May 19, 2002
It was a signature game for a team that has fought hard all year. The University of Notre Dame softball team (44-17) was eliminated on championship Sunday for the second year in a row, dropping a 5-3 game to seventh-ranked Nebraska in the NCAA Region VII Tournament in Iowa City, Iowa.
The Irish enjoyed another stellar season this year, rebounding from a tough 8-12 start to win the 2002 BIG EAST Championship and finish one step away from the Women’s College World Series.
Nebraska decided to start rise ball pitcher Leigh Ann Walker against the Irish on Sunday in game one, while Notre Dame once again handed the ball to Steffany Stenglein. Entering the game, the Cornhuskers had not allowed a single run in the Region VII Tournament – the only team in the NCAA Championship to hold their opponents scoreless entering Sunday’s competition.
The Irish were able to get on the board early against Walker. Jarrah Myers led off the first inning with a solid at bat, fouling off several pitches before muscling a change up that came in on her hands up the middle. Andria Bledsoe attempted to move Myers over with a bunt, but missed her first attempt. Walker took advantage and struck out Bledsoe on three pitches.
Lisa Mattison stepped in next and drilled the second pitch she was offered, a rise ball, deep over the left-centerfield wall for her fourth career home run and first during NCAA Championship play.
Stenglein worked a solid third inning to get Notre Dame back on offense quickly. Alexis Madrid led off with a single through the left side and beat out a force-out attempt when Jenny Kriech laid down a bunt. Both runners were safe and the Irish looked to have another scoring opportunity. Unfortunately, Megan Ciolli popped up and Andrea Loman crushed a ground ball to third base. Nebraska’s Roethemeyer picked up the ball, stepped on third and threw to first base for the double play to end the inning.
Nebraska came back to get their own scoring chance in the top of the fourth. Kim Ogee drew a walk, while Lisa Wangler laid down a perfect bunt single to put runners at first and second. The runners were moved over with another bunt to put runners at second and third with one out and Nicole Trimboli in the batter’s box.
Trimboli eventually lifted a fly ball deep in the rightfield gap that Ciolli settled under for the sacrifice fly that cut the Irish lead down to 2-1. Wangler also advanced to third on the play.
Stenglein would walk Burgess, but escaped further damage in the inning by getting Peaches James to line out weakly to Madrid at second base. `
Nebraska would come back strong again in the top of the fifth to drive Stenglein out of the game. Suhr flied out to the warning track in leftfield for the first out, but Angie Roethemeyer drilled a triple over Hartmann’s head with one out.
Lawrick came in to pinch hit and Nebraska called for the suicide squeeze. The bunt, however, stayed right in front of home plate. Myers grabbed the ball and Rothemeyer quickly tried to retreat to third. A flip to Loman who put the tag on Rothemeyer recorded the first out and Lawrick attempted to advance to second. Loman calmly tossed to Madrid to put the tag on her and the Irish double play ended the inning to give the team a great momentum boost.
That momentum would provide the Irish another run in the bottom of the fifth. With two outs, Madrid laced her second hit of the day through the left side to get on base. The top of the Irish order rotated around and Kriech was due. Madrid quickly stole second base to get in scoring position and Kriech came through with a bloop single to rightfield that allowed Madrid to easily score the third Irish run of the game.
The top of the Nebraska order was due and the Cornhusker got exactly what they needed to kick-start a rally. Wisen issued a lead off walk to Ogee to get Nebraska rolling.
Three consecutive singles later, Wisen had not retired a batter and allowed Nebraksa to tie the score. With runners on the corners and no outs, Irish head coach Deanna Gumpf was forced to go back to Stenglein in an attempt to get out of the jam.
Problems continued when Nebraska made up for their suicide squeeze attempt earlier in the game with the perfect execution of another, grabbing back the lead and putting runners at first and second with still no outs.
Bucholz took off to steal third base and Myers made a solid throw to Bledsoe, but Bucholz ran over the Irish shortstop and forced her to drop the ball to reach the bag safely. That play proved crucial, as Suhr hit a sacrifice fly deep to leftfield, which allowed the fourth Nebraska run of the inning to score.
Loman and Mattison reached base in the bottom of the sixth to give the Irish hope, but Peaches James (who entered in relief at the beginning of the inning) induced a ground out from Hartmann to end the inning.
Notre Dame would not threaten again in the contest and Nebraska ended up with the 5-3 victory and a spot in the 2002 Women’s College World Series.
Alexis Madrid, Jarrah Myers, Lisa Mattison and Steffany Stenglein were all named to the Region VII All-Tournament team. Amanda Bucholz was named the tournament Most Outstanding Player.