April 23, 2002
The University of Notre Dame softball team earned their biggest victory of the season with a 3-2 come-from-behind victory over #4 Nebraska in Lincoln on Tuesday evening. The Irish improve to 27-13 on the season knock off the highest-ranked opponent in the program’s history.
Freshman Liz Hartmann was the hero of the day for the Irish, drilling a three-run home run in the top of the seventh to provide the winning margin. Irish starting pitcher Steffany Stenglein, the reigning BIG EAST Pitcher of the Week, survived a one-run seventh inning to get her 17th victory of the season.
It ends up as a great return to her alma mater for first-year Notre Dame head coach Deanna Gumpf. A 1992 Nebraska graduate, she gets the biggest victory of her career to date in the same town in which she pitched and played first base.
Stenglein looked strong early in the first inning, retiring the first two batters with a strikeout and routine fly ball. She would end up making a mistake pitch to Nebraska’s Amanda Bucholz, and the Cornhusker shortstop crushed the ball over the scoreboard in leftfield to put her team up 1-0. Nicole Trimboli popped out to end the inning.
Nebraska starting pitcher Peaches James, who entered the game with an 18-5 record, kept the Irish offense under control during her first trip through the lineup. Jarrah Myers and Carrie Wisen touched James for two possible hits, but the solid Cornhusker defense backed up their pitcher.
Second base Leigh Suhr grabbed a Myers hit destined for leftfield, while Nebraska rightfielder Anne Steffan robbed Wisen of a double, making an over the shoulder catch at the wall.
Alexis Madrid was the only Notre Dame batter able to post a hit in the first three innings, knocking a two-out single through the right side in the bottom of the third. James retired Kriech on a routine groundout to second base to end the inning.
The Irish defense helped out Stenglein in the fifth. After James reached on a pop-single down the rightfield line that just dropped in fair territory, Stenglein got Suhr to foul out to Loman at third base. Steffan followed by attempting to move James to second on a sacrifice bunt, but Loman jumped on the ball and threw to second to force out the advancing runner. Roethemeyer popped out to end the inning.
The Irish rallied to get a scoring chance in the top of the sixth. With one out, Madrid popped a single into short rightfield for her second hit of the game. Kriech and Ciolli followed with two great at bats, dropping singles into left and rightfield, respectively.
James moved a step closer to getting out of the jam when she induced Loman to pop up back to the circle on the first pitch. Nebraska escaped further damage when Myers bounced a high ground ball to first base to end the inning.
Stenglein kept the Husker off the board until the Irish faced their final three at bats. The seventh inning of the contest featured just about all the drama you could desire in a close softball game.
Bledsoe led off for Notre Dame and hit an apparent double down the rightfield line. NU’s Steffan made a diving attempt at the ball and the first base umpire ended up calling the ball foul, though television replays showed it fell about one foot fair.
Bledsoe eventually was sent back to the batters box, but she came through with a single through the left side. Lisa Mattison stepped in next and bounced a ground ball to third base. The throw was dropped by the Cornhusker first base and skidded towards the Nebraska dugout. Bledsoe ended up on third, while Nicole deFau came in to run for Mattison. Gumpf engaged in a heated discussion with the umpires after the error, as the Irish coach wanted deFau at second base due to the ball ending up on the lip of the dugout. The umpires did not change the call, though a few pitches later the point would be moot.
With runners on the corners, Notre Dame’s top clutch hitter, Liz Hartmann stepped in. Seemingly able to come through in any clutch situation, Hartmann delivered once again with a line drive home run over the leftfield wall. It is the freshman’s first career home run and she expands the Notre Dame school record to 10 different Irish players with a homer this season.
Nebraska would not go quietly in the bottom of the inning. Amber Burgess doubled off the wall in leftfield to get in scoring positon. James followed with a line shot to Kriech in centerfield. The Irish co-captain made a diving attempt, but the ball ricocheted off her glove for a double and RBI.
Stenglein settled down and refused to let the game get away from her. She induced a two ground outs and struck out Anne Steffan to end the game and grab the biggest victory of her young career.