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#NDSB30 Top Five: 1980s-90s

Jan. 29, 2018

by Tony Jones

Leading up to the start of the 2018 University of Notre Dame softball season, the 30th varsity campaign for the Irish program, here is the final profile on five standout moments from each decade of Notre Dame softball.

5. Notre Dame Wins First Varsity Game on March 8, 1989

Do you remember where you were on March 8, 1989? If you’re like any member of the current Notre Dame softball team, you were not yet born when the Irish varsity program took the field for the very first time on that date in Evansville, Indiana. Win number one of the 1,180 victories earned by Notre Dame in its history was recorded when the Irish defeated Kentucky Wesleyan 8-4 during the Evansville Tournament.

Missy Linn ('92) earned the win in the first varsity game for Notre Dame softball on March 8, 1989Missy Linn (’92) earned the win in the first varsity game for Notre Dame softball on March 8, 1989
Missy Linn, who still ranks among the Notre Dame top five in career complete games (74), shutouts (29) and ERA (1.32 over 670.0 innings), was the winning pitcher in the inaugural Notre Dame game and victory in program history. The performance was not even the most heroic feat of the week for the Notre Dame hurler. In fact, Linn ultimately won two games on March 9 after rainouts forced the Irish to play three games, against Southern Indiana (twice) and an additional contest against Kentucky Wesleyan. Linn was the winning pitcher for Notre Dame that day in both a 3-1 triumph over Kentucky Wesleyan and a 1-0 one-hitter spun against Southern Indiana.

Notre Dame ultimately finished its debut season with a 31-23 record, including an 8-5 showing in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (MCC). Head coach Brian Boulac was recognized for his team’s achievements as a brand-new program by being named the MCC Coach of the Year at the conclusion of the inaugural campaign. The 1989 season also began the active Irish streak of both winning seasons and 30-win seasons that has spanned the duration of the program’s existence.

4. Irish Claim First Conference Tournament Title on April 22, 1990

The first of Notre Dame’s 11 conference tournament championships was won on April 22, 1990, when the Irish brought home the MCC crown in just their second season at the varsity level. Wins over Dayton (2-1) and Saint Louis (3-2 in 13 innings) sent the Irish home from the MCC Tournament in Dayton, Ohio, with the championship hardware.

Staci Alford ('93) tossed a 13-inning complete game to seal the first MCC Tournament championship win for Notre Dame on April 22, 1990 against Saint LouisStaci Alford (’93) tossed a 13-inning complete game to seal the first MCC Tournament championship win for Notre Dame on April 22, 1990 against Saint Louis
Both Notre Dame wins in the tournament were of the dramatic variety. Despite a gem from starting pitcher Missy Linn over seven innings, the Irish trailed Dayton 1-0 heading to the bottom of the final inning. Two runs later in the last Notre Dame ups and a championship showdown with Saint Louis was set. In the tournament’s final game against the Billikens, Staci Alford threw all 13 innings on the mound of a contest that was scoreless until the 12th frame, when the Irish countered a two-run top of the inning from Saint Louis with a Rachel Crossen two-out, two-run double in the bottom half to extend the game. Lisa Miller ultimately drove Amy Folsom home from third base on a sacrifice fly in the 13th inning for Notre Dame to score the winning run.

Before departing for the BIG EAST Conference to start the 1996 season, Notre Dame would add an additional MCC Tournament title in 1991 under coach Brian Boulac, and again in 1993, 1994 and 1995 with NFCA Hall of Fame coach Liz Miller at the helm.

3. Notre Dame Notches First 40-Win Season, Makes First NCAA Regional in 1994

In just the second season under legendary head coach Liz Miller, the 1994 Notre Dame squad burst out of the Midwestern softball scope and made its mark on the national scene. A 41-20 record, the first of some 18 40-win seasons that would follow over the next 23 years, qualified the Irish for the first NCAA Championship appearance in school history at the 1994 NCAA Bloomington (Ind.) Regional.

Terri Kobata ('96) became Notre Dame's first All-American when she was named to the NFCA All-America Third Team in 1994Terri Kobata (’96) became Notre Dame’s first All-American when she was named to the NFCA All-America Third Team in 1994
The 1994 Notre Dame season saw what is still regarded as one of the most dominant pitching performances for an Irish pitcher by then sophomore Terri Kobata. Kobata, who became Notre Dame’s first softball All-American by making the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) All-America Third Team that year, continued her ascendance as one of the best pitchers in the country by posting a 23-7 record with three saves in 37 appearances (30 starts). She added a 0.64 ERA and a program-best 315 strikeouts in only 206.1 innings pitched that still stands to this day. Kobata also spun a single-season Notre Dame record eight no-hitters and four perfect games during the 1994 campaign.

Six other players joined Kobata, the 1994 MCC Player of the Year, on that season’s all-conference first team. Christy Connoyer (.309, 54 hits, 17 RBI, 27 runs), Sara Hayes (.394, 10 HR, 48 RBI, 33 runs), Meghan Murray (.345, 3 HR, 13 RBI, 17 runs), Elizabeth Perkins (.329, 17 extra-base hits, 22 RBI, 29 runs), Stephanie Pinter (.318, 55 hits, 30 RBI, 20 runs) and Amy Reuter (.243, 10 stolen bases, 37 hits, 25 runs) were also honored by the conference, along with the 1994 MCC Coach of the Year in Miller.

2. Irish Cap Off First BIG EAST Sweep with Historic 1999 Season

After sweeping both the regular-season championship and tournament titles in four of seven seasons as an MCC member from 1989-95, the sledding was a bit rougher for Notre Dame in acclimating to the more competitive BIG EAST Conference beginning in 1996. The Irish did claim the top spot in the BIG EAST South Division from 1996-98, but were unable to break through against conference foe Connecticut in each of those three seasons to take home the tournament title.

That all changed in 1999, the season that kicked off the most successful four-year run in program history that would feature 187 wins, seven combined conference championships and take Notre Dame to the brink of reaching the Women’s College World Series. Notre Dame finally brought home the BIG EAST tournament trophy for the first time following a 5-1 win over Seton Hall on May 9 in Storrs, Connecticut. The 1999 Irish team also became the first to defeat a pair of top-6 ranked opponents in the same season, thanks to a 2-0 win over No. 6 South Florida (Feb. 19) and a 1-0 shutout of No. 5 Michigan (May 21) to knock the Wolverines out of their own NCAA Regional in Ann Arbor on the way to a 42-20 final record.

Kris McCleary ('99) was one of six Notre Dame players named to the All-BIG EAST First Team in 1999Kris McCleary (’99) was one of six Notre Dame players named to the All-BIG EAST First Team in 1999
Jen Sharron (20-10, 1.20 ERA, 172 strikeouts) earned her second of four straight BIG EAST Pitcher of the Year honors in 1999, while Melanie Alkire was named the conference player of the year after batting .345 with 10 home runs, 37 RBI and 37 runs scored. Lizzy Lemire (team-high .351 average, 17 doubles, 3 HR, 30 RBI, 33 runs), Jenny Kriech (.292, 57 hits, 12 stolen bases, 27 runs), Amy Laboe (.317, 4 HR, 11 doubles, 31 RBI, team-high 40 runs) and Kris McCleary (.287, 7 HR, 26 RBI, 20 runs) joined Sharron and Alkire on the All-BIG EAST First Team.

1. Notre Dame Defeats Indiana, 3-0, at NCAA Bloomington Regional, May 20, 1994

The top moment of the first decade of varsity softball at Notre Dame was very much the product of the events and hard work that preceded it. The exploits of the 1994 Irish team, the first Notre Dame club ever to 40 wins, Terri Kobata becoming the program’s first All-American, a fourth MCC tournament title victory in five seasons, all culminated on May 20, 1994.

Facing top-seeded Indiana in its NCAA Regional debut, Notre Dame stunned the host Hoosiers with three runs in the top of the eighth inning for a 3-0 win in the first NCAA Championship game played in Irish program history. Elizabeth Perkins struck with a two-run triple during the Notre Dame ups in the eighth frame against eventual NFCA All-American Gina Ugo, and Kobata spun a two-hit gem to advance the Irish in the NCAA Bloomington Regional winner’s bracket.

Freshman Elizabeth Perkins ('97) delivered a key two-run triple to help guide the Irish to their first NCAA Regional victory over Indiana on May 20, 1994Freshman Elizabeth Perkins (’97) delivered a key two-run triple to help guide the Irish to their first ever NCAA Regional victory over Indiana on May 20, 1994
A hard-luck 1-0 loss in 12 innings on May 21 to UIC, which saw Kobata no-hit the Flames over the first 11 innings behind two walks and 15 strikeouts and at one point retire 25 batters in a row, set Notre Dame up for a rematch with Indiana. The Hoosiers avenged the prior day’s defeat on their way to finishing one game shy of the 1994 Women’s College World Series, but Notre Dame was able to hold its head high following its first trip to the national tournament.

Since that 1994 tournament debut, Notre Dame has qualified for the NCAA postseason in 21 of the past 23 seasons, including 19 straight NCAA Regional berths dating back to 1999. The Irish have won 33 total games during their first 22 trips to the NCAA tournament, notching multi-win performances in 12 of those appearances. The crux of the 1994 team returned in 1995 as the foundation of a 40-19 Notre Dame roster that received an NCAA Regional berth in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and finished with the first postseason top 25 ranking (19) in program history.

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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, men’s soccer and swimming and diving 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.