May 16, 2002
It was time for the University of Notre Dame softball team (43-15) to meet its next hero. Previous to their matchup with Iowa at the NCAA Region VII Tournament in Iowa City on Thursday, the Irish freshman class had played the role of hero this season.
Rookie Liz Hartmann hit the game-winning home run against #4 Nebraska. Freshman Megan Ciolli provided the game-winning triple against #19 DePaul and the game-clinching home run against Syracuse at the BIG EAST Championship.
Lisa Mattison decided to represent the junior class in the hero category on Thursday, drilling a two-run single to give Notre Dame a 3-2 victory over 22nd-ranked Iowa on its home field.
Mattison’s walk-off two-run single in the bottom of the seventh provided a number of moments for the Notre Dame team.
– It helps take the sting off two losses in the regional last season to the Hawkeyes. Iowa ended Notre Dame’s 54-7 season on the same field in 2001 with 6-0 and 6-2 victories.
– The Irish were able to come back and beat the same starting pitcher, Iowa senior Kristi Hanks, who shut them down last season.
– Notre Dame head coach Deanna Gumpf won her first NCAA Championship game in as many attempts.
– Finally, freshman pitcher Steffany Stenglein pitched a great game, scattering seven hits over seven innings for her first NCAA Championship complete-game victory.
Notre Dame will face #16 Oregon State at 4:30 p.m. on Friday to continue play in the Region VII Tournament.
Both teams managed one hit in the first inning, but neither squad was able to come away with a run. Jenny Kriech reached to lead off the bottom of the first for the Irish, but was stranded at third when Iowa starter Kristi Hanks struck out Jarrah Myers to end the inning.
Iowa would get on the scoreboard first in the top of the second inning. Christina Schmaltz led off with a hit, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt and scored when Hanks drilled a double over Megan Ciolli’s head in rightfield. Stenglein escaped further damage with a ground out and pop out to send the Irish offense out for the second inning.
Andria Bledsoe, who was the top hitter for Notre Dame in last season’s Region VII Tournament, was robbed of a hit by Iowa rightfielder Laura Chipman to lead off the second inning. Bledsoe crushed a rising liner to the right-centerfield gap that Chipman almost misplayed, but jumped at the last moment to snatch the ball for a big out.
Hanks kept Notre Dame off the board until Andrea Loman came to bat in the bottom of the fourth. After looking at a few pitches, Loman tattooed a home run over the centerfield fence to tie up the game. The big hit was Loman’s 12th home run of the season.
Myers attempted to follow Loman’s homer with one of her own, driving a 1-2 pitch deep to the warning track in centerfield, but Iowa centerfielder Katie Boney made a solid catch with her back on the wall for an out.
Though Myers would end up 0-2 in the contest, she made three spectacular defensive plays. She recorded the first out of the game by diving for a pop up on a bunt attempt and was just able to collect the ball in her mit. Later in the game, she made another great play on a foul ball by scampering to the retaining wall on the first base side to record an out. To round out her solid day behind the plate, Myers threw out Iowa’s speediest base runner, Kristin Johnson, attempting to steal to end the fifth inning.
Toward the end of the 2002 season, a certain pattern has developed for the Irish team. Stenglein starts a large majority of the games for the Irish, but she has battled a severe groin pull throughout the season. The injury is a day-to-day situation and sometimes it begins to affect the Irish righthander around the fifth inning. Head coach Deanna Gumpf managed the situation perfectly last week at the BIG EAST Championship, usually letting Stenglein work five innings and going to Carrie Wisen for relief to finish off the game.
Stenglein would be challenged in the fifth inning again against Iowa. She jumped ahead 0-2 against Jessica Bashor, but ended up walking the number three batter in the Hawkeye lineup to lead off the inning.
Iowa attempted the traditional sacrifice bunt to move the runner into scoring position, but Amber Morrow popped a bunt straight to Loman at third and did not advance the runner. Stenglein buckled down after that, getting two consecutive pop outs on the right side of the infield to get out of the inning unscathed.
Unable to get any runs or hits from Alexis Madrid, Kriech or Ciolli in the bottom of the sixth, Stenglein would be tasked to keep the Hawkeyes off the board again in the seventh.
Stenglein looked strong until Boney reached on a two-out walk. That brought Iowa’s top hitter to the plate, and Johnson made the Irish pay. She fouled off a few solid pitches from Stenglein before crushing a 2-2 pitch into centerfield. Kriech looked like she had a good jump on the ball, but it fell out of her glove for a double. The speedy Boney scored easily on the play and Notre Dame faced a 2-1 deficit going into the bottom of the seventh.
The Irish refused to give up. With Loman leading off, Hanks decided to pitch carefully to the batter who took her out of the yard in her last time at bat. Loman looked at four pitches and took first base on the free pass.
Myers stepped in next and Hanks pitched carefully again, walking her on four straight balls. Now the Irish had a scoring opportunity and Gumpf called for the sacrifice bunt from Bledsoe.
She laid one down on the fist pitch she was offered, moving the runners to second and third.
Mattison was next in the Notre Dame batting order. With two pop ups to the shortstop in her first two at bats, Mattison was having a hard time with Hanks. One of the most aggressive batters on the Irish roster, Mattison would not change her approach. She took a might swing at the first offering from Hanks for the third time in the game.
This time, though, the ball was smoked through the middle of the Hawkeye defense. Loman and Myers easily scored on the walk-off single and Mattison was able to enjoy the biggest hit of her career.
Notre Dame will move on to face 16th-ranked Oregon State at 4:30 p.m. on Friday. It is another chance for redemption, as the Irish were defeated by the Beavers 4-0 way back on Feb. 22.