April 15, 2015
NOTRE DAME, Ind. — She is one of the senior co-captains on the 2015 University of Notre Dame softball team, and has always seemed to remain in control in pressure situations during her decorated Irish career. On Wednesday night against Northwestern, two-time All-American Emilee Koerner played the role of “Captain Cool” for the Notre Dame offense, lining a two-out single up the middle to lift the Irish to a thrilling 3-2 walk-off win over Northwestern at Melissa Cook Stadium.
No. 25 Notre Dame (34-11) won its 20th straight game overall with the victory over the Wildcats (20-15), becoming just the third Irish team in the 27-year history of the program to win 20 or more consecutive contests in a single season. The current Notre Dame squad equaled the 20-game winning streak of the 2003 BIG EAST Conference champion Irish that ran from April 1 to April 26 of that year, with the standard bearer remaining the 33 straight wins for the 2001 Notre Dame team that led the NCAA that season.
Koerner came up huge when Notre Dame needed her the most on Wednesday night, initially scoring the second run of the game to put the Irish ahead by one in the bottom of the third inning. After flying out to right field during her previous at-bat in the sixth inning, the Tustin, California native saved her heroics for the last Notre Dame ups of the seventh inning.
Freshman Sara White began a tied bottom of the seventh with a bang, sending the first pitch she saw from Northwestern pitcher Kristen Wood (9-6) screaming off the wall in left field for a leadoff double that nearly cleared the fence and won the game. Junior Megan Sorlie followed with a crafty slap to left side of the infield, but White collided with a converging Wildcat infielder while trying to advance on the play and was ruled out due to interference.
A tricky grounder back to the circle by senior co-captain Jenna Simon moved Sorlie into scoring position at second base and kept the Notre Dame drive alive with two away. Sophomore All-American and 2015 USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year Top 26 Finalist Karley Wester followed with a two-out chop single to shortstop, allowing Sorlie to reach third base. The stage was set for Koerner, who crushed a single that caromed off the glove of Wood and up the middle, scoring Sorlie from third to give Notre Dame a dramatic 3-2 triumph.
Koerner and fellow senior Katey Haus paced the Notre Dame lineup with two hits and one RBI each in the victory, with Koerner adding her run scored in the bottom of the third. White manufactured the other Irish run batted in by way of an early sacrifice fly.
A leadoff infield single by Sabrina Rabin got Northwestern off to a fast start in the top of the first inning against junior Allie Rhodes. Rhodes was up to the task, retiring Andrea DiPrima, Andrea Filler and Sammy Nettling by way of two ground outs and an infield lineout to escape the potential jam.
The Wildcats threatened again with runners on the corners and one out in the top of the second, but Rhodes struck out Anna Edwards swinging before Olivia Duehr was caught trying to steal second to end the frame.
Junior All-American Micaela Arizmendi ripped the first Notre Dame hit of the day in the bottom of the second inning, lacing the first pitch she saw from the Northwestern pitcher Wood into right field for a single. After senior Cassidy Whidden earned a one-out walk, a Wood illegal pitch moved both runners into scoring position. White cashed in with a sacrifice fly to left field, allowing pinch runner Kimmy Sullivan to tag from third base and give Notre Dame a 1-0 lead.
A Rabin single and DiPrima walk got the Northwestern offense rolling in the top of the third. Filler hit a deep fly ball to right field that Sorlie made a tremendous play on to chase the ball down for the inning’s second out, but Rabin answered with a heads-up play of her own by tagging from second base and scoring ahead of the relay throw to tie the game at 1-1. Rhodes grounded Nettling out to third base to strand DiPrima at first one batter later.
Koerner laid down a perfect sneaky bunt with two outs against Wood in the bottom of the third inning, and a throwing error by the Northwestern third baseman Edwards advanced Koerner all the way to third base. An RBI single one batter later by Haus scored Koerner and put Notre Dame back in front 2-1.
It was a 1-2-3 inning for Rhodes and the Irish defense in the top of the fourth, with Julia Kuhn striking out looking, Brianna LeBeau grounding out to shortstop and Duehr flying out to left field to stall the Northwestern offensive.
A pair of Notre Dame errors, including one with the bases loaded and two outs, pushed the tying Northwestern run across the plate in the top of the sixth inning, squaring the game at 2-2. Rhodes then jammed Fran Strub into a ground out to Arizmendi at first base to strand three Wildcat runners.
Rhodes was again effective in her second consecutive start for Notre Dame, allowing two runs (one earned) on four hits in six full innings pitched. Rhodes walked three Northwestern batters while striking out five on 105 pitches in a no decision, remaining unbeaten in her last nine starts in the Notre Dame circle.
Haus looked to put Notre Dame back in control with a one-out triple that hugged the right field line in the bottom of the sixth inning, but the Irish were unable to capitalize. A strikeout and infield ground out later in the frame left two Notre Dame runners on base.
Freshman Katie Beriont (4-1) entered in relief for the second straight day for the Irish and hurled a scoreless top of the seventh inning. Rabin struck out swinging, DiPrima flied out to left field and Filler flew out to right field to sit the Northwestern side down in order.
Beriont earned her fourth straight decision appearing in relief for Notre Dame, dating back to claiming the win in an 8-5 victory over Boston College last Saturday. Beriont and sophomore Rachel Nasland have each posted separate four-game win/save streaks this season (three wins, one save each), with Nasland accomplishing the feat from Feb. 20-27 against UNLV, No. RV/25 Texas, No. 7/8 Georgia and No. 20 Missouri.
Notre Dame continues its current homestand with the fifth annual Strikeout Cancer weekend at Melissa Cook Stadium, welcoming Syracuse in Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) play on Saturday and Sunday. Live coverage will be available 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.