Feb. 7, 2000
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – With just three upperclassmen on its 14-player roster and seven position changes on defense, the 1999 Notre Dame softball team overcame both youth and inexperience to finish with one of the program’s most successful seasons in its 11-year history.
Under seventh-year head coach Liz Miller, the Irish reached a number of milestones and at times grabbed a piece of the national limelight that could only be seen as a reflection of years to come. The 1999 Irish finished with a 42-20 overall record, posted a perfect conference record in claiming both the BIG EAST tournament and regular-season titles and advanced to their fourth NCAA regional in six years.
The 1999 season opened on a high note as the Irish captured their first early-season tournament title in the Miller era at the University of South Florida’s Gladstones Tournament. The Irish began the tournament and season by upsetting sixth-ranked South Florida, 2-0, on senior pitcher Angela Bessolo’s four-hit, complete game shutout. Freshman third baseman Jarrah Myers provided all the run support Bessolo would need, belting a solo home run to left field in her first collegiate at-bat. Bessolo and Myers would later earn tournament most valuable pitcher and player honors as the Irish finished with a 4-1 record.
The highlights continued for the Irish as Bessolo and sophomore Melanie Alkire combined to toss a no-hitter in Notre Dame’s 8-0 win against Tennessee-Martin in the opening game of the Choo Choo Classic in Chattanooga, Tenn. The no-hit performance was the 23rd in school history and the first since 1996.
With its best record through nine games (7-2) since 1995, a new challenge met Notre Dame in the desert when it traveled to the University of Arizona for the Hillenbrand Invitational. Facing some of the best teams in the country, the Irish squad showed its inexperience in losing its first three games of the tournament to LSU (10-2), Texas Tech (8-3) and Arizona (16-0).
Notre Dame rebounded against Kansas, grabbing a 4-1 win in the last game of pool play, and then defeating the Jayhawks again (6-4) a few hours later on Alkire’s two-run home run in the top of the 10th inning to send the Irish to the tournament semifinal against Arizona. The Irish hung close until a four-run Arizona outburst in the bottom of the sixth put the game out of reach, 8-3.
After falling in the consolation finals of the National Invitational Tournament, the Irish turned their attention to five non-conference doubleheaders. Against in-state rival Purdue, the Irish snared their first victory ever over the Boilermakers with a 10-2 win in the second half of the doubleheader, but lost starting pitching Jennifer Sharron in the first game due to a sprained ankle. The Irish managed to survive without Sharron, however, going 7-3 in the 10-game stretch.
Sharron returned to the mound April 3 against first-time BIG EAST opponent Pittsburgh, picking up both wins and starting what would turn out to be a perfect conference run.
The Irish continued BIG EAST play against Rutgers, trying to avenge their 1998 BIG EAST championship loss to the Scarlet Knights. In the first game, senior Amy Laboe’s third home run of the season helped the Irish set a team record for home runs in a season with 18. The team would go on to hit 29 home runs in 1999 after hitting just four in 1998. A second milestone was a personal one belonging to Miller, who reached career victory number 800 with the team’s 9-1 win in the second half of the doubleheader.
Notre Dame continued its unbeaten streak with second-place Seton Hall coming into town for the final week of the regular season. The first game remained scoreless until the sixth inning when Notre Dame’s Lizzy Lemire’s two-out double scored teammate Alkire from second. Sharron, meanwhile, turned in her second straight one-hitter on the mound to lead the Irish past the Pirates 1-0 and give the team the regular season title.
The Irish traveled to the BIG EAST championship at the University of Connecticut. After defeating Connecticut in the opener, the Irish and Boston College met in a seesaw game with a trip to the tournament final on the line. With the score tied at 3-3 in the fifth inning, the Eagles took a one run lead until the bottom half of the inning when the Irish scored four runs, highlighted by Laboe’s two-out, two-RBI double, eventually winning 9-4.
In the championship game against Seton Hall, the Irish scored four runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to claim the team’s first conference championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Sharron was named the BIG EAST Tournament Most Outstanding Player, picking up all three of the team’s wins and leading all teams with a .565 batting average at the plate.
Sharron’s accolades did not stop there as the Irish swept the major BIG EAST player awards with six players earning first-team honors. Sharron picked up her second nod in as many seasons as BIG EAST Pitcher of the Year, Alkire was named BIG EAST Player of the Year and Myers was honored as the BIG EAST Rookie of the Year. Four players also were named to the all-Mideast Region second team, while Alkire picked up first-team honors to give the Irish five selections overall, the most of any team in region.
Full of momentum from their BIG EAST run, the Irish played a familiar foe in Nebraska for the first game of the NCAA regional at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich. Cornhusker pitcher Jenny Voss shut down the potent Notre Dame offense, holding the team to just three hits, as Nebraska won the opener 2-0.
After fifth-ranked Michigan was shocked by Florida Atlantic, the Irish and Wolverines faced each other in an elimination game. Neither team was able to score a run until the bottom of the fourth when Lemire doubled and then came around to score on Sharron’s two-out single. The Irish defense proved stingy the rest of the game as Sharron struck out Michigan star and future Irish assistant coach Traci Conrad to end the game with a runner in scoring position. The win ended Michigan’s string of four consecutive College World Series appearances.
The victory over Michigan set up another meeting with Nebraska, the two schools’ third of the season. The Cornhuskers took a 3-1 lead into the bottom of the seventh. With runners on second and third and two outs, the Irish were on the brink of elimination when Lemire slapped a double down the right field line to tie the score at three and send it to extra innings. A half an inning later, Nebraska scored the game-winner on two Irish errors to win, 4-3, and end Notre Dame’s season.