April 29, 2017
by Tony Jones
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – In the spirit of the day in which it represented in uniforms of blue, white and orange, the University of Notre Dame softball team fought until the final out. A 13-2 setback to No. 24/RV Arkansas was erased in Saturday’s doubleheader finale in the seventh annual Strikeout Cancer weekend, as an RBI double from Sara White in the sixth inning lifted Notre Dame to a 6-5 win in the nightcap at Melissa Cook Stadium.
How It Happened
It was the tale of two games for Notre Dame (29-19) in the nightcap as the Irish fortunes shifted entirely in game two. Rachel Nasland was dealing for Notre Dame out of the gate, stringing together back-to-back scoreless innings in the first and second stanzas to slow the Arkansas (30-19) offense.
Notre Dame responded to an Arkansas run in the top of the third with the answer in the bottom of the inning. Katie Marino ripped a leadoff single into left field, and back-to-back productive outs for the Irish moved Marino to third base. Karley Wester chipped an RBI single through the left side with two outs to plate Marino and tie the game at 1-1.
A three-up, three-down fourth inning for Nasland on the mound led the way to another shutout effort in the top of the fifth. A one-out Arkansas single was erased after Marino made a great stab in the hole at second and flipped the ball to a charging Morgan Reed, who completed the 4-6-3 double play to Sara White at first base.
Notre Dame finally took control in the bottom of the fifth. Singles from White and Madison Heide set the table for Karley Wester, who drove a one-out RBI base knock up the middle. Pinch runner Alexis Bazos came home from second for the 2-1 Irish lead. Reed did the most damage two batters later, drilling a two-out home run to right center. Reed’s seventh homer of the season, a three-run shot, made it 5-1 in favor of Notre Dame.
A 50-50, three-run home run that was curving foul down the left field line for Arkansas in the top of the sixth pulled the Razorbacks within one at 5-4. Nasland shut it down from there, forcing three consecutive outs to maintain the Notre Dame cushion.
A one-out single to right field off the glove of the Arkansas second baseman by Kimmy Sullivan in the bottom of the sixth inning started the Irish rally for an insurance run. White delivered later in the frame, blasting a two-out RBI double to the gap in right center to score Sullivan and vault the Irish ahead 6-4.
Arkansas crept within one with an RBI double of its own in the top of the seventh to make it 6-5, but stranded the go-ahead run at the plate. A foul out to left field and a groundout to second base closed the complete game for Nasland.
Arkansas raced out quickly to a 10-0 lead after the first three innings thanks to timely hitting throughout the order. Caitlyn Brooks, the game’s original starter, re-entered the circle in the top of the fourth inning to shut the Razorbacks out 1-2-3. A lineout double play back to Brooks and a popout to Katie Marino at second inspired the Irish defense.
Notre Dame manufactured its first run of the game in the bottom of the fourth. Melissa Rochford and Kimmy Sullivan each reached by way of singles to left field, and Marino ripped an RBI ground ball to shortstop to bring Rochford around for the opening Irish run (10-1).
After Arkansas added three runs in the top of the fifth, Notre Dame scrapped for one additional run in the bottom of the frame. Karley Wester singled to shortstop before stealing second, and moved to third base on an Ali Wester sacrifice bunt. Morgan Reed ripped a hard ground ball to second to bring Karley Wester across on the RBI (13-2).
Notre Dame improved to 14-5 (.737) in games played during Strikeout Cancer weekends dating back to 2011 … the 6-5 win over Arkansas was the first victory by the Irish over a Southeastern Conference (SEC) foe ever at Melissa Cook Stadium – Notre Dame notched its first win against the Razorbacks since February of 2001 with the triumph … The Irish have won a total of eight games this season against teams currently ranked in this week’s national RPI Top 50 … Karley Wester led the way for Notre Dame with four hits, a stolen base and two runs scored in the doubleheader, while Morgan Reed chipped in a team-high four RBI – Kimmy Sullivan and Sara White each added two base hits … Notre Dame improved to 18-1 this season when taking a lead into the sixth inning following the game two win.
The Irish and Arkansas face off in the series finale, weather permitting, on Sunday at noon (ET) inside Melissa Cook Stadium.
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.
Tony Jones, athletics communications assistant director 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 Monroe and with the National Football League’s Buffalo Bills.