April 17, 2005
STORRS, Conn. – The University of Notre Dame softball team (29-8) improved its BIG EAST Conference record to 8-0 and its win streak to 19 games with a doubleheader sweep at Connecticut (14-22, 4-10) on Sunday afternoon. The Irish won game one 2-0, then finished off the sweep with a 3-2, eight-inning victory in game two.
Notre Dame’s 2005 BIG EAST Conference season is developing a different pattern than the team has followed over the last few seasons. The Irish have put huge offensive numbers scoreboard in conference play previously, but this year the team’s pitching staff is carrying the load – and Sunday was a perfect example of the team’s new pattern.
Senior Steffany Stenglein continued her weekend domination in game one against Connecticut. After striking out a career-best 15 in a complete-game one-hit performance at Providence on Saturday, Stenglein came back with 14 strikeouts in another complete-game victory on Sunday in game one against UConn.
Stenglein picked up her fifth conference victory of the season, as the Irish righthander has allowed just two earned runs in league play this season. Her final stat line f ended up at seven innings pitched, four hits, 14 strikeouts, no walks and two hit by pitch.
While Stenglein kept Connecticut from mounting any serious threat in game one, the Irish were having a tough time dealing with Connecticut’s Jessica Gurney. Forced into full-time duty for the Huskies due to a rash of injuries on the pitching staff, Gurney would end up throwing all 15 innings for the Huskies on Sunday – and holding the Irish to just five runs in the gutsy performances.
But one Irish hitter showed an ability to touch Gurney when needed. In her first at bat of the day in the top of the second inning, freshman Katie Laing drilled a line-drive home run down the leftfield line to put the Irish ahead to stay. The big hit was Laing’s second BIG EAST home run of the season and the rookie second basemen is currently leading the team in conference hitting with a .400 average.
Notre Dame added an insurance run in the third inning when junior Mallorie Lenn singled to leftfield and was replaced by pinch runner freshman Sarah Smith. Junior Sara Schoonaert moved Smith into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt and junior Kellie Middleton plated Smith with an RBI single up the middle.
Laing ended up as the hero in game two as well. She would double and score Notre Dame’s second run of the game, but no hit was bigger than her RBI double in the top of the eighth inning.
Notre Dame struck first in game two when sophomore Stephanie Brown led off with a double down the leftfield line and scored on an RBI double into the right-centerfield gap by senior Megan Ciolli.
Junior Heather Booth took the mound for the Irish in game two and cruised through the first three innings, striking out six UConn batters, including five in a row during the first and second innings.
She made one mistake pitch, however, which UConn lead off hitter Mandy Schettini drilled over the centerfield wall for a solo home run to start the fourth inning. Booth would settle back down, however, and retire Connecticut in order in the fifth and sixth innings before the home team would rally in the bottom of the seventh.
Jessica Quan led off with an infield single and was sacrificed to second base. Booth fielded a ground out to move one out away from the victory, but UConn’s Christine Keeton hit a double down the leftfield line to tie up the game. A line out to first base ended the scoring threat, but UConn had seemingly taken hold of the game’s momentum with the big two-out hit.
If there was a change in momentum, the Irish certainly did not feel it. Middleton led off the top of the eighth with a ground out, but All-American Ciolli was due next and when Notre Dame’s team captain needed to make a play – she delivered.
Laying down a perfect bunt, Ciolli beat a wild throw at first by Keeton – a throw that ended up down the rightfield line and allowed Ciolli to reach second base.
Meagan Ruthrauff fouled out, but Laing was due next and she came through in the clutch once again, golfing a double into centerfield for the game-winning RBI.
Booth slammed the door with strikeout, pop out and ground out in the bottom of the eighth to earn her 14th victory of the season.
Notre Dame will be back in action on Tuesday, April 19, with a key regional doubleheader at DePaul. The doubleheader is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m.