Feb. 16, 2002
The University of Notre Dame softball team (2-2) split a pair of games for the second consecutive day at the Pepsi Arizona Classic in Tucson, Ariz., on Saturday. The Irish lost a hard fought 4-3 game to Louisville (2-6) in game one, but rebounded to rally twice and defeat New Mexico State (6-12) 9-7 in the second game.
The 14th-ranked Irish team knew coming into the weekend that any success would be dependent on the quick development of the inexperienced pitching staff. Entering the tournament, the Irish boasted a whopping total of seven innings pitched by its three pitchers.
If guts and mettle are any kind of measurement, the Irish pitching staff is making progress.
Freshman Carrie Wisen started the first game of the day for Notre Dame against Louisville. She held the Cardinal offense at bay until the top of the fourth inning, when Louisville designated player Melissa Jacobo sent a 1-1 pitch over the wall in leftfield to give her team a 1-0 advantage.
Notre Dame came right back in the bottom of the fourth to post an equalizer. Andrea Loman led off with a single, then stole second and advanced to third on an errant throw. Clean-up hitter Jarrah Myers then drew a walk to put runners at the corners, but Myers stole second on the first pitch to provide Andria Bledsoe with a double-RBI opportunity. Bledsoe came through, poking the ball to the right side of the infield and allowing Loman to come home and score. Louisville starting pitcher Jessica Rak escaped further damage in the inning by getting Lisa Mattison and Kas Hoag to ground out.
Both teams remained scoreless until the top of the sixth inning. Freshman Steffany Stenglein was inserted to relieve Wisen, but Stenglein’s injured right quadriceps seemed to limit her performance. She surrendered three hits in the top of the seventh, including a three-run double, and suddenly the Irish faced a 4-1 deficit.
As most teams on the Irish schedule will learn this season, any lead they enjoy might not last long.
Mattison singled down the leftfield line to begin the bottom of the seventh. After Nicole deFau cam in to pinch run, Stenglein grounded into a fielder’s choice and deFau was thrown out at second.
Freshman Liz Hartmann then blistered a ball through the legs of Louisville second basemen Nicole Sparks and Stenglein advanced to third and eventually scored on a throwing error by the Cardinal rightfielder. With Hartmann on second base, freshman Annie Dell’Aria stepped in to hit for Alexis Madrid. Dell’Aria eventually grounded out to second base and Hartmann advanced to third.
Leadoff hitter Jenny Kriech then drew a walk. With Megan Ciolli in the batter’s box, Kriech took off to steal second base and get into scoring position. The catcher’s throw was wide once again, and Hartmann scored on the play. Kriech immediately jumped up to attempt an advance to third base, but Sparks got to the ball quickly at second base and threw the Irish centerfielder out by inches to end the game.
With the bad taste of the late-inning loss still in their mouths, the Irish had to turn around and face a pesky New Mexico State team that had been piling up runs throughout the tournament.
Stenglein started game two for the Irish, but proved to be ineffective once again. The Aggies banged out three hits and three runs in the first and Wisen was called in to pitch once again.
After Wisen escaped the first by getting two groundouts, New Mexico State was able to add another run in the second inning off three consecutive hits. Suddenly, the Irish faced a 4-0 deficit and the Notre Dame bats were eerily quiet.
The Irish were finally able to get on the scoreboard in game two aided by a few errors by the Aggies. Myers led off the fourth by reaching on an error by the first basemen, and Bledsoe followed with a single down the leftfield line. Both runners then moved up to second and third after NMSU’s Anita Knight uncorked a wild pitch.
Mattison was due next and the junior’s renewed confidence at the plate shown through as she rocketed a 3-1 pitch over the leftfielder’s head to drive in two runs.
After Kas Hoag came in to pinch run for Mattison, Hartmann followed with her first of three hits in the game (this one a single through the right side hole). Dell’Aria then grounded out to the right side, allowing the runners to move up to second and third.
The slap-hitting Alexis Madrid came up next, and she chopped a grounder to shortstop that NMSU’s Shayne Gipson threw over the first basemen’s head. Hoag scored on the play and Hartmann advanced to third.
Back to the top of the order, Kriech slapped another grounder to Gipson and the Aggie short threw it away again – allowing Hartmann to come across and score the fourth Irish run of the inning. Ciolli followed with an RBI groundout and, after Loman bounced out to first to end the inning, Notre Dame had put five runs on the board off three hits and three New Mexico State errors.
Notre Dame would add another run in the fifth. After Myers was hit by a pitch, Bledsoe grounded out and advanced her to second. Mattison fouled out to third base, but Hartmann drilled a 2-2 pitch deep into the right-centerfield gap. The ball carried all the way into deepest part of the park, eventually bouncing off the top of the wall and coming back into play. Myers easily scored on Hartmann’s first career double.
Any momentum off Hartmann’s shot was lost in the bottom of the sixth. Wisen started to show signs of fatigue and the rookie would eventually throw 186 pitches on the day. The Aggies put together two singles to start the inning and, after a sacrifice bunt, Linzi Wescott doubled down the rightfield line for two RBI. Kelly Ryne then followed with a one-out single up the middle and an Irish two-run lead had turned into a one-run deficit.
The Irish wasted little time in getting the run back. Myers blasted the first pitch she saw deep into the gap in right-centerfield and Bledsoe moved her over with a groundout. After Mattison struck out, Hartmann came through again with a laser beam down the leftfield line. Myers scored on the play and the score stood at 7-7.
Wisen returned to the circle in the seventh. The Aggies got a lead off hit and attempted to move the runner over with a sacrifice bunt. Loman snatched the ball up, though, and tossed it to Bledsoe at second to get the force play. Wisen closed the door on the Aggies by getting Heather Nobbe to fly out and Tiffany Luiz to line out.
Jenny Kriech led off the eighth inning with a fly out, but Ciolli followed with a solid bunt single. Ciolli was eventually thrown out on a force play at second base when Loman grounded to shortstop. With Myers in the batter’s box, Irish head coach Deanna Gumpf decided to hit and run with Loman on first. The plan worked perfectly as Myers stroked her second double of the game into the gap and Loman came all the way around to score easily, though New Mexico State did throw home, allowing Myers to advance to second. Bledsoe made the Aggie’s pay for the throw, lining a single up the middle to score Myers and give the Irish a 9-7 lead.
Gumpf then turned to junior Jessica Sharron, in her first action of the season, to get the save. After walking the first batter, Sharron struck out Linzi Wescott looking. Kelly Rhyne followed with a single to leftfield, but Sharron came right back. Jodi Spino lined out to Loman at third base, who quickly threw it across the diamond to double up Rhyne at first and end the game. Sharron’s solid inning gave the Irish righthander her first career save, in addition to Wisen getting her first career victory.
The adventure that is the Pepsi Arizona Classic continues for the Irish tomorrow at 9 a.m. against #25 South Florida.