Feb. 14, 2016 by Tony Jones
TEMPE, Ariz. — In its fifth and final game of the season-opening Kajikawa Classic on Sunday, the University of Notre Dame softball team turned to a trait it has perfected so often, gritty offense. A season-high 17 hits, combined with exemplary relief pitching from Allie Rhodes, led the Irish to a 10-4 win over Georgia State at Arizona State’s Farrington Stadium.
No. 24/RV Notre Dame (3-2) finished with a 17-4 edge in the hit column against Georgia State (0-5), including two hits that went for extra bases. Co-captain Karley Wester, Micaela Arizmendi and Melissa Rochford each closed the game with three hits, with Arizmendi chipping in three RBI and Wester two runs on the day.
After entering during the bottom of the first inning Rhodes (1-1) turned in a solid pitching performance, scattering one earned run on one hit in six innings, walking two and striking out eight Panther hitters for her first win of the season.
The Notre Dame offense flew out of the gates in the top of the first inning. Karley Wester and Ali Wester notched back-to-back singles, and after Caitlyn Brooks laid down an effective sacrifice bunt a Georgia State error allowed the lead runner to score for a 1-0 Irish lead. Arizmendi ripped an RBI single up the middle one batter later to plate Ali Wester and make it 2-0 Notre Dame. Rochford ended the scoring with an RBI bunt single, vaulting the Irish ahead 3-0.
Georgia State clawed back into the contest with an RBI double to right field in the bottom of the first, scoring Taylor Anderson to bring the Panthers within two at 3-1. Rhodes came on in relief and struck out two batters to end the inning.
An Irish fielding error with two outs pushed across the second Georgia State run in the bottom of the second inning, as a heads-up play on the bases by Kensey Caldwell made it 3-2 Notre Dame. Rhodes got Anderson to chase a swinging strike three to escape the frame.
Brooks grooved a one-out double to left center field in the top of the third to place a Notre Dame runner in scoring position. Arizmendi crushed a line drive up the box one batter later, but the ball ricocheted off the foot of Georgia State pitcher Annie Davis (0-1) and into the waiting glove of Anderson for an improbable inning-ending double play.
Rhodes posted a 1-2-3 frame in the bottom of the third inning against the Georgia State offense. A ground out to third base, a strikeout of Ivie Drake and a foul out by Mandy Blackwell to third base sat the Panthers down in order.
Brooks led off the top of the fifth inning with a single through the left side, advancing to second base on a Davis wild pitch. Arizmendi added her second RBI hit of the contest as the next batter, bringing Brooks home to make it 4-2 Notre Dame.
A pair of strikeouts and an unassisted ground out to Arizmendi at first base kept Rhodes rolling through another shutout stanza in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Notre Dame hit its offensive stride during the top of the sixth inning. Rochford led off with an infield single and moved to second on a Georgia State throwing error. A second straight Panther error and a walk issued to Bailey Bigler loaded the bases with nobody out. Pinch hitter Sara White was hit by the first pitch she faced from Davis, scoring Rochford to up the Notre Dame lead to 5-2.
Karley Wester singled off new Georgia State pitcher Amanda Chance one batter later in the sixth, bringing around Morgan Reed with the RBI base hit (6-2). Ali Wester chipped in an RBI ground out to score Bigler, and Arizmendi logged her third RBI single of the day to plate Ali Wester to cap the inning with the Irish in front 8-2.
Rhodes finished her solid six innings of relief with a three-up, three-down effort in the bottom of the sixth. Drake popped out to Rochford at third base, Megan Litumbe flew out to left field and Blackwell popped out to Arizmendi at first base for another shutout inning.
Notre Dame added two insurance runs during final ups in the top of the seventh inning. MK Bonamy delivered her first career hit, a one-out double, to move Kimmy Sullivan to scoring position at third base. Megan Sorlie followed with a sharp two-RBI single that cleared the bases and capped the Irish scoring at 10-2.
Georgia State clawed back with two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to narrow the deficit to 10-4, but reliever Rachel Nasland closed out the Panthers with a pair of strikeouts to end the ballgame. Regan Morgan struck out swinging, and Remington Hasty went down on swinging strikes two batters later.
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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.