May 14, 2006
It was a fitting end to a frustrating, wet and ultimately memorable weekend. With a light drizzle falling at water-slogged Ivy Field, the University of Notre Dame softball team upset #18 Louisville 1-0 in the BIG EAST Championship game at Ivy Field. The title is the third in the five years of the Deanna Gumpf era for the Fighting Irish.
The victory, which followed a 5-0 semifinal win over Pittsburgh earlier in the day, provided Notre Dame with an automatic bid to the NCAA Championship. Due to the numerous rain delays over the weekend, the BIG EAST Championship game was pushed back to 3:00 p.m. – and the NCAA selections were scheduled to be announced at 3:30 p.m.
The Irish actually found out before they won the league title that they would be heading to Evanston, Ill., for a matchup with UC Santa Barbara. Northwestern, the fourth overall seed in the tournament, and Southern Illinois make up the other side of the four-team double-elimination regional. Game times have not yet been announced, but the contests will be on Friday, May 19, though Sunday, May 20.
Notre Dame’s drive to the BIG EAST Championship on Sunday was led from the front by senior righthander Heather Booth. The BIG EAST Tournament Most Outstanding Player, Booth finished the tournament 3-0 with a 0.33 ERA and allowed just two hits – one each – to Pittsburgh and Louisville on Sunday.
The Riverside, Calif., native was so dominating on Sunday that not a single Pittsburgh or Louisville batter so much as touched second base in either contest.
Booth ended up allowing just one run in the tournament – a first-inning home run by Providence’s Sam Pittman on Saturday. She would follow that big hit with 20 innings of shutout softball, allowing a grand total of seven hits. Her bid for two no-hitters on Sunday was spoiled by a single with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning against Pittsburgh and a bloop infield hit by Louisville.
Notre Dame’s offensive star of the tournament was senior catcher Mallorie Lenn. After hitting a two-run home run in game one against Providence, Lenn followed up on Sunday with three hits – including an RBI push-bunt single that drove in the only run of the championship game.
Notre Dame claims the program’s fifth BIG EAST Championship with the victory over Louisville, who falls short in its bid to sweep both the league’s regular-season and tournament titles. The BIG EAST Championship is the third for the Irish under head coach Deanna Gumpf, who took over the program in 2002.
Booth becomes the fifth Irish player to earn the tournament’s most outstanding player award, joining two-time awardwinner Andrea Loman (2002, ’03), along with Melanie Alkire (2000) and Jennifer Sharron (1999).
The thrilling victory caps a bizarre weekend for the Irish and all the teams in the BIG EAST Championship. Set to be played at the Belleville Complex in South Bend, Ind., an unrelenting rainstorm that spanned three days (Wednesday, Thursday and Friday) forced the tournament to Ivy Field – and the Notre Dame grounds crew came through.
With some furious work on what was most likely scheduled as a weekend off for the Ivy Field crew, the home of the Fighting Irish was returned to playable status for one game on Friday, three on Saturday and three on Sunday. At the same time, the rest of the Notre Dame Athletics Department – hosting NCAA tennis and lacrosse tournaments – rallied together to put on a tournament they were not planning to host.
The Irish also claim their eighth consecutive trip to the NCAA Championship on Sunday – extending the program’s record streak. In a strange twist, the Irish will continue to make appearances at a Big Ten conference-member sites exclusively while away from Ivy Field. Notre Dame has appeared at Indiana (1994), Iowa (2001-02) and Michigan (1995-96, 1999-2000, 2003-04), but played host to its first regional last year on campus.
Notre Dame ran itself out of a scoring opportunity in the top of the first inning against Pittsburgh. The visitor in the game due to the tournament rules, the Irish loaded the bases with one out against Pittsburgh starting pitcher Laura Belardinelli. The Panthers escaped, however, with a ground out back to the pitcher and ground ball to shortstop.
The Irish were finally able to force Belardinelli out of the game in the top of the third on three consecutive hits. With one out, senior Sara Schoonaert doubled off the leftfield wall – just missing her first career home run. She moved to third on a single to rightfield by Lenn.
Pittsburgh attempted to throw behind Lenn after she rounded first base. The Irish catcher dove back into the first base bag and was struck by the throw from Pittsburgh rightfielder Jessica Thomas. The ball bounced away and Schoonaert jumped at the opportunity to turn around third base and score.
A close play at the plate was dropped by Pittsburgh catcher Heather Connor, allowing Lenn to advance to second base. She would eventually score on an RBI double from senior Meagan Ruthrauff.
Notre Dame tacked on three more runs in the sixth inning on RBI ground balls, but you could hardly call them `insurance’ runs with the way Booth was pitching on Sunday. Picking up the Irish and putting them on her back, the senior never wavered during the two games played on Sunday. Against Pittsburgh, no Panther batter advanced past first base (four walks and a single). The no hitter was broken up with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning by UP’s Jessica Dignon.
Notre Dame scored early in this contest to give Booth a quick lead. Junior Stephanie Brown led off with a double down the leftfield line. Schoonaert walked to put runners on first and second.
Lenn was due up and she surprised the Louisville defense by pushing a bunt past charging pitcher Kady Garrick. Brown never stopped around third and scored on the bunt single from second base.
Two pop ups and a caught stealing ended the inning for Notre Dame, but Booth was spotted all the runs she would need. Even more overpowering than the first game against Pittsburgh, Booth would end up allowing just two Cardinal baserunners.
The lone hit of the game for Louisville was was by Candi Hicks in the bottom of the fourth inning. Hicks blooped a hit behind Booth in the pitcher’s circle. Schoonaert hustled out of her position in the left side hole and dove to make the catch. Stretched out as far as she could reach, Schoonaert did get a glove on the ball but it squirted loose when she hit the infield.
The only other baserunner for Louisville in the game would be Sarah Totten, who reached on a two-out walk in the fifth inning.
Booth would end up striking out seven and walking just the one batter for the second one-hitter of the day delivered by the senior righthander.
Notre Dame did chase Garrick from the game with back-to-back one-out singles in the fourth inning. BIG EAST Pitcher of the Year Catherine Bishop entered the game and shut down the Irish from that point forward, striking out six of the batters she faced without allowing a hit.