March 25, 2003

2003 home schedule begins Wednesday against #24 Northwestern:

The 2003 University of Notre Dame softball team begins the home portion of its schedule this afternoon with a doubleheader against #24 Northwestern. The Irish are 10-9 on the season and coming off a doubleheader sweep at Western Michigan on Saturday.

New and improved live stats debut on Wednesday: Live statistics for Notre Dame softball have been available for the past two seasons, but the Official College Sports Network has taken a leap forward with a new improved design this season.

With the new format, the statistics update quicker and the graphics offered include the opposing defense, runners on base, play by play and complete updated box score statistics. To get to the live statistics page, just go to the main page at, look for the appropriate softball game on the right side and click on ‘Game Tracker.’

Notre Dame softball will be offering live audio later this season as well. All details for picking up the games via live audio will be released when the plans are finalized.

2003 season quick recap:

Notre Dame has faced one of the most challenging schedules in the nation this year. Seven of its first 15 opponents have been ranked in the top 25 this season. Taking on the 24th-ranked (as of March 18) Wildcats this afternoon pushes that total to nine ranked teams faced so far in 2003.

Three players have stepped up to lead the team consistently on offense this year. Senior third base Andrea Loman leads the team with 11 RBI and is currently hitting .349. Loman also leads the team with five stolen bases and has hit two home runs this season.

Freshman Meagan Ruthrauff has hit the ball well so far in her rookie season. The starting designated player for the Irish, Ruthrauff has been among the team leaders in batting average and is currently tied with Loman for the team lead (.349). Ruthrauff leads the team with seven doubles and has posted 10 RBI. Her flexibility defensively has helped Notre Dame this season as well. Ruthrauff has seen action at both third base, short stop and first base.

Sophomore Megan Ciolli has 14 hits over the last nine games to raise her average to .349 from .249. As the Irish lead off hitter, Ciolli is among the team leaders in runs scored with 11.

In the pitching circle, freshman Heather Booth has been the most consistent performer so far in 2003.

Booth has a solo shut out and combined shut out to her credit this season and has posted two one-hit performances. She leads the team with 53 strike outs (in 58.1 IP) and is currently 7-4.

Sophomore Steffany Stenglein is still looking to catch her groove this season. Notre Dame’s staff ace was forced to sit out the fall season with an injury and is just now beginning to find the form that made her a first-team all-BIG EAST selection a year ago. Stenglein is 3-3 on the season with a 4.54 ERA.

Carrie Wisen has seen 15.2 innings of relief this season and also serves as one of the top pinch hitters on the team (three for 10 in plate appearances this season). Wisen picked up her first save of the year on Sunday at Western Michigan.

Senior Jessica Sharron is starting to see increased relief time as well. Sharron threw two solid innings against Western Michigan on Sunday to combine with Booth for the shut out.

Northwestern doubleheader preview and series history:

Notre Dame and Northwestern will be meeting for the seventh and eighth time this afternoon. This is the first meeting since 1997 between the two teams and the Irish lead the series 4-2. Notre Dame has won the last four meetings, including a 7-6 eight-inning battle on April 15, 1997.

Northwestern is 13-6 this season and was ranked 24th in the Softball top 25 on March 18.

Senior Brett Nakabayashi is the key to the Wildcat offense this season. Nakabayashi leads the team with a .400 batting average and 26 hits in 65 plate appearances. She has scored 13 runs and has six RBI.

Northwestern’s RBI producers are junior infielder Carri Leto (.306, 10 RBI) and senior infielder Cindy Muran (.216, 10 RBI).

In the pitching circle, freshman Courtnay Foster has put up some very impressive numbers this season. The rookie from Tucson, Ariz., has a 0.79 ERA, 7-4 record and 92 strike outs in 70.2 IP. She has given up just eight earned runs this season.

Northwestern has put up a number of impressive victories this season, including wins over Washington, Massachusetts and California.

Notre Dame hopes to kick-start the season during the next several weeks:

The Irish are hoping to follow a pattern established last season. Notre Dame returned from Spring Break last year with an 8-12 record, but rebounded to win 36 of its final 41 games and finish one game away from the Women’s College World Series. The Irish also won 14 games in a row after coming back to the Midwest after break in 2002.

This season, Notre Dame brought an 8-9 record into competition after Spring Break. It has already taken a step forward with an impressive doubleheader sweep at Western Michigan (8-5, 8-0) on Sunday.

The Irish begin BIG EAST Conference competition on Saturday, March 29, at Pittsburgh. Notre Dame also will face last season’s BIG EAST runner up, Virginia Tech, in Blacksburg on March 30.