If records are made to be broken, Notre Dame’s 1997 softball team certainly took advantage.
If all streaks must come to end, the i97 Irish certainly ended them.
The 1997 season may go down as the second-most losses ever for the Irish, but the 35-25 record certainly does not reflect the fireworks the 1997 team brought to the field.
For the first time in history, a team batting average topped the .300 mark. But the ’97 Irish did not just clip the record, they shattered the previous record of .294 set just the year before in 1996, crushing the ball to a final .311 average in i97. The slugging percentage eclipsed .400 at .402 for the first time, and a program-best on-base percentage of .367 was met.
Since 1994, Notre Dame had won at least 40 games and had qualified for the NCAA regionals each year. But in 1997, the Irish won 35 games and were left out of the NCAA championships.
Notre Dame played five games against half of the eight-team NCAA Women’s College World Series field and lost five one-run games to those opponents, three of which went to extra innings. The Irish lost a 4-3 10-inning game to Iowa, an eight-inning 1-0 game to Massachusetts and a 2-1 eight-inning game to Michigan. Notre Dame also fell 5-4 to Michigan and 3-2 to South Carolina.
Notre Dame was justly honored for its successes both on the field and in the classroom. For the second consecutive year, Notre Dame’s softball team placed four players on the GTE/CoSIDA Softball Academic All-America teams. Meghan Murray and Katie Marten were first-team selections, while Kara McMahon earned second-team honors and Joy Battersby third-team honors.
The four Irish players on the lists were the most of any school. Notre Dame joined DePaul, with a second and third team selection, as the only schools with more than one Academic All-American.
Also for the second consecutive year, Murray was named the BIG EAST player of the year after setting a BIG EAST single-season record as she crushed conference pitching with .529 batting average and an .843 slugging percentage. Joining Murray on the all-BIG EAST first team were Liz Perkins, Marten and McMahon. Sarah Mathison, Kris McCleary, Kelly Nichols and Kelly Rowe were voted to the all-BIG EAST second team. Mathison and Tara King were unanimous selections to the BIG EAST all-rookie team.
The BIG EAST postseason awards had come pouring in after the Irish cruised to their second consecutive BIG EAST South Division title with a 16-4 record, giving Notre Dame a 35-5 BIG EAST record in its two years in the conference.
However, for the second consecutive year, the Irish fell short at the BIG EAST championships. Playing in the first game of the championship, Notre Dame looked sharp, jumping out a 1-0 lead against Boston College after four innings before play quickly deteriorated with heavy rain. The Eagles used two Irish errors in sloppy conditions to score a pair of runs in the top of the fifth before play was halted for the day.
Notre Dame came back the next day but could manage just three hits in its final three at bats in a 3-1 loss. The Irish rallied from deficits of 4-1 and 8-4 for an 11-8 win over Rutgers to stay alive. Perkins matched single-game school records with five RBI and two home runs to keep Notre Dame alive. Connecticut then eliminated the Irish for the second consecutive year with a 2-1 win.
Notre Dame’s non-conference results were highlighted by a consolation championship at the Sooner Classic, thanks to wins over Stephen F. Austin, Northwestern, Wichita State and a pair of wins over Kansas.
The end of the season brought the end of the careers of one of the most decorated classes in Irish softball history. Kara McMahon left as the best third baseman in Notre Dame history. Liz Perkins finished as one of the top Irish power hitters with a record 48 career doubles. Joy Battersby and Katie Marten left as three-time GTE/CoSIDA Academic All-Americans, becoming only the third and fourth student-athletes honored three times in Notre Dame history. Marten joined former pitching great Terri Kobata as Notre Dameis only two-time National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-Americans. Meghan Murray, in addition to being named two-time BIG EAST player of the year, left with the highest career batting average in school history of .380 and as the only player to hit over .400 for an entire season, accomplishing this both in 1996 and 1997.
“The class of i97 will always be a special class in Notre Dame softball history,” says head coach Liz Miller about her first class at Notre Dame. “They established a tradition of excellence both on the field and in the classroom.”