March 16, 2002
Once again, the Notre Dame softball team (8-11) proved that it can compete with the best in the nation. The Irish suffered a hard-fought 3-2 loss to #10 Fresno State (25-7) in the first round of championship play in the Kia Klassic in Fullerton, Calif., on Saturday, March 16. The 3-2 count gives Notre Dame three losses to top-10 teams this season by that same score (#8 Arizona State and #4 Oklahoma).
The game featured a number of twists and turns and some unusual moments as well. When the dust cleared at the end of the contest, a bat had been protested, a Notre Dame player had been ejected and both team’s tempers were at the boiling point.
Notre Dame went quietly in the top of the first inning, getting a base runner on a fielding error with two outs. Fresno starting pitcher Jamie Southern got Jarrah Myers to groundout to end the inning.
The Bulldogs came to bat in the bottom of the first and the leadoff hitter reached base after she was hit by a pitch by Notre Dame starting pitcher Steffany Stenglein. The Irish defense stepped up, picking off the lead runner on two consecutive fielder’s choice plays.
Fresno’s Lindsay Fossatti bounced a ground ball to Andria Bledsoe at shortstop and the Irish junior misplayed the ball for just her first error of the season. Lori Hoffman then drew a walk to load the bases, but Irish third base Andrea Loman stabbed a hard-hit line drive down the line by Pam Perez to end the inning.
Notre Dame came back to threaten in the second inning. Bledsoe led off by drawing a walk and Liz Hartmann followed with a single to leftfield to put runners at first and second. Designated player Kas Hoag then lined out to the pitcher and Bledsoe just beat the throw back to the bag at second in the double-play attempt.
Bledsoe ended up getting spiked on the play and after the Irish trainer patched up the bleeding, Alexis Madrid moved the runners to second and third with a ground out to third. Fresno State escaped the inning when Nicole deFau grounded out back to the pitcher.
Both starting pitchers controlled the next six outs until the Bulldogs threatened in the bottom of the third. Southern posted a one-out single and Fossatti drew a walk to put runners at first and second. Hoffman then grounded out to third to move the runners up, followed by a Stengelin-issued walk to Perez. With the bases loaded once again, Notre Dame’s defensive star stepped up. Loman grabbed a Pam West ground ball destined for leftfield and made a strong throw to get West by a step at first and end the inning.
Hartmann recorded her second hit of the game in the Notre Dame half of the fourth inning, but ended up being stranded at third base when pinch hitter Annie Dell’Aria struck out swinging.
Stenglein worked a solid fourth inning without a Fresno scoring threat and finally got a cushion when Megan Ciolli drilled her third home run of the season to straight-away centerfield to put the Irish ahead 1-0.
Fresno State’s head coach Margie Wright appealed to the umpire after the homer to check if Ciolli’s bat was legal for play. The umpires check the bats before each game, though, and Wright’s appeal ended up groundless.
With one out in the Fresno portion of the fifth inning, Fossatti doubled down the leftfield line just out of the reach of a diving Ciolli. Pinch runner Sha Oliver entered the game for Fossatti and scored on the next play when Hoffman’s single to centerfield bounded over the head of Jenny Kriech in centerfield. Hoffman ended up at third on the play and the game score stood at 1-1 with one out.
Perez bounced an infield single over Stenglein’s head and West drew a walk (Stenglein’s sixth of the game) to load the bases. Notre Dame head coach turned to Carrie Wisen in relief, and the freshman righthander got exactly what she wanted. Fresno’s Lashme Gomez hit a groundball to Loman at third and the Irish junior fielded the ball, stepped on third and threw to first in plenty of time for the inning-ending double play.
The home plate umpire, however, ruled the ball was foul and Gomez stepped back into the batter’s box. She eventually popped up to centerfield, but Pacheco came through with a double down the leftfield line to score two runs and put the Bulldogs ahead 3-1.
It was time for an Irish rally in the top of the sixth. Myers led off the inning with a single up the middle and Bledsoe duplicated Myers’ hit to put runners on first and second. After Hartmann popped out, both runners advanced to second and third on a passed ball. Alexis Madrid then struck out, but Hoag followed up by drilling a grounder to Perez at second base. The throw home to get Myers was wide and Notre Dame cut the lead to one with runners at the corners.
With deFau at bat, Fresno State catcher West dropped a pitch and Hoag took off for second base. Hoag beat the play, but the Bulldogs caught Bledsoe attempting to score. The Irish shortstop attempted to dislodge the ball from West’s glove, but after the collision Bledsoe was called out on the play.
After an umpire conference between innings, Bledose ended up ejected from the game for unsportsmanlike conduct. The ejection forced a number of defensive shifts in the Irish lineup, but the defense ended up strong once again as Wisen pitched a scoreless sixth inning.
Unfortunately, Notre Dame would not be able to rally in the top of the seventh. DeFau and Kriech grounded out, while Ciolli lined out back to the pitcher to end the game.
Notre Dame will face New Mexico in the consolation bracket of the Kia Klassic on Saturday night (7 p.m. PST, 10 p.m. EST) to wrap up competition in this year’s tournament.
NOTES: The Irish stand at 8-11 on the season, but six of the 11 losses have been to teams ranked above Notre Dame in the top-25 … Stenglein is 7-8 on the season and has already started three of Notre Dame’s four games in the Kia Klassic.