May 10, 2002
It wasn’t the prettiest day of softball for the University of Notre Dame (40-15) team, but the Irish showed their heart when needed and bounced back for two victories on day two of the BIG EAST Championship in Salem, Va., on Friday.
Facing elimination against Syracuse and Villanova, the Irish rallied in both games to earn the right to face fourth-seeded Virginia Tech on Saturday. The Hokies, motivated by a hometown crowd, are 2-0 in the tournament after defeating the Irish on Thursday and Villanova on Friday. Notre Dame will need to defeat Virginia Tech twice on Saturday (game time 1 p.m.) for the league title.
Heading into the game against Villanova, Notre Dame was on a bit of a high note. Freshman Megan Ciolli homered in the top of the seventh to provide the winning margin in Notre Dame’s 5-4 victory over Syracuse earlier in the day.
The contest against the Wildcats would be measured by one thing – how long could the Irish pitching staff keep Villanova’s offense off the board?
At this point in the tournament, it was no secret that the Notre Dame pitchers were struggling. They had given up eight runs to Virginia Tech in the opener and four runs to the Orangewomen earlier in the day. The goal for the Irish was simple. Keep the ball in the park (they allowed six home runs in the first two games of the tournament) and let an outstanding infield defense take away a few hits.
It worked for starting pitcher Steffany Stenglein early against Villanova. She kept the Wildcats off the scoreboard for three innings and did not allow a single hit during her first trip through the batting order.
The Notre Dame offense was able to get to Villanova starting pitcher Theresa Hornick (named the BIG EAST Pitcher of the Year on Thursday evening) in the top of the fourth.
With two outs, Jarrah Myers crushed an infield single to Wildcat shortstop Ricci Lugo. Andria Bledsoe followed with a looping double into the gap in right-centerfield, allowing Myers to hustle all the way around the bases and score the first run of the game.
Given the one-run cushion, Stenglein ended up in trouble early during the bottom of the inning. Robin Flier led off with a triple to rightfield and scored quickly when Lisa Krueger singled to centerfield.
Sensing the change in momentum, Irish head coach Deanna Gumpf went to her bullpen and brought in Carrie Wisen to pitch. Facing Villanova’s Sara Carlson, Wisen got a hard groundball to Bledsoe at shortstop, who flipped to second for the force play.
Notre Dame got another force play at second for the second out of the inning, but Villanova was not done yet. Loading the bases with a single and a walk, Sarah Wall followed with a sinking line drive to rightfield.
Ciolli got a good jump on the ball and dove to make the catch, but the ball ricocheted off her glove for a single. Ciolli immediately threw to first, but Wall beat the throw.
VU’s Allison Wisniewski rounded third on the play in an attempt to score. Lisa Mattison turned and fired home, but her throw was wide and in the dirt. It skipped away from Myers behind the plate, allowing the third and fourth Wildcat run to cross the plate and Wall to end up at second base. Wisen struck out pinch hitter Kari Koller to finally end the inning.
The bottom of the fourth inning might have been a shot to the heart for the Irish, but they were able to mount an impressive comeback. Ciolli led off the sixth inning with a single and soon found herself at home plate when Andrea Loman smoked a triple down the rightfield line. Hornick was able to strike out Myers for the first out of the inning, but Bledsoe followed with her second consecutive hit (a single up the middle) to drive in Loman and cut the Villanova lead to one run.
The Irish rally continued when Mattison singled up the middle to put runners at first and second. Notre Dame’s top clutch hitter of the season, Liz Hartmann, stepped in next but took a tough called-three strike on a 2-2 count for the second Notre Dame out. Hornick then retired Wisen with a ground out on the first pitch to escape the inning.
Wisen could sense that the Notre Dame offense was hot and worked a quick one-two-three inning in the bottom of the sixth to get the Irish bats back to work.
Alexis Madrid led off the seventh with a hard ground ball back to Hornick in the circle for one out. Lead off hitter Jenny Kriech was next and she looked at one pitch before drilling a single up the middle to kick-start the Irish rally.
Ciolli followed with a single on a 3-1 count to put runners at first and second. Next up was Loman, and the Irish third base delivered her second big hit of the game with an RBI single up the middle to score Kriech and move Ciolli to third.
With the score tied at 4-4, Ciolli scampered home on a passed ball to put the Irish in the lead. Hornick was pulled in favor of Shannon Williams and the new Wildcat pitcher was able to retire Myers on a foul out. Three hits was a charm for Bledsoe, though, and the Irish shortstop smacked her third consecutive hit (and second double of the game) over the centerfielder’s head to give the Irish an insurance run as Loman easily scored on the play.
Wisen left little doubt that the Irish would play for the championship on Saturday, retiring pinch hitter Karen Niwinski, leadoff hitter Lugo and Flier on seven pitches to end the game.