April 29, 1998

NOTRE DAME, Ind. — Notre Dame’s softball team won its third straight BIG EAST South Division title with a three-game sweep of Villanova this past weekend. The Irish extended their winning streak to 17 games with two wins over Indiana State on Tuesday in the final games before the BIG EAST championship comes to Notre Dame. The Irish will face Connecticut in their opening game of the championship.

BIG EAST Championship Preview: For the first time since in the 10 years of Notre Dame softball, the Irish will play host to postseason games as Ivy Field will be the site of the BIG EAST championship. Divisional champions Boston College and Notre Dame join second-place finishers Connecticut and Rutgers in the four-team, double-elimination tournament. Defending champion Boston College will open the championship with a 10:00 a.m. contest against Rutgers on Sat., May 2. The Eagles and Lady Knights split a doubleheader on April 18. Notre Dame will play Connecticut at 12:00 p.m., with the winners of the first two games to play at 2:00 p.m. and the losers to play at 4:00 p.m. On Sun., May 3, the third game loser and the fourth game winner will play at 10:00 a.m. with the championship games at 12:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m.

Irish vs. Championship Field: Notre Dame finished the 17-game BIG EAST schedule with a 13-3 record after one rain out with Seton Hall. All three of the losses came on the road to Rutgers and Boston College. The Irish lost two games of the three game series against Rutgers to open their ’98 BIG EAST schedule. After falling behind 4-0 in the first two innings, Notre Dame scored a run in the sixth and four runs in the seventh to rally for a 5-4 win in the opening game series. Rutgers then won the final two games of the series 9-2 and 5-0 in a perfect game by Juliette Brooks. The Irish lead the all-time series with the Lady Knights 9-3, with Rutgers first win against Notre Dame coming in a 7-0 win at Ivy Field in 1997. One of Notre Dame’s wins includes an 11-8 win in the first elimination game of the 1997 BIG EAST championship at Connecticut.

Notre Dame’s third and final loss of the BIG EAST season came in a doubleheader split at Boston College a week after the Rutgers series. Eagle freshman Jennifer Perrotta homered in the bottom of the seventh to help hand the visiting Irish a 3-2 loss. Freshman Melanie Alkire and senior Kelly Nichols then combined to blank Boston College on four hits in the second game, a 1-0 Irish win thanks to Kris McCleary’s RBI single in the top of the seventh. Boston College leads the all-time series with Notre Dame 4-3. Three of the wins came last year, two during the regular season at Ivy Field and one in the opening game of the BIG EAST championship.

The Irish and Huskies have played 11 games with Notre Dame winning seven of the those contests. Three of Connecticut’s four wins over Notre Dame have come in the BIG EAST championship, eliminating the Irish in both of their BIG EAST championship appearances. The Huskies sent the Irish into the losers bracket in the 1996 with a 6-3 win and then eliminated the Irish with a 1-0 in game seven of championship. Connecticut also eliminated Notre Dame with a 2-1 win in game five of the 1997 championship. Notre Dame is a perfect 4-0 against Connecticut at Ivy Field, including 4-0 and 7-2 wins on April 18.

Irish in the BIG EAST Championship: Notre Dame has a 4-4 record in the BIG EAST championship and will be making its third appearance joining the conference in 1996. The Irish came out of the losers bracket to force a seventh game in 1996 before losing 1-0 to Connecticut at Commander Shea Field at Boston College. Last year at Connecticut, the Huskies eliminated Notre Dame in the game five after the Irish lost their opening game to Boston College and won an elimination game with Rutgers.

BIG EAST Championships At Notre Dame: The BIG EAST softball championship will mark the fourth BIG EAST championship to be held at Notre Dame in the three years since joining the conference in 1995-96. The Irish have won the three previous championships at Notre Dame, claiming the volleyball title in ’95, women’s soccer in ’96 and men’s golf in the fall of ’97.

Irish Lead BIG EAST Statistics: For the third straight year, Notre Dame finished with the best team batting average and ERA in the BIG EAST in conference games. The 1998 Irish, who finished 13-3 in BIG EAST games for the best record for the second time in three years, hit .313 (136-434) in BIG EAST games, narrowly edging Rutgers, which hit .312 (129-413). The .313 team batting average is the sixth best in BIG EAST history. Senior Jenn Giampaolo led the conference in runs scored (14) and was second in triples (3) and stolen bases (8).

Notre Dame’s pitching staff compiled a collective ERA of 1.35, topping the 1.62 ERA of Boston College. Freshman Jennifer Sharron led all pitchers with a 0.90 ERA and was second in wins with a 7-1 record and second with three shutouts.

Sharron Leads BIG EAST Pitchers: Freshman pitcher Jennifer Sharron has stumped BIG EAST hitters in her first year as she finished with the best ERA in the BIG EAST in conference games with a 0.90 ERA in 54.1 innings pitched, the best BIG EAST ERA by a pitcher in Notre Dame’s three years in the conference. She had the second best record in the conference at 7-1 this season, matching Angela Bessolo’s 7-1 BIG EAST record in 1996 for the best single-season BIG EAST record of any Notre Dame pitcher. Sharron is 15-6 on the season and 10-1 in her last 13 starts with a 0.53 ERA and 54 strikeouts. Opposing batters have hit just .207 this season.

Week in Review: The Irish were a perfect 5-0 last week, sweeping a doubleheader at Toledo and sweeping the three-game series against BIG EAST South Division rival Villanova to clinch their third straight divisional title. Notre Dame scored seven runs in both games for 7-2 and 7-1 wins at Toledo on April 23. Freshmen Jennifer Sharron and Melanie Alkire picked up wins while junior Angela Bessolo and senior Kelly Nichols each recorded saves. Junior Amy Laboe had five hits, five RBI and three runs to lead the Irish in the doubleheader.

Notre Dame and Villanova entered the series in first and second place with the divisional title on the line. The Irish quickly jumped on the Wildcats in the series, scoring nine runs in the first inning of the first game en route to an 11-0, five-inning win. Villanova battled to a 3-3 tie midway through the second game before Notre Dame scored four runs in the fourth and fifth innings for a 7-4 win to clinch the division on Sat., April 25. The Irish wrapped up the three-game series with a 3-0 win on Sun., April 26.

Seniors Come Through: Notre Dame’s four seniors starred in game two in the final regular-season home game of their careers at Ivy Field. Trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the fourth, senior Kelly Rowe drove in the tying run with a bases-loaded sacrifice fly. As the game went into extra innings with a 1-1 tie, senior Korrie Allen led off the ninth with a double, went to third on a single by senior Jenn Giampaolo and scored when Indiana State misplayed Giampaolo’s single, allowing Allen to score the winning run. Senior pitcher Kelly Nichols pitched a nine-inning complete game to record the win as she allowed just one unearned run and scattered six hits while walking none.

Notre Dame led 2-0 in the first game before Indiana State tied the game at 2-2 in the top of the sixth. The Irish then rallied to score the winning run in the bottom of the sixth when Kris McCleary walked with two outs. Allen then pinch ran for McCleary and stole second base. Danielle Klayman singled to score Allen and complete the two-out rally. Indiana State had the tying run thrown out at the plate in the top of the seventh.

Poison Ivy: Ivy Field has been a tough place to play for opposing teams this season as the Irish are 18-2 at home and have won a school-record 13 straight games at Ivy Field. After playing seven straight BIG EAST games on the road to open the conference season, Notre Dame won all nine of their home BIG EAST games and have an all-time Ivy Field record of 134-43-2 (.754). The Irish have a 30-4 record at Ivy Field in BIG EAST games since joining the conference in 1996.

Streakin’ Irish: Notre Dame enters the BIG EAST championship riding a 17-game winning streak, the longest for the Irish since a school-record 19 straight wins in 1996. The streak is currently the second-best in the country. DePaul has won 23 straight games. Central Michigan has won 15 straight games before a Wednesday doubleheader with Michigan State.

The Irish also have won 13 straight games at Ivy Field, breaking the previous record of 10 straight wins during the 19-game winning streak in 1996. Since dropping both games of a doubleheader to Purdue on April 8, the Irish have outscored the opposition 97-19, an average of almost 6-1. The Irish are hitting .366 while Notre Dame’s pitching staff has held opponents to .176 hitting with a 0.77 ERA.

Frosh Impact Irish: Notre Dame’s class of 2001 has had a tremendous impact both at bat and on the mound this year. The freshman hitters of Melanie Alkire, Danielle Klayman and Lizzy Lemire have accounted for 24 percent of the runs scored (56-229), 32 percent of the hits (139-436) and 39 percent of the RBI (72-187). Klayman leads the freshman in runs scored with 26 while Alkire leads the class with 54 hits and 36 RBI, also a team-high for RBI.

The freshman pitching staff of Alkire and Jennifer Sharron has accounted for 55 percent of the innings pitched (197.2-359.2), 60 percent of the starts (31-52), 68 percent of the wins (23-34), 80 percent of the shutouts (8-10) and 71 percent of the complete games (15-21). Sharron leads the team with 15 wins, 22 starts, 13 complete games, seven shutouts and 145 innings pitched.

Special K: Freshman Danielle Klayman is on pace to become the best Irish freshman hitter in history with her .361 batting average. Former two-time BIG EAST player of the year Meghan Murray hit .345 as a freshman in 1994 for the best average by a Notre Dame freshman.

Irish Earn BIG EAST Honors: For the third straight week, the BIG EAST has honored the Irish with player and rookie of the week selections as well as pitcher of the week for the first time, becoming the first school to win all three awards in one week. Amy Laboe was named BIG EAST player of the week after she hit 10-15 (.667) this week with three doubles and three runs scored. Laboe entered the week with 14 RBI in 45 games this year and nearly matched that with 11 last week in five games. Laboe came up with several clutch hits to help the Irish sweep the Villanova series, including two, two-out, two-run singles. She raised her batting average 37 point last week to .333, second best on the team.

Melanie Alkire earned BIG EAST rookie of the week honors for the second straight week after hitting .333 last week with three doubles, a run scored and six RBI, second on the team to Laboe’s 11. She also went 2-0 on the mound with wins over Toledo and Villanova. Alkire, who is hitting .327 with a 7-1 record on the mound, entered in the fourth inning of the second game against Villanova with the score knotted at 3-3. She allowed just three hits and a seventh-inning unearned run to help Notre Dame clinch the BIG EAST South Division title with a 7-4 win.

Jennifer Sharron shared BIG EAST pitcher of the week honors with Boston College’s Mary Dietz. Sharron was a perfect 3-0 last week in her three starts, including two wins against Villanova to help the Irish clinch their third straight BIG EAST South Division title. She led the staff with 12 innings pitched. Opposing batters hit just .167 against her as she gave up just one earned run for a 0.58 ERA. Sharron held Villanova, the top hitting team in the BIG EAST heading into the weekend, to a .138 batting average (4-29) against her.

No Strikes: The 1998 Irish are on pace to go down in history as the toughest Notre Dame team to strike out. Through 52 games, the Irish have gone down on strikes just 82 times in 1436 at bats for an average of one strikeout for every 17.5 at bats. Notre Dame averages just 1.58 strikeouts per game, bettering the 2.15 strikeouts per game by the 1990 team. The most the Irish have struck out in a game in ’98 was five times on two occasions against both Oklahoma State and Villanova.

Head Coach Liz Miller: Liz Miller has compiled a 235-111 (.679) record in her five-plus seasons at Notre Dame since 1993. Miller, with a career record of 775-253 (.754) led the Irish to a school-record 48 wins in 1996 and to their third consecutive NCAA appearance that same year. She was named the 1996 BIG EAST coach of the year in her first year in the conference and has led Notre Dame to a 48-8 record and three BIG EAST South Division titles in Notre Dame’s first three years in the conference. Miller won her 700th-career game on April 27, 1996, at the time becoming one of only five collegiate softball coaches to have won 700 career games. Miller began her coaching career at Lake Michigan Community College where she posted a 541-142 (.792) record.

Irish Softball Enters 10th Season: The 1998 season marks the 10th season of Notre Dame softball since its first year in 1989. The program compiled a 335-183-2 (.646) record in the first nine years, an average of 37-20. In the first four years under head coach Brian Boulac from 1989-92, the Irish went 135-90-2, winning the Midwestern Collegiate Conference in 1990 and 1991. Liz Miller, who served as an assistant to Boulac in 1992, took over in 1993 and has compiled a 200-93 record from 1993-97 with MCC titles in 1993-95 and NCAA appearances in 1994-96.

Irish Fixtures: Three Notre Dame players have been fixtures in the lineup, starting all 54 games. Jenn Giampaolo has started every game in center field and in the leadoff spot in the lineup. Lisa Tully has anchored third base every game and has played 40 games at the ninth spot in the lineup. Melanie Alkire has batted in the third spot in the lineup all 54 games but has been the most versatile player on the team. She has played nine games as pitcher, 12 games at first base, 12 games at second base, 11 games at shortstop and 16 games as the designated player.

USA Today/NFCA Coaches Top 25 (April 29)

    Rk.     Team                    Record  Points    1.      Arizona (25)            51-3    625    2.      Michigan                44-4    600    3.      Fresno State            41-8    568    4.      Washington              38-9    546    5.      South Florida *         54-11   510    6.      Oklahoma                44-12   492    7.      Nebraska                38-10   492    8.      Texas                   44-12   442    9.      Stanford                33-14   421    10.     LSU                     52-7    412    11.     Oklahoma State *        35-15   337    12.     Hawaii *                41-13   330    13.     DePaul *                33-5    309    14.     Long Beach State        32-13   288    15.     Arizona State *         34-18   279    16.     Florida State           50-18   219    17.     Texas Tech              44-18   197    18.     Iowa                    32-14   170    19.     Cal State-Northridge    34-17   152    20.     Illinois-Chicago        51-16   140    21.     California              30-21   131    22.     Missouri                36-19   120    23.     Minnesota               39-16    82    24.     Massachusetts           35-12    68    25.     Florida *               41-18    52
* indicates 1998 Notre Dame opponents

Final BIG EAST Standings (4/27)

South Division      BIG EAST    Overall1.  Notre Dame      13-3        32-183.  Rutgers         10-5        24-182.  Villanova        8-6        34-174.  Seton Hall       0-15       17-25-1
North Division BIG EAST Overall1. Boston College 13-3-1 35-10-12. Connecticut 8-7 22-19-13. St. John's 6-11 16-26-1

Irish Leaders

Batting    Danielle Klayman    .361
Runs Jenn Giampaolo 41
Slugging Percentage Lizzy Lemire .452
ERA Kelly Nichols 1.03
Strikeouts Per 7 Innings Angela Bessolo 7.1
Innings Pitched Jennifer Sharron 145.0