Feb. 28, 2004
The University of Notre Dame softball team (7-4) earned a notable victory over #24/24 CS Fullerton 5-4 in eight innings at the NFCA Leadoff Classic in Columbus, Ga., on Saturday afternoon. The win propels the Irish into the Silver Bracket at the tournament with a 2-1 record out of their pool. The victory also sent CS Fullerton, who knocked off #6/6 Georgia Friday evening 4-3, into the Bronze Bracket.
Notre Dame’s advancement to the Silver Bracket at the tournament marks the best beginning to the NFCA Leadoff Classic the Irish have enjoyed since 1998 (when the team started 3-0). Notre Dame will face Princeton at 6:30 p.m. on Field Two at the complex.
The lead in the game changed hands three times before Sara Schoonaert scored on a passed ball in the top of the eighth to secure the victory for Notre Dame. Heather Booth turned in a great pitching performance, going all the way for her fourth win of the season and posting a career-best 11 strikeouts. Nicole Wicks and Stephanie Brown both hit home runs for the Irish as well.
CS Fullerton, fresh off its 4-3 upset of #6/6 Georgia on Friday evening, struck first when Julie Watson led off the bottom of the first with a bloop hit to centerfield (on which Stephanie Brown almost made a great over-the-shoulder catch). Watson stole second and moved to third on a ground out to second. Irish starting pitcher Heather Booth seemed to get out of a jam when Candice Baker lifted a routine pop up to Meagan Ruthrauff at first base. Ruthrauff was camped under the ball, ready to make the play, but Brown moved over from second base and interfered with the catch. The ball fell to the ground and the run scored – putting the Irish down 1-0 after the first inning.
The Irish tied up the game with a big hit from an unexpected source in the bottom of the third. Junior Nicole Wicks earned her first career hit for the Irish, belting a two-out solo home run down the leftfield line. Freshman Stephanie Brown followed up with a solo shot to left-centerfield and suddenly the Irish, who had looked asleep over the first two innings – had awakened to flash their home run power.
Notre Dame’s defense put the team in a jam once again in the bottom of the third. Brooke Weekley snuck a base hit through the left side, just under a diving Schoonaert (who would not have had a throw to first). Watson then attempted to move her over with a sacrifice bunt. She got the bunt down, it was fielded by Liz Hartmann, but Brown dropped the throw at first base and it skittered away to the fence. Suddenly, Weekley was at second and Watson at third with no outs.
Booth took two steps toward getting out of the predicament, striking out Monica Tantlinger and getting Lindsay Bashor to pop up to second base. Clean up hitter Baker stepped in and made the Irish pay, drilling a two-RBI single to leftfield and vault CS Fullerton back into the lead 3-2.
Notre Dame put together a little execution to compile a scoring opportunity in the top of the fifth. Wicks drew a walk, then played a hit and run with Brown in the lead off spot. Brown bounced a ball to shortstop, which Wicks would have been forced out with, but was going to beat any throw. Brown hustled down the line to be safe at first and the Irish were in business with two on and no outs.
After a passed ball put the runners on second and third, Wheeler recovered just a bit to get Schoonaert to ground out at second base (the runners could not advance). Ciolli stepped in next and drilled a ground ball to short. Wicks, alert on the play, broke for home and scored easily as Ciolli was thrown out at first – logging the RBI which tied up the game 3-3.
Brown was still on third and would score after a pitching change, as CS Fullerton turned to Baker in the circle. Ruthrauff delivered her third RBI of the tournament with a single through the left side, as Brown crossed the plate to put the Irish ahead 4-3.
The lead would not last long, however, as the Titans came back to get their fourth run of the contest in the bottom of the fifth. Watson led off with a single, moved to second on a ground out and scored on an RBI single from Jody Campbell. Booth struck out Baker and Hoff swinging to keep the scored tied at 4-4 entering the sixth.
Notre Dame could not muster a hit in the top of the sixth, going down in order for the first time since the second inning. Booth entered the circle in the bottom of the inning needing to keep the Titans off the board and give her offense a chance to get a run in the top of the seventh.
Step one was achieved when Wheeler grounded out to shortstop. Step two came via a routine fly ball to centerfield. Step three and a trip to the seventh inning was earned when Booth struck out Hughes looking.
Unfortunately, Notre Dame could not muster any offense of its own in the top of the seventh, as Wicks, Brown and Schoonaert were retired in order.
Booth returned to the circle approaching the 100-pitch mark (94) once again looking for those three easy steps to the next inning.
Watson, who the Irish failed to retire the whole game, led off with a bloop single over first base to get on for CS Fullerton. Watson soon moved into scoring position when Tantlinger grounded out behind the pitching circle.
Booth moved to two outs in the inning with a strike out of Bashor – needing just four pitches. She also came right back to sit down Baker swinging, posting her ninth strike out of the game.
The game turned to the international tie breaking rule – putting the last batter from the previous inning on second base. In Notre Dame’s case to being the eighth, that runner would be Sara Schoonaert.
Ciolli led off for Notre Dame and immediately sacrificed Schoonaert to third base. It turned out to be a great move, as CS Fullerton committed a passed ball which allowed Schoonaert to score the go-ahead run. Ruthrauff struck out and Hartmann lined out to end the inning.
Baker began the bottom of the eighth on second base for CS Fullerton. Booth got the first out, and her third straight strike out, by getting Campbell swinging. After a ground out to second base, Booth struck out the final batter of the game to earn the Irish a big victory, her fifth complete game of the season and lower her season ERA to 1.87 (three of CS Fullerton’s four runs were unearned).
NOTES: Notre Dame debuted a new batting order against the Titans in an attempt to kick start an offense that managed just five hits on the first day of action during the NFCA Leadoff Classic … Brown moved to the lead off spot, followed by Schoonaert, Ciolli, Ruthrauff, Hartmann, Lenn, deFau, Wisen (dp), Wicks and Booth … Nicole Wicks (a transfer from Washington) was 0-8 with the Irish before her home run in the third inning … Wicks has replaced injured Kellie Middleton in the Irish line up, and links herself with the Norcross, Ga., native by notching her first hit with the Irish as a home run … Middleton’s first collegiate hit was a three-run home run during the USF/Wilson Classic last season … Notre Dame’s first five runs of the tournament (2-1 vs. NW State, 1-7 vs. #6/6 Georgia, 2-1 vs. #24/24 CS Fullerton) all came on home runs.