May 18, 2002
The University of Notre Dame softball team (44-15) advanced to the final championship day for the NCAA Region VII Tournament in Iowa City, Iowa, on Sunday with a 2-0 victory over Oregon State (40-25) on Saturday evening. The Irish will face number-one seed Nebraska at noon for the right to travel to the Women’s College World Series next week in Oklahoma City, Okla.
Fans who attend Notre Dame softball home games this season know that each Irish player picks her own batting song to be played before they step in the box. Senior Jarrah Myers has always chosen “Hero for the Day” as her batting song. She played that role to perfection against Oregon State, smacking a no-doubt two-run home run in the sixth inning to put the only runs of the game on the scoreboard.
Myers also helped freshman pitcher Steffany Stenglein through what might be her most impressive outing of the season. Steffany completely shut down the 15th-ranked Oregon State offense, surrendering just two hits and striking out three. Stenglein was extremely efficient, ending up throwing just 72 pitches and 42 strikes.
As the visiting team for the first time in the tournament, Notre Dame was hoping to come out strong in the top of the first. Megan Ciolli managed a one-out hit, but Oregon State’s Crystal Draper came back to strike out Andrea Loman and get to two outs. Ciolli took off to attempt a steal with Myers in the box, but she was thrown out easily to end the inning.
Notre Dame head coach Deanna Gumpf put Stenglein in the circle for Notre Dame once again on Saturday. The game against the Beavers was Stenglein’s 46th start of the season, and her 53rd overall appearance. She had already recorded 12 innings of work prior to Saturday’s contest and would be watched closely throughout the game to see if her arm, and her injured groin, would stand up.
She worked the easiest first inning of her season so far, retiring the top three batters in the Beaver lineup on five pitches
The Irish were able to scratch together another scoring chance in the top of the second inning. Myers led off and reached after being struck by a pitch. Andria Bledsoe then flew out to deep leftfield for the first out of the inning. Lisa Mattison then grounded into a fielder’s choice for the second out.
Liz Hartmann kept the inning alive for Notre Dame, drawing a walk on a 3-2 pitch. Kas Hoag came in to run for Mattison, but Carrie Wisen popped up the third pitch of her at bat to end the inning.
Stenglein worked an uneventful second inning to get the Irish offense back to bat. Unfortunately, a lack of execution hurt another Irish scoring chance. Alexis Madrid laid down a perfect bunt to get on as the Irish leadoff hitter, but Kriech popped up her sacrifice bunt attempt for the first out without advancing the runner. Ciolli followed with a pop out and Loman grounded out to strand Madrid at second, who had advanced on a stolen base during Ciolli’s at bat.
The teams remained scoreless until Notre Dame’s half of the sixth. Ciolli led off the inning and reached on a bunt that Oregon State misplayed. The throw to first was wide and Ciolli scampered to second base to get in scoring position.
Loman was up next and with the count 1-1, Ciolli advanced to third on a passed ball. Loman was unable to get the fly ball for a sacrifice and instead grounded out to third base for the first out of the inning.
Clean-up hitter Myers stepped in next and came through with her second career NCAA Championship home run, a rocket shot over the leftfield fence to put the Irish up 2-0. The at bat had started out ugly for Myers, who swung at ball two that might have been destined to hit her. She settled down, though, and fouled off three pitches before drilling her dramatic home run to put her team ahead.
The two runs would end up as all the lead Stenglein would require. The Irish rookie looked unfazed on the NCAA Championship stage today, ending up with her second complete-game shutout of the tournament.
Next up for the Irish will be the same situation they found themselves in last season at this time. Notre Dame will need to sweep a doubleheader from an undefeated team on the final day of the tournament. Last year, it was Iowa. In 2002, the Nebraska Cornhuskers will be the team the Irish are required to knock off. The doubleheader is set to start at 12:00 p.m. local time (11 a.m. Notre Dame time) and the Irish will need two victories to advance to the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City, Okla.