May 14, 2005
The University of Notre Dame softball team (44-13) fell short at the BIG EAST Championship to Seton Hall (33-13) for the second straight season on Saturday, losing 2-1 in 11 innings at the Belleville Complex. With the victory, Seton Hall claims its fourth extra-inning victory over the Irish in six meetings between the two teams and also earns the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Championship. Notre Dame will await its fate, with a strong at-large resume, when the championship field is announced Sunday night.
The Notre Dame offense was unable to solve Megan Meyer yet again, as the Seton Hall righthander scattered seven hits in 11 innings, allowing just one run and striking out seven. Notre Dame ended up leaving seven runners on base over the course of the contest, with seniors Megan Ciolli and Carrie Wisen leading the way with two hits each.
The Irish pitching staff fulfilled their obligation in the game, holding down the pesky Seton Hall offense to nine hits and two runs. Senior Steffany Stenglein started the game and threw effectively, allowing three hits, walking four and striking out seven in 6.1 innings of work. Junior Heather Booth finished the game, giving up two unearned runs on six hits while striking out six in 4.2 innings.
Megan Meyer was named the BIG EAST Championship Most Outstanding Player for the second consecutive season, picking up three complete game victories for the Pirates during the tournament.
Saturday’s game would prove to be an ultimate challenge for the Irish. Seton Hall has Notre Dame’s number over the last two years – as the Pirates won four straight over the Irish last season (two during the regular season, two during the BIG EAST Championship) and won two of three so far this season. Seton Hall is the only team to ever win six out of seven games against the Irish since Notre Dame joined the BIG EAST Conference in 1996.
For the Irish to be successful, they would have to solve the mystery of SHU starting pitcher Megan Meyer. Over the last three years, Meyer has thrown 38.2 innings against the Irish, surrendering just 27 hits, six runs (five earned) and struck out 27. She also has earned the victories in the last three matchups between SHU and Notre Dame in the BIG EAST Championship.
After three scoreless innings dominated by the two starting pitchers, Seton Hall posted a two-out rally to experience the game’s first scoring opportunity in the top of the fourth. D’arcy Djakalovic drew a four-pitch walk, bringing up BIG EAST Player of the Year Laura Taylor. Taylor doubled down the letfield line to put runners at second and third for Lindsay Trottier.
Battling back and forth, pitching in and out while Trottier fouled off a few good pitches, Stenglein escaped the inning with a strikeout and keep the game scoreless.
Notre Dame came back in the bottom of the fourth with its own scoring chance. Ciolli led off the inning with a solid single through the right side and moved to second on a sacrifice by Meagan Ruthrauff. Wisen popped up the first pitch she was offered by Meyer to bring up Katie Laing for the key RBI opportunity.
After battling through several pitches, Laing fouled out down the rightfield line to end the inning.
In a scoreless game, the worst thing a pitcher can do is walk the lead off hitter. But that is exactly what Stenglein issued in the top of the fifth inning, walking Kate DePaul to put the go ahead run on first base. She was replaced by pinch runner Jennifer Stowell.
Jenna Best then came through with a solid single to left-centerfield, putting runners on first and second with no outs. Seton Hall immediately sacrificed both runners into scoring position for designated player Jessica Schulien. Stenglein moved one out away from escaping the inning by striking out Jessica Shulien – but Seton Hall rotated back to the top of its order and Katie Pierce.
Stenglein pitched carefully to Pierce, walking the Pirate lead off hitter on four straight pitches. That brought Emalee Heim off the bench to pinch hit. Moving the ball inside and outside, Stenglein sat Heim down on strikes for her sixth strikeout of the game.
The teams began trading scoring opportunities back and forth – as Notre Dame had another chance in the bottom of the fifth. Lenn led off with a double down the rightfield line and pinch runner Sarah Smith moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Hartmann. Notre Dame head coach Deanna Gumpf called on Carissa Jaquish (who doubled in pinch hitting opportunity on Friday night against Syracuse) to pinch hit for Schoonaert.
Meyer struck out Jaquish to bring up Stephanie Brown – who grounded the first pitch she was offered back to the pitcher’s circle for the third out.
After five innings, Seton Hall had left five runners on base while the Irish had stranded four. The game had the sense that either team that scored first was going to get the victory.
Seton Hall kept the pattern alive in the sixth inning when D’arcy Djakalovic led off with a solid single to centerfield bringing up Taylor. Stenglein struck out the slugger on four pitches, bringing up Trottier. A ground out moved the Irish one out away from ending the inning, but a ground ball from DePaul was mishandled at second base by Notre Dame’s Katie Laing, keeping the inning alive with runners on the corners for Best.
After DePaul stole second base, Best flew out to rightfield to end the inning and keep the game full of scoreless drama.
Seton Hall, seemingly able to score at will in the seventh inning, put together a dangerous scoring chance in the seventh inning. With one out, Stenglein walked the ninth batter in the order, Jessica Schulien (hitting .089 on the season) to rotate back to the top of the order.
The walk prompted Gumpf to go to Booth in relief of Stenglein and the junior gave the senior a big hug in the pitcher’s circle before taking the ball. Booth struck out Pierce looking, but White kept the inning alive with an infield hit – putting runners at the corners for Djakalovic. Booth struck out the SHU second base looking to end the inning and give the Irish a chance to force a second game in the bottom of the seventh.
A run was not to be, however, as Meyer retired Wisen, Laing and Lenn in order to force extra innings – which should be no surprise when these two teams meet. This would be the fourth time in the last six meetings that the Notre Dame – Seton Hall game would see extra innings. All extra inning victories for the Pirates.
That statistic close to guaranteed a Seton Hall victory in extra innings – and after a series of both teams not coming through with runners in scoring position in close to every inning.
Seton Hall broke through in the top of the 11th when the bottom of their order came through with two big hits. Best led off with a single and moved to second base on a foul out by Leone. Akoua Lonergan followed with a dribbled ground ball down the third base line. Hartmann hurried her throw, which was low and leaked past Ruthrauff at first base. Best came around third to score the first run of the game and Lonergan moved to second base. That movement proved critical when Katie Pierce drilled the first pitch she was offered straight up the middle for an RBI single.
Booth ended the inning with a strikeout, but the Irish faced an almost insurmountable two-run deficit against Megan Meyer.
Notre Dame did rally for one run in the bottom of the 11th when Schoonaert led off with a double, moved to third on a single by Brown and scored on a fielding error by SHU’s Taylor. With the tying run on second base, Meyer struck out Ruthrauff on a check swing to bring up Gessica Hufnagle with Notre Dame’s last hope. Hufnagle had entered the game as a pinch runner for Wisen earlier in the game. After battling through a few pitches, Hufnagle popped up to second base to end the game.