May 22, 2004
The University of Notre Dame softball team (49-19) dropped its third-straight game to #6 Michigan, and second contest of the season, 1-0 at the NCAA Region VI Tournament in Ann Arbor, Mich.
The Wolverines scored on a bases loaded ground out for their lone run of the game, while Notre Dame saw the tying run thrown out at the plate in the sixth inning and a possible tying run stranded at second in the top of the seventh.
Nicole Motycka picked up the win with six innings of solid work, allowing four hits and striking out four. Jennie Ritter, who tossed a no-hitter against the Irish earlier this season, closed out the game for her second save of the season. After a lead off double by Liz Hartmann to lead off the seventh inning for Notre Dame, Ritter entered the game and struck out the side to end the contest.
Sophomore catcher Mallorie Lenn starred both offensively and defensively for the Irish, going two for three at the plate, throwing out an attempted base stealer and posting a crucial pick off at third base. Lenn also had the big hit for Notre Dame, a two-out single into the gap in right-centerfield in the top of the sixth inning. Junior Megan Ciolli attempted to score on the play from first after the Wolverines were slow to retrieve the ball, but the Irish centerfielder was thrown out at the plate.
The Irish will move on to immediately face UIC (with whom Notre Dame split two games with this season) as the tournament continues. Notre Dame faces a daunting task in the rest of the tournament, as the Irish might have to play three games on Saturday. A win over UIC would put Notre Dame against the winner of DePaul – Tennessee contest either late Saturday or fist thing in the morning on Sunday.
Michigan committed two errors in the top of the first inning, but the Irish could not capitalize. Nicole deFau reached with one out on a fielding error by UM’s Tiffany Haas and one out later Mallorie Lenn was safe at first on a low throw by Michigan third base Grace Leutele. Liz Hartmann popped out to shortstop to end the inning and the Irish scoring threat.
The first inning started off ominously for the Irish when third plate umpire Pete Grebner called a mysterious illegal pitch on a 3-1 offering to Michigan lead off hitter Haas. The pitch was recorded as ball four (Haas had actually hit the pitch into a routine ground out to second base).
Meghan Doe then made matters worse by lining the first pitch down the rightfield line for a single, putting runners at first and second.
Michigan starting pitcher Nicole Motycka made two unsuccessful attempts at a bunt before grounding back to Stenglein in the circle, allowing the Irish pitcher to get the lead runner at third. Jessica Merchant followed with the same play, grounding back to the pitcher and allowing the lead runner to be forced out once again at third. Stenglein induced a pop out by Jennifer Olds to end the inning.
Stenglein found herself in trouble once again in the bottom of the fourth when she struck Olds with the first pitch of the inning. Olds was eventually forced out at second, but UM catcher Monica Shock blooped a single into leftfield to place runners at first and second. The situation intensified when Stenglein hit Leutele with a 1-2 offering to load the bases with one out for Angie Churchill.
Churchill drove in the first and only run of the game with a fielder’s choice ground out to second base. Notre Dame’s Stephanie Brown made a great play on the ball with the infield playing in. Brown smothered the hit bound for centerfield and tossed to Schoonaert at second base for the second out of the inning. The great defense play saved a run for the Irish. Another solid defensive play posted the third out for Notre Dame. With runners on the corners, Michigan called for a steal from second – looking for the Irish to throw to second, allowing the runner from third to break for home.
Lenn jumped from behind the plate to fake the throw to second while the Wolverine runner on third wandered too far off the base. Lenn made a great throw to Hartmann and the Irish third base easily put the tag down for the third out of the inning on a pick off.
While the Irish defense was keeping the sixth-ranked team in the nation at bay, the Notre Dame offense was able to do nothing with Motycka for the first five innings. Swinging early in the count, Notre Dame did hit pitches hard – but most of those offerings ended up directly at Wolverine fielders. After the fifth inning, Notre Dame had played 12 innings of offense against Michigan in 2004 and posted just one hit.
Ciolli changed that in the top of the sixth with a two out single. Lenn followed up with a single to the gap in right-centerfield. The Wolverines were a tad slow getting to ball, with a bit of indecision between the centerfield and rightfielder on who should pick up the ball. Ciolli was sent home around third base, UM’s Doe picked up the ball and made a great throw to the plate. Ciolli ended up out by four steps for the final out of the inning – and perhaps Notre Dame’s final chance to tie the game.
With renewed momentum, Michigan came back in the bottom of the sixth to put a game-killing insurance run on second base. Merchant doubled to the wall in left-centerfield to reach second base with one out.
Lenn, playing a fantastic offensive and defensive game, posted the second out for Notre Dame on a foul out to the backstop by Olds. Schock flied out to leftfield for the third out of the inning.
The Irish, facing their final chance to score in the top of the seventh, would send Hartmann, Ruthrauff and Wicks into the batter’s box.
On the first pitch, Hartmann crushed a double into the gap in right-centerfield. Michigan immediately called on Jenny Ritter (the pitcher who tossed a no hitter vs. Notre Dame earlier in the season) for relief.
Ruthrauff struck out on a 3-2 pitch for the first out of the inning. Ritter kept the pressure on by striking out Wicks on three pitches. Jaquish followed by striking out looking to give Ritter the huge save and send Michigan into the winner’s bracket final against Oregon State.