May 19, 2006
EVANSTON, Ill. – A Meagan Ruthrauff grand slam in the bottom of the third inning gave the Fighting Irish a lead they would never relinquish as Notre Dame topped UC Santa Barbara 5-2 in NCAA Softball Regional play at Sharon J. Drysdale Field on Friday afternoon. The win improves the Irish to 41-19 on the season, while the loss drops the Gauchos to 24-21. Notre Dame will now take on No. 11 Northwestern tomorrow at 11:00 a.m. (CT) in day two of the Evanston Regional.
Senior Heather Booth continued her solid pitching as she went the distance, striking out nine to collect her 26th win of the season. Junior Gessica Hufnagle was the only Fighting Irish player with multiple hits as she went 2-3, while senior Sara Schoonaert went 1-2 with an RBI and run scored for Notre Dame. Both teams collected seven hits and no errors on the day.
UC Santa Barbara’s Jennifer Davis gave up all five runs, while striking out six in the loss, which puts her record at 18-16 on the season. Jessica Hejna and Kendra Singley each went 2-4 for the Gauchos, who will play an elimination game tomorrow versus Southern Illinois at 1:30 p.m. The winner of that game will take on the loser of the Notre Dame-Northwestern tilt in another elimination contest at 4:00 p.m. The championship game is slated for Sunday at noon with a second game to be played at 2:30 p.m. if necessary.
Freshman Stephanie Mola led off the Notre Dame half of the third inning with a walk and then the Irish used consecutive bunt singles from junior Stephanie Brown and Schoonaert to load the bases. Following a strikeout, Ruthrauff stepped to the plate and sent a towering shot over the left field fence to put the Irish up 4-0. That was the senior’s team-leading 11th home run of the season. She also has a team-best 43 RBI.
Notre Dame tacked on another tally in the fourth inning on a sacrifice fly from Schoonaeart, which plated pinch-runner Sarah Smith. Smith entered following an Erin Glasco single.
The Gauchos mounted a two-out rally in the top of the fifth as Hejna connected on a home run to left field and Singley followed with a double. A Brittany Putich single drove in Singley to make it a 5-2 contest. Ericka Hansen then drew a walk to put runners on first and third with two outs. The UC Santa Barbara momentum was then halted by a mix-up on the part of the Gauchos. Following a ball-three call, UC Santa Barbara batter Tiffany Wright started to take first base thinking it was a walk and Hansen was called out after leaving first while the ball was in the circle. The play was not initially called, yet a protest from Irish head coach Deanna Gumpf resulted in the third and final out.
Ruthrauff then came up with another big play in the sixth inning, only this time it was with her glove. After Booth fanned the first two batters in the frame, Jennifer Davis doubled to left field. Jackie Conlin then ripped a liner down the third base line and Ruthrauff dove to her right and made the catch to squash another potential rally by the Gauchos and keep the score at 5-2 and preserve the victory for Notre Dame.
— ND —