May 17, 2003
The University of Notre Dame softball team ended its 2003 season on Saturday with a 5-3 loss to Michigan (46-17) in the NCAA Region VII Tournament. The Irish end the season with a 38-17 record, while the Wolverines move on to meet the winner of DePaul – California at 5 p.m. on Saturday.
The Notre Dame – Michigan match up began as an offensive display, but reverted to a pitching duel over the last five innings.
Michigan took advantage of two Notre Dame errors to lead off the bottom of the second, as Melinda Moulden slammed a three-run home run to put the host team up three runs. The Irish answered right back with their own three-run shot, but sophomore Liz Hartmann.
The Wolverines manufactured two runs in the bottom of the second, and that lead would hold for the rest of the contest. Michigan starting pitcher Marissa Young sat down the last 17 batters she faced, and ended the game with 14 strike outs, four hits and three earned runs.
Heather Booth continued to establish herself as one of the best young pitchers in the country, throwing a complete-game six-hitter for the Irish. Two of the five runs she surrendered were unearned and she struck out three. Booth ended up working 23 innings over the three days of the tournament.
The Irish were the visiting team for the third time in the regional and came through with a scoring opportunity in the first inning. Megan Ciolli slapped single to centerfield to lead off and eventually stole second, but Alexis Madrid struck out, Andrea Loman flew out and Andria Bledsoe struck out to strand the lead off hitter at second base.
Notre Dame’s defense immediately fell apart in the bottom of the second inning. Tiffany Haas led off for Michigan and reached base when Loman’s rushed throw to first forced Lisa Mattison off the bag. Meghan Doe followed by laying down a sacrifice bunt that Booth fielded cleanly, but threw wide of the bag at first for yet another error. Haas scrambled around to third on the play to put runners on the corners with no outs and the Wolverines had yet to register a hit.
Doe quickly stole second base to get in scoring position, though it was unnecessary when Melinda Moulden crushed her ninth home run of the season to leftfield to give the host team a sudden 3-0 lead. Two fly outs and a strike out from Booth ended the tough first inning for Notre Dame.
The Irish were able to get the lead off runner on board in the second inning when Lisa Mattison led off with a single up the middle and was replaced by pinch runner Sara Schoonaert. Michigan starting pitcher Marissa Young came back to get Megan Ruthrauff swinging on four pitches for the first out of the inning. Mallorie Lenn was due next and drew a four pitch walk to put two runners on for Liz Hartmann.
After throwing the first pitch out of the zone again the Michigan coaching staff went out to have a quick talk with Young. Her next pitch ended up out of the park, however, as Hartmann jumped all over the offering for a three-run shot to leftfield to tie up the ballgame.
Nicole deFau continued the hit streak for Notre Dame, dropping a double into left-centerfield. Megan Ciolli, who has struggled through the entire regional, struck out swinging next to get to two outs. Madrid bounced out to the pitcher to end the comeback inning for Notre Dame.
Michigan came back to lead off the bottom of the second with a double to left-centerfield by Jessica Merchant. Jennifer Olds then killed a bunt right in front of the plate for an infield single to put runners at the corners. The game had suddenly become a hit festival.
Booth recovered initially to get Grace Leutele swinging on a 2-2 pitch for one out. Michigan was back to the top of their order with Haas. Haas worked the count to 2-2 before slamming a hanging change up through the middle of the Notre Dame defense for an RBI single. Doe slapped a ground ball to Bledsoe at short stop, who flipped calmly to Loman at third to get the lead runner on the force play.
It was clear, however, that Booth was tiring. Moulden laced a single to centerfield for her fourth RBI of the game to put the Wolverines ahead 5-3. The inning ended when Young grounded out to short stop.
Young came back focused and much stronger for Michigan in the top of the third. She struck out the side, getting Loman and Bledsoe looking and sitting down Mattison swinging.
Booth continued for Notre Dame in the third inning, beginning her 20th inning of the tournament for the Irish. After each inning on Saturday, Booth, Lenn and Irish head coach Deanna Gumpf met going back into the dugout to make sure the rookie could continue. She dug deep to work her first one-two-three inning of the game, getting a fly out and two ground outs to third.
Young worked another perfect inning in the top of the fourth, though both Lenn and Hartmann ended up driving the ball to the warning track.
Notre Dame stayed with Booth for the fourth inning as well. She got the first two outs of the inning on ground balls to third and a screaming liner to Bledsoe at short stop. Haas then reached base for the third time in the game by drilling a double into the right-centerfield gap. Yet another ground ball to third base, the fourth in the last two innings, ended the inning to strand Haas at second.
The Irish offense had become completely stalled. DeFau struck out, Ciolli touched her own bunt for the second out and Madrid struck out looking to end the inning. The two strike outs in the inning gave Young her third-straight perfect inning and her ninth strike out of the game.
Booth struck Moulden with the first pitch of the bottom of the fifth to put the lead runner on for the third time in the game. Young moved her over with a perfect sacrifice bunt to first base. Pinch hitter Lisa Mack popped up to first base to get Booth to two outs in the inning. Heather “The Battler” Booth escaped yet again with the fifth ground ball out to third base.
Young entered the sixth inning for Michigan having retired the last 11 Irish batters in a row. She pushed the streak to 12 when Loman was robbed of an extra-base hit. Wolverine rigthfielder Courtney Betley lept up and snow coned a screamer down the rightfield line. The streak built to 13 when Young struck out Bledsoe swinging. Another Mattison strike out sat down the 14th Irish batter in a row.
Booth logged her 23rd inning of action in three days by entering the circle in the bottom of the sixth. She left it all out on the field for Notre Dame, getting a one-two-three inning to put Notre Dame in for their last at bat.
Young made sure there would be no comeback by the Irish, striking out the side to end the game and Notre Dame’s season.