April 12, 2004
The University of Notre Dame softball team (31-12) dropped the first of a two-game set at #18/19 Nebraska (30-11) on Monday evening 1-0 – coming out on the short end of a pitcher’s duel. The Irish managed just one hit, while the home team scratched out two, but was able to score one run in the top of the first on a wild pitch for the winning run.
Peaches James, who entered the game on a hot streak, earned the victory for Nebraska, surrendering one hit and striking out four. Heather Booth equaled her pitch for pitch in the game, giving up just two hits and striking out three.
Nebraska’s run came in the first inning when Anne Steffan reached on a hit by pitch – the first offering of the game for Booth. She stole second, moved to third on a ground ball and scored on a wild pitch.
Notre Dame would face Nebraska ace Peaches James in today’s contest, who was sidelined with an injury for both of the team’s two meetings earlier this season. James was on top of her game early – getting two strikeouts in the top of the first inning. Megan Ciolli was able to post a slap hit in the first, but James came back to strikeout Meagan Ruthrauff on a change up to end the inning.
Nebraska took their first look at Heather Booth in the bottom of the first, although the Huskers should be ready for what Booth will be throwing – she posted both victories against Nebraska earlier this season. The inning started off ominously when Anne Steffan was hit by the first pitch of the game, as the slap-hitting second basemen stepped forward to offer at the ball. Steffan quickly stole second base on a 2-1 pitch to get in scoring position for Jessica Yoachim. Booth got the first out of the inning by getting Yoachim to bounce out to shortstop two pitches later. Nicole Trimboli was then set down on a strikeout for the second out of the first.
Unfortunately, Booth held on to a 1-1 offering to Trisha Tannahill too long, allowing Steffan to score the first run of the game on a wild pitch. Tannahill grounded out to shortstop to end the inning one pitch later.
Both teams worked a scoreless second inning and the Irish were retired in order in the top of the third. The game seemed to be turning into a pitcher’s duel – with that lone run scored in the first turning into the lone number on the scoreboard for both teams.
Nebraska did scratch out their first two hits of the game – infield hits – by Steffan and Yoachim in the bottom of the third with one out. Booth came right back to get Trimboli and Tannahill (the three and four hitters in the Husker line up) on consecutive ground outs to escape the inning.
While Booth kept the Cornhusker bats at bay (Nebraska entered the contest hitting .310 as a team over their last eight games), James was untouchable. After Ciolli’s hit in the first inning, she retired the next 15 Irish Irish hitters until Stephanie Brown reached on a fielding error by Yoachim at third base in the top of the sixth with two outs. Brown was soon caught stealing – on a very close play at second base.
If Booth could keep Nebraska off the scoreboard, Notre Dame would have deFau, Ciolli and Ruthrauff up in the top of the seventh looking for the equalizing run. But, Booth would have to face the same batting order for the home team in the bottom of the sixth.
Booth was in a similar grove as James – she worked a silent one-two-three inning in the sixth and retired the last 11 batters she faced after the two singles in the third inning.
Would the Notre Dame bats finally figure out James in the top of the seventh?
DeFau popped up to leftfield on a 1-1 pitch for the first out. Ciolli attempted to reach on a drag bunt, but James was quick out the circle and got the Irish centerfielder by a step at first for the second out. Ruthrauff struck out to end the game.
GAME NOTES: Junior Nicole Wicks was named co-BIG EAST Player of the Week on Monday … Wicks hit .600 last week with three triples, a double and five RBI … it is the first BIG EAST weekly award of her career at Notre Dame … Nebraska entered Monday’s game with a 12-game win streak … head coach Deanna Gumpf returned to her alma mater (1992) for the first time since the 2002 season – her fist with the Irish … Gumpf lettered as a first basemen and pitcher for NU from 1989-92 and has several family members in the Lincoln area – who attended Monday’s game to cheer for the Irish.