May 21, 2005
The University of Notre Dame softball team (46-13) moved one win away from the program’s first regional title and a spot in the NCAA Super Regional with a 3-2 victory over #19/18 Northwestern (39-16) in the second round of the NCAA Region No. 9 at Ivy Field on Saturday afternoon. The Irish will need to be defeated twice on Sunday, by an opponent to be determined later on Saturday, for the regional title.
Notre Dame jumped out to a 3-0 victory in the game before holding off a Northwestern two-run rally in the bottom of the seventh inning. Senior Megan Ciolli’s solo home in the top of the sixth inning proved to be the game winner.
“It is a great position to be in,” Irish head coach Deanna Gumpf said after the victory.
“(Our team) played their hearts out today and Northwestern is a very good team. We couldn’t take them lightly and we came out prepared.”
Notre Dame’s definitive star in the game was junior starting pitcher Heather Booth. She shut down Northwestern’s potent offense, allowing six hits, two earned runs and striking out six. Her victory was the second of the tournament after winning game one on Friday against Louisville in relief. She is now 22-7 on the season.
On offense, the Irish were led by Ciolli (one for three with her home run and two runs scored) and junior Mallorie Lenn with a key RBI double off the top of the outfield wall in the fourth inning. Sophomore Stephanie Brown also was two for four at the top of the Notre Dame lineup.
As mentioned, the Irish will face a to-be-determined opponent on Sunday at 12 noon for the regional title. No matter which team (Louisville, Albany or Northwestern) advances, it will have to defeat the Irish twice. Louisivlle and Albany are currently meeting in the first elimination game, with the winner of that contest taking on Northwestern in another elimination game at approximately 5:30 p.m. on Saturday evening.
Notre Dame utilized a combination of solid pitching and timely hitting to build their three-run lead. The first run was scored in the first inning when sophomore Brown led off with a single. Junior Kellie Middleton joined her on base with a walk and Ciolli moved both runners into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt.
Junior Meagan Ruthrauff was due next and she hit the ball hard – but straight to Northwestern shortstop Stephanie Churchwell. She made a clean pick up of the play and threw home to Jamie Dotson, who applied the tag on Brown for the second out of the inning.
Middleton moved up to third on the play, however, and that would prove key when Dotson committed a passed ball. Middleton easily scored on the play and the Irish took an early 1-0 lead.
Booth made the lead hold up through out the game only getting in trouble twice before the seventh inning. Northwestern put runners at first and second in the first inning, but a strikeout and fly ball ended the threat. In the third inning, Northwestern put the lead off runner on with a single and stole second base. Booth responded by striking out the top two hitters in the Wildcat order before issuing a walk. With runners on first and second, she struck out Kristen Amegin to end the inning.
The Irish tacked a run on their lead in the third inning when Ciolli reached on a fielding error by Northwestern second base Kelly Odell. Ruthrauff moved her over with a sacrifice bunt and she moved to third base on a ground out by senior Carrie Wisen.
Freshman Katie Laing came through with a great at bat, drawing a walk to bring up Lenn. Hitting away on the fist pitch, Lenn drilled a ball to leftfield that just missed clearing the outfield wall by one foot. Ciolli easily cruised home on the big hit, but Northwestern executed a perfect relay to gun down Laing at the plate.
As Booth continued to keep Northwestern off the board, Ciolli provided what would be the biggest hit of the game with a lead off solo home run in the top of the sixth inning. The third home run of the season (and 12th of her great career), the big hit just cleared the wall in straight away centerfield.
That run would prove to be the game winner after Northwestern compiled a two-run rally in the seventh inning. With one out, Sheila McCorkle singled up the middle. She moved to second on a wild pitch, which was followed by a walk to Kelly Odell.
Pinch hitter Megan Hinck stepped in for Northwestern and bounced a ball into the left side of the Irish defense. Junior Sara Schoonaert was able to field the ball, but could not make a throw from deep in the left side hole.
Now with the bases loaded and one out, Katie Logan lifted a short pop fly into rightfield, just out of the reach of Notre Dame’s Katie Laing. One run scored on the play and the bases remained loaded for Churchwell.
Booth moved one out away from ending the inning when Churchwell popped up in foul territory. Erin Mobley put more pressure on the Irish defense with yet another infield single to the left side. This time, senior Liz Hartmann made a diving stab at the ball and kept it in the infield (possibly keeping the Irish lead to one run) but could not throw to first.
The game finally ended with the Irish victorious when Garland Cooper flied out routinely to Ciolli in centerfield.
Notre Dame’s regional victory in its second game marks just the second time in the program’s history that the team has won its first two NCAA post season games … the 2001 team defeated Western Illinois and Illinois State … that regional was under the old regional format (eight teams at a region) before the NCAA moved to the four-team regional sites this year … Megan Ciolli’s home run in the sixth inning (the game winning hit) was also her 100th career RBI, becoming the third ND player to reach that milestone this season (Liz Hartmann, Meagan Ruthrauff) … Ciolli, Notre Dame’s all-time hits and stolen base leader, becomes the 10th Irish player to drive in 100 runs in a career … Ciolli also hit Notre Dame’s ninth home run in NCAA play, joining eight different players with that honor (Andrea Loman hit home runs in two different NCAA games in her career).