April 1, 2014
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The University of Notre Dame softball team used its offense early and often to power the way to a crucial 11-4 midweek victory on Tuesday over Ball State on a sunny afternoon at Melissa Cook Stadium.
The No. 23/25 Irish (21-7) finished one hit from tying a season-high with 18 hits on Tuesday, as well as one run shy of equaling a season-best in the win against the Cardinals. The 18 Notre Dame hits also set a new team record at Melissa Cook Stadium, surpassing the 16 base knocks the Irish recorded on April 9, 2009 against Valparaiso.
Notre Dame pushed its current win streak against Ball State to eight straight games dating back to the 1994 season, improving the Irish to 9-4 head-to-head all-time against the Cardinals.
Senior pitcher Laura Winter (14-3) officially set the Notre Dame all-time wins record with career victory number 97 after a scoring change from last week’s triumph over Eastern Michigan rendered what was thought to be the record win a no decision. Winter struck out 13 Ball State batters over 109 pitches, walking none in the complete game victory.
“Laura actually had a really good day at practice yesterday, so I knew she was in a good rhythm,” Notre Dame head coach Deanna Gumpf said. “I knew I wanted her to start this ballgame because Ball State is a very good hitting team, but she came right out. I knew the way her pitches were moving today that she was ready to go.
“Laura does a great job of keeping things in perspective,” Gumpf added. “Was she happy about being drafted last night (seventh overall pick to the Akron Racers in the 2014 National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) Draft) and playing professionally this summer, of course she is. That is very exciting, but she did a great job of keeping things in perspective. Laura’s success is all about her movement, which she had today with 13 strikeouts, and against that team we played, that was fantastic.”
Winter moved past fellow Notre Dame great Heather Booth (’06) into sole possession of first place in the Irish career wins column, the second major milestone the senior hurler has cleared this season. The San Diego, Calif. native previously established the Notre Dame career strikeout record earlier this season at Georgia Tech (March 9), surpassing two-time All-American Terri Kobata (’96).
“It’s just been awesome,” Winter said. “All of the support from my teammates, encouraging and helping me along the way, has been great. Ball State is a great hitting team, and we were able to hold them to only four runs. It was really nice.”
Freshman outfielder Karley Wester added more Notre Dame history during the contest, tying the Melissa Cook Stadium single-game hits record after going a perfect 4-for-4 with two stolen bases and two runs scored in her first career start as the Irish leadoff hitter.
“When Karley gets on base, we tend to hit really well as a team, and that’s been a trend the entire year,” Gumpf said. “I didn’t necessarily want to move Jenna Simon (team-leading .406 batting average) into the number two spot, but Jenna has been doing so well that the more at-bats she sees, I feel like she has earned it. (The lineup change) was kind of a combination of a lot of things.”
Junior All-American Emilee Koerner returned to the number three slot in the Irish lineup for the first time since the middle of her historic 2013 season, in which she hit a blistering .459 with five home runs and 25 RBI in 26 games batting third in the Notre Dame order. Recognizing Koerner’s strengths thus far in 2014 as the team’s leadoff hitter also helped prompt Gumpf to make the move on Tuesday. Koerner contributed a key RBI single in the first inning, and added a stolen base and a run scored in the win over Ball State.
“At the end of the day, Emilee Koerner is our RBI leader (24), our leading power hitter (seven home runs), and is our leader in extra base hits (11 doubles, two triples, 20 total),” Gumpf said. “I felt like, why not? In my mind it all made sense, and we have been off for a while, so it was time to try something new.”
Ball State’s Loren Cihlar reached first base on an Irish error to lead off the game, but Winter retired the next three Cardinal players in order. A strikeout of Taylor Rager swinging ended the Ball State (18-12) half of the first inning.
An infield single to shortstop off the bat of Wester got the Notre Dame offense rolling in the bottom of the first inning. A steal of second base moved Wester into scoring position, where a Simon infield single to the left side slid Wester over to third base. A single that found its way through the left side by Koerner off Ball State starter Nicole Steinbach (7-6) plated the first Irish run of the day and made it 1-0 Notre Dame.
During a double steal by Simon and Koerner, an errant throw from Cardinals catcher Jessica Craft toward third base allowed Simon to score, and gave the Irish a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first. An RBI groundout to third base by junior Katey Haus scored Koerner one batter later (3-0). Back-to-back walks drawn by sophomore Micaela Arizmendi and Winter set the stage for a junior Cassidy Whidden RBI single that scored Arizmendi from second base, making it 4-0 in favor of Notre Dame.
Winter posted a three-up, three-down frame in the top of the third to stifle the Ball State attack. Emily Dabkowski and Jennifer Gilbert struck out consecutively to send the Cardinals away in their half.
Haus opened the bottom of the third inning with her eighth double of the season, crushing a 0-1 pitch from Steinbach down the right field line off the fence to start the Notre Dame ups. Arizmendi drove Haus home with a sharp single through the right side, plating the runner from second and extending the Irish cushion to 5-0. Whidden followed two batters later with a bloop single to right field, and a sharp single that clipped the pitcher Steinbach by senior captain Chloe Saganowich scored pinch runner Monica Torres and made it 6-0 in favor of the Irish. The RBI base hit ran Saganowich’s team-leading hit streak to nine consecutive games.
Ball State broke through on the scoreboard in the top of the fourth inning, as Hanne Stuedemann drilled a solo home run to pull the Cardinals within five runs at 6-1. Winter forced Shelbie Scamihorn to foul out down the left field line to stall the Ball State offense for the frame’s third out.
The Irish countered with three runs of their own in the bottom of the fourth inning. RBI singles from Haus and Winter, and a run scoring fielder’s choice off the bat of Whidden extended the Notre Dame lead to 9-1.
The Cardinals did not go quietly in the top of the fifth, capitalizing on a pair of home runs to close the gap to 9-4 and keep the game alive. Winter bounced back with a strikeout of Rager to stop the Ball State surge.
“A lot of it is adjustments, knowing not to miss pitches over the plate,” Winter said of her ability to bounce back from three Ball State home runs.
Whidden struck for Notre Dame in the bottom of the sixth inning, clubbing a two-run home run into the bleachers in left field off Cardinal reliever Kelsey Schifferdecker that upped the Irish lead to 11-4 and closed the game’s scoring.
Whidden set career-highs in both hits (3) and RBI (4) against Ball State, while extending her current hit streak to an even eight games. Arizmendi tied a career-best with three runs scored. Every one of the nine Notre Dame starters in the batting lineup recorded at least one hit in the contest, with six players logging multi-hit games.
“Every game is important, and tomorrow’s game against Michigan State will be no different than any other game we will play,” Gumpf said of Wednesday’s quick turnaround at Melissa Cook Stadium (6 p.m. ET on WatchND). “Every game means that much right now, especially because we have had so many taken away from us (due to weather), so we don’t change our mentality. It’s no bigger or smaller, we just have to come out and play good ball.”
— Tony Jones, Media Relations Assistant