Feb. 20, 2016
by Tony Jones
CATHEDRAL CITY, Calif. – A gritty and determined University of Notre Dame softball team swept the day during Saturday play at the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic in the only way it knows how. With a flair for the dramatic.
Following a 6-3 win early afternoon win against Cal Poly, No. RV Notre Dame (6-3) rallied from a pair of deficits to defeat No. 8/7 UCLA 8-6 in the nightcap at the Big League Dreams Sports Complex. The Irish improved to 3-1 during the tournament, beating UCLA for the second time in as many meetings.
“The way we played tonight we were just gritty, we were gritty on both sides of the ball,” Notre Dame head coach Deanna Gumpf said following the UCLA victory. “We made great plays defensively, our pitchers kept us in the ball game, and we had big hits throughout the lineup. That was the biggest difference is that we had so many clutch hitters in our lineup, they didn’t get a break.”
“It’s been a tough two weekends and we hadn’t really been able to get over the hump of winning twice in a day,” co-captain Karley Wester said. “Today that happened and we beat a top 10 team, so today felt so good.”
Along with Notre Dame outscoring its opposition by a final run count of 14-9, the Irish also were a perfect 4-for-4 on stolen base attempts in the two wins. Three players, Ali Wester and Bailey Bigler (four), and Karley Wester (three), finished the day’s games with three or more total hits.
“They’re just so tough to defend when they hit the ball where they want to hit it,” Gumpf said about the Wester sisters. “They controlled their offense today and they are so tough. Nobody likes to play against them when they’re in that mode.
“I am so proud of Bailey, and I love what she’s bringing to the game right now,” Gumpf added. “She has so much confidence when she is up to bat and they don’t know what to do with her. All of a sudden she will drop a bunt and the next time she’ll hit a double. With what she is doing at the plate right now I am really proud of her.”
Four different Notre Dame pitchers saw time in the circle, with Allie Rhodes (2-2) earning the win against Cal Poly (5-3) and the save against UCLA (5-2). Katie Beriont (1-1) was the winning Notre Dame pitcher in the nightcap against the Bruins, while Rachel Nasland earned the save against Cal Poly.
“Allie was able to settle in tonight against UCLA (for the final three innings),” Gumpf said. “She knew she didn’t have her best after throwing five innings earlier against Cal Poly. All I kept telling her was to keep being gritty and compete, that’s all your team needs. She was like, ‘I got this,’ and that is what she is always going to give us.”
At the conclusion of play on Saturday, Notre Dame has faced five top 25 teams during its first nine games of the 2016 season. Only Central Florida and Kentucky, both included in last week’s top 25 polls, could make a similar claim.
“This was honestly a confidence win (against UCLA),” Gumpf said. “We know how good we can be and we’ve played so many good teams already this spring, and we’ve competed so hard. We finally finished it, and that’s what we talked about. Today we finished really well.”
Notre Dame closes the 2016 Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic with an 11:30 a.m. (ET) start against George Washington on Sunday at the Big League Dreams Sports Complex.
For the latest news and updates on all things Notre Dame softball, visit www.und.com/softball, follow the Irish @NDsoftball and @NDcoachGumpf on Twitter and at Instagram.com/notredamesoftball, and Like the team at Facebook.com/NDSoftball.
#RV ND 8, #8 UCLA 6
Following a leadoff single and Notre Dame fielding error in the bottom of the first inning, UCLA appeared prime for a big opening inning. Rachel Nasland responded with a pair of strikeouts and a great catch on a line drive back to the circle to offset a bases loaded walk to limit the Bruins to a 1-0 advantage.
Micaela Arizmendi led off the top of the second inning by working a full-count walk against Johanna Grauer (1-2). Notre Dame manufactured Arizmendi into scoring position at third base, but a deep fly out to right field by Casey Africano stranded the run at third.
UCLA added an insurance run in the second, thanks to an RBI single to left field by Delaney Spaulding with two outs, scoring Allexis Bennett to make it 2-0 Bruins. Nasland forced Madeline Jelenicki to line out to Morgan Reed at shortstop for the inning’s final out.
Notre Dame battled back into the game in the top of the third inning. Bailey Bigler got the rally started with a roped single up the middle, and Karley Wester followed with a double to the gap in left center to put two in scoring position. Ali Wester cashed in with a chopper over the head of the shortstop Spaulding into left, clearing the bases and tying the contest at 2-2.
“My key is that I have stepped in there focusing on pitch-by-pitch, trying to win the pitch,” Bigler said. “You try to keep things rolling because I have (Karley) Wester behind me, so her confidence inspires me. That has been the key, trying to go out, have fun and enjoy myself.”
“Bailey went up and didn’t back down to anything,” Karley Wester said. “She really stepped up, and I have seen her in the whole process she has gone through battling back from injury to being able to play and seizing the opportunity to start. She is killing it right now, it’s fun to watch.”
UCLA retook the lead in the home half of the third frame. Taylor Pack came through with a two-out double to left field that scored Gabrielle Maurice and made it 3-2 Bruins. Nasland forced Zoe Shaw to foul out to Arizmendi for the inning’s third out. UCLA added an RBI groundout against reliever Katie Beriont to take a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the fourth.
Notre Dame launched a spirited five-run rally in the top of the fifth inning to take its first lead of the game. RBI logged by Ali Wester, Arizmendi, two from Melissa Rochford and one from Africano chased Grauer and gave the Irish a 7-4 cushion.
UCLA got two runs back against Allie Rhodes in the bottom of the fifth after RBI hits from Paige Halstead and Shaw closed the gap to 7-6 in favor of Notre Dame. Rhodes induced a Spaulding fly out to right field to end the Bruin rally in the inning.
Karley Wester and Ali Wester each singled and stole second base against reliever Selina Ta’amilo in the top of the sixth inning to put runners in scoring position for Notre Dame. On a Caitlyn Brooks fielder’s choice to shortstop, the lead Wester baited a wild throw back to the bag at third to score and push the Irish ahead 8-6.
“I honestly was thinking that I was going to go on down angle and run it out,” Wester said. “It ended up being a harder hit ground ball and I looked up and was caught off the base a bit. If I broke one way I was going to be hosed, so I danced around to make something happen. After (Spaulding) pump faked it I took third and it drilled me in the arm, I went for home.”
UCLA picked up two base hits against Rhodes in the bottom of the sixth to get the offense going. The Notre Dame southpaw tossed a nasty two-strike, two-out off-speed pitch to Pack with a 0-2 count to end the frame with a swinging strikeout.
Rhodes worked around two seventh inning UCLA singles to force two straight fly outs to cement the victory in the final ups for the Bruins.
“We are all riding a high right now and there are a lot of people playing confidently,” Wester said. “We have a great team and a lot of talent, but maybe we hadn’t necessarily realized that we were that good. This win today where we deserved and earned it, it really helps. We have been at win one lose one, so winning two and beating a top team will continue to help.”
#RV ND 6, Cal Poly 3
Ali Wester reached first base on a one-out walk against Sierra Hyland (3-2), moving into scoring position with a stolen base in the top of the first inning. Hyland buckled down and logged two straight outs to strand Wester at second base.
Allie Rhodes quickly retired the first two Cal Poly hitters on two pitches before the Mustangs started a two-out rally in the bottom of the first. RBI hits by McKenna Young and Ashley Tornio gave Cal Poly a 2-0 lead. Rhodes forced Betsy Colburn to line out to second base for the inning’s final out.
Melissa Rochford led off the top of the second with a walk and Morgan Reed was hit by pitch to put two on with nobody out. Hyland retired the next two Notre Dame batters before Bailey Bigler ripped a two-strike, two-out double to the fence in center to clear the bases and tie the game at 2-2. Following a Karley Wester bunt single and stolen base, Ali Wester cleared the bags once more with a two-run single to vault the Irish in front 4-2.
“It makes us very dangerous when we can play the short game and bring the defense in, and then hit lasers and line drives to pull the defense back,” Bigler said. “A lot of times they don’t know where the ball is going at any certain time, and everyone in the lineup has that ability. It’s great for our offense.”
Cal Poly picked up a pair of hits early in the bottom of the second inning, but a nice play from Ali Wester at second base gunned down Shawna McDonough trying to score on a fielder’s choice. Courtney Tyler flew out to center field one batter latter to strand two Mustangs on the pond.
After Hyland led off the bottom of the third frame reaching on a fielding error, Arizmendi made a great play to thwart a sacrifice bunt attempt and turn a double play. Rochford followed with a great play along the fence by third base to end the Cal Poly ups in the inning.
Cal Poly clawed within one in the bottom of the fourth on an RBI single by Amanda Sandoval that scored Breana West and trimmed the Notre Dame margin to 4-3. Chelsea Convissar tried to stretch it for home behind West and Megan Sorlie threw an absolute strike from right field to gun down the runner and end the inning.
Notre Dame added an insurance run in the top of the sixth inning. Rochford was hit by a pitch and moved into scoring position on a Reed sacrifice bunt. Bigler delivered her third RBI of the game three batters later, stinging a two-out single to left field to plate Rochford and push the Irish in front 5-3.
“(Getting extended reps) has really brought my confidence up,” Bigler said. “I feel so confident out there that (Karley) Wester and Megan (Sorlie), whoever else is in the outfield has my back. It’s really nice being out there and knowing your teammates are behind you every single pitch.”
Rachel Nasland entered the circle in the bottom of the sixth inning and shut Cal Poly down in order. Colburn popped up to shortstop, West fouled out to first base and Convissar struck out swinging for the 1-2-3 frame.
The Irish would pick up an additional run in the top of the seventh. Arizmendi saw 14 pitches from Hyland before walking to load the bases with one out. Rochford drove a towering sacrifice fly to right field to score Ali Wester and provide the final scoring of the game at 6-3.
Tony Jones, athletics communications assistant 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 and men’s soccer 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 at Monroe and with the National Football League’s Buffalo Bills.