May 17, 2015
NOTRE DAME, Ind. — Sunday was a day for champions, a day for celebration, a day for excellence. The University of Notre Dame softball team exhibited the toughness, tenacity and determination that earned it the right to host the 2015 NCAA South Bend Regional, but a regional championship was simply not meant to be. Kentucky scored two runs with two outs in the top of the seventh inning to stun the Irish 4-3 and claim the South Bend Regional crown in front of an energized crowd at Melissa Cook Stadium.
No. 21/22 Notre Dame (42-15) finished its historic season as an NCAA Regional host for just the second time in program history, and the first since 2005, in making its 20th all-time appearance in the NCAA Championship (17th straight). The 2015 Irish established new single-season program records for hits (543), runs (395) and on-base percentage (.419), batting above a .350 clip (.351) for the second straight season.
Notre Dame also earned eight victories over fellow national top 25 foes, and enjoyed a 24-game winning streak from March through the end of April that was the second-longest in the nation during the year.
Sunday’s NCAA showdown was the final game in the careers of Notre Dame’s standout class of 2015, Katey Haus, Emilee Koerner, Jenna Simon and Cassidy Whidden. The class was responsible for 166 wins in their four seasons at Notre Dame, leaving a legacy of five individual program records, multiple All-America citations, a conference player of the year award and a slew of regional and all-conference scrolls as a testament to its success in the history of Irish softball.
Finishing as a career .404 hitter, Koerner, Notre Dame’s career leader in runs scored (196), doubles (79), total bases (471) and slugging percentage (.694), capped her collegiate tenure in a tie for third on the all-time NCAA doubles list and had the second-most RBI (178) in Notre Dame history. With her team-leading 29 stolen bases this year, Simon tied two-time All-American Megan Ciolli (’05) for the career program record of 76 stolen bases. Haus finished with the fourth-most RBI (175) and sixth-most doubles (48) in the Notre Dame career record book, while Whidden tied All-American Heather Johnson (’11) for fourth place all-time with 35 home runs.
Sophomore Rachel Nasland (17-9) came out flying for the Notre Dame defense in the top of the first inning. Nikki Sagermann flew out to junior Megan Sorlie in right field, Sylver Samuel struck out swinging and Griffin Joiner popped out to senior catcher Whidden behind the plate for the final out.
Sophomore All-American Karley Wester reached with a leadoff single against Kentucky starter Kelsey Nunley (14-14) in the bottom of the first inning. After a sacrifice bunt moved Wester to second base, Nunley retired the next two Irish batters in order, with center fielder Kara Howard making a great shoestring catch on a drive by junior All-American Micaela Arizmendi to cap the frame.
Maisie Steed led off the top of the second with a single up the middle for Kentucky, stealing second base one batter later. After advancing on a ground ball out, Ansley Smith popped out to freshman Morgan Reed in shallow left center to strand Steed at third base.
Kentucky struck first in the top of the third inning, as Joiner worked a bases loaded walk to score Howard and give the Wildcats a 1-0 lead. Steed looked to connect on a sacrifice fly one batter later, but a great throw from center by senior co-captain, two-time All-American and Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Player of the Year Koerner retired Sagermann at the plate for a huge inning-ending double play.
Notre Dame claimed its first lead of the afternoon against Nunley in the bottom of the third. A Wester infield single and stolen base set the table for Koerner, whose RBI single into left field plated Wester to tie the contest at 1-1. Arizmendi followed with an RBI single down the right field line, scoring Koerner from third two batters later to vault the Irish in front 2-1.
Sagermann tied the ballgame with a solo home run deep and gone over the left field fence with two outs in the top of the fifth inning, squaring Kentucky with Notre Dame at 2-2. Nasland worked out of a jam with a pair of strikeouts, getting Steed swinging to strand Wildcat runners at second and third base.
It was a 1-2-3 inning for the Notre Dame defense in the top of the sixth inning. Three straight fly ball outs to Wester in left field got Nasland and the Irish out of the frame.
Whidden added another chapter to her power resume in the bottom of the sixth inning, sending a 0-2 Nunley pitch screaming off the top of the bleachers in left to lead off the frame. Whidden’s team and career-high 13th home run of the year put Notre Dame in front 3-2.
Kentucky was down to its last strike when Joiner drilled a single into the right center field gap to score the tying run, and a throwing error by the Irish enabled a second Wildcat runner to cross the plate and send the visitors to a 4-3 winning margin in the top of the seventh inning.