchups at Melissa Cook Stadium since the facility opened in 2008. The Irish have earned at least a split in a remarkable 35 of those 36 league meetings at home during that span. Notre Dame finished its 2-0 week by outscoring opponents 24-4 over 10 innings, and outhit Pittsburgh (24-14, 5-8 ACC) by a final count of 10-3 on Sunday.
Pittsburgh leadoff hitter Shelby Pickett reached by way of a walk in the top of the first inning, but Irish starter Rachel Nasland (11-1) settled in from there. Erin Hershman popped up to third base on a failed sacrifice bunt, McKayla Taylor popped up a full swing to Melissa Rochford at third base and Jenna Modic lined out to Morgan Reed at shortstop for the final out of the frame.
Co-captain Karley Wester drew a four-pitch walk against Modic (4-5) to open the bottom of the first before successfully stealing second base. Ali Wester moved the lead run over to third base with a sacrifice bunt before Caitlyn Brooks unloaded on a towering home run to center field with two outs. Brooks’ eighth home run of the year put Notre Dame in front 2-0.
Nasland worked around a double to left field by Giorgiana Zeremenko to sit down three straight Pittsburgh batters in the top of the second inning. Maggie Sevilla flew out to left field and Oliva Gray (swinging) and Kathryn Duran (looking) went down on strikes to leave the tying run waiting at the plate.
Notre Dame tacked on two more runs on offense during the bottom of the second inning against Modic. Reed opened the inning with a single up the middle, and reached second base on a Maddie McCracken fielder’s choice. Bailey Bigler cashed in the RBI opportunity two batters later, ripping an RBI double to left field to score Reed and up the Irish advantage to 3-0. A wild pitch thrown by Modic while issuing a walk to Ali Wester allowed McCracken to score from third base (4-0) before the inning was over.
Nasland continued to battle against the potent Pittsburgh lineup in the top of the third inning after Pickett ripped a double off the left center field wall with one out. Nasland immediately rebounded by striking Hershman out looking and lining Taylor out to Micaela Arizmendi at first base to strand Pickett on second.
The Irish bats continued to work in concert during the bottom of the third stanza, as Notre Dame added three more runs with Modic still in the circle. Arizmendi walked on four straight pitches with one out, and co-captain Carly Piccinich moved all the way to third as a pinch runner on a Reed base hit through the right side. McCracken followed with an RBI single to right center to bring Piccinich across for the 5-0 Notre Dame lead. Megan Sorlie answered a McCracken stolen base with a two-run double to left center to clear the bases and cap the frame with the Irish ahead 7-0.
Nasland brilliantly danced around danger to hang another zero in the Pittsburgh run column in the top of the fourth. A pair of walks issued to Modic and Sevilla, and a wild pitch as a steady rain began to fall, moved both runners into scoring position. As she had during the early going, Nasland answered the challenge and stopped the Panther offensive. Gray fouled out to first base and Kathryn Duran flew out to left field to thwart the final true Pittsburgh surge.
Nasland earned her fifth win in her past seven appearances by tossing a complete game on Sunday against Pittsburgh, scattering three hits and three walks over five full innings. Nasland also punched out five batters to improve to 3-0 against the Panthers during her career.
Notre Dame put the game out of reach with an explosive bottom of the fourth inning that featured the aforementioned rain delays. Ali Wester ripped an opening single up the middle and advanced to second base on an error by the center fielder Hershman. A ball four in the dirt offered to Rochford not only gave her first base with the walk, but the wild pitch allowed Wester to coast into third before the day’s initial rain delay. Rochford stole second base immediately out of the break before Brooks walked to load the bases for Arizmendi. Arizmendi clubbed a single off the left field wall to score Wester and Rochford to start the inning’s scoring and up the Irish lead to 9-0.
After another Modic wild pitch moved Arizmendi and McCracken both into scoring position with nobody out in the bottom of the fourth, Reed cleared the bases with a laser beam double off the center field fence to extend the Notre Dame cushion to 11-0. Sorlie connected on her second double of the afternoon two batters later, dropping an RBI two-bagger into right center to score Reed (12-0). A fielding error at second base by Sevilla on a well-struck ball by Bigler found its way into right field, bringing Sorlie across for the 13-0 Notre Dame lead before another near 30-minute rain delay arrived. Pittsburgh reliever Kayla Harris picked up two straight outs following the error to close out the Notre Dame fourth.
Reed finished the day a brilliant 3-for-3 at the plate with a double, two RBI and a team-high three runs scored to power the Notre Dame offense. Sorlie added a team-best three RBI with her two doubles, while Arizmendi and Brooks each chipped in two RBI apiece. Brooks, Rochford and McCracken all scored two runs each for the Irish in the victory.
Nasland opened the top of the fifth inning by striking Kaitlin Manuel out swinging before Pickett took a 1-0 pitch deep and gone to left field, putting Pittsburgh on the scoreboard at 13-1. That was the only damage of the game against the Notre Dame right-hander, as Hershman was retired on a bunt attempt to third base and Taylor flew out to left field to notch Nasland’s complete game.
Notre Dame caps its six-game homestand by hosting Butler on April 14 at Melissa Cook Stadium. A game originally scheduled for the end of the month that was shifted to accommodate Butler’s academic calendar, the 6:30 p.m. (ET) nonconference contest will air live on WatchND.
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.