May 13, 2006
The 2006 BIG EAST Championship, delayed for close to two full days due to inclement weather, finally got down to the business of playing softball on Saturday at Ivy Field and the University of Notre Dame softball team (38-19) moved on to the semifinals of the tournament with a 4-1 victory over Providence (29-19-1).
The Irish will face No. 7 seed Pittsburgh in the semifinals at 12:00 noon on Sunday, after the Panthers upset the second-seeded USF Bulls 2-1 in game three of the tournament on Sunday. No. 5 DePaul, who won their first game of the tournament on Friday over No. 4 Syracuse, will face No. 1 Louisville (who eliminated St. John’s 8-2 on Saturday) at 10:00 a.m. on Sunday morning. All the games will be played at Ivy Field.
The winners of the two semifinal games will face off at 3:00 p.m. EDT for the BIG EAST Championship and automatic bid to the NCAA Championship. The game will be broadcast live on CSTV and will have the unusual twist of being played at the same time the NCAA Championship pairing will be announced (3:30 p.m. EDT, ESPNews). The NCAA committee will hold a spot for the automatic qualifier, but any of the participating teams in the BIG EAST Championship final might already know that they have earned a spot in the NCAA tourney before the game is completed.
Providence heaved the first offensive salvo of the game with two outs in the top of the first inning when Sam Pittman drilled a Heather Booth offering over the leftfield fence to put her team ahead 1-0.
The lead would not last long, however, as Notre Dame answered with three of its own runs in the bottom of the first inning. With a runner on first with one out, senior Mallorie Lenn stepped to the plate. Lenn missed five games during a key stretch in the season due to a death in the family, and her importance to the team chemistry was apparent when the team finished 1-4 with Lenn out of the lineup.
Her importance was highlighted again on Saturday against Providence, as Lenn drilled a two-run home run off the Ivy Field scoreboard to give her team a lead that they would not relinquish.
After Lenn’s big hit, the Irish were not done scoring in the inning, however. Senior Meagan Ruthrauff lined a hit up the middle and was replaced by pinch runner Sarah Smith. Smith moved to second on a wild pitch and scored when sophomore Katie Laing drilled a double into rightfield.
Booth would insure the lead would hold for the rest of the game, settling down after the big hit in the first inning to scatter four more Providence hits. She did allow two lead off doubles in the second inning and fifth inning, but recovered from both extra base hits. In the second, she forced three consecutive ground outs to end the inning. For the fifth inning, she came back with two strikeouts and a pop up.
Notre Dame tacked on a big insurance run in the bottom of the sixth inning. Lenn led off with a walk and was replaced by pinch runner Beth Northway. Ruthrauff followed with a single, then Laing put down a perfect bunt single to fill the bases for freshman Linda Kohan. Kohan hit a ball deep to second base for a ground out, but Northway scored on the play without a throw to give Notre Dame’s its final winning margin at 4-1.