Feb. 16, 2002
The University of Notre Dame softball team split its first two games of the 2002 season during the first day of competition in the Pepsi Arizona Classic in Tucson, Ariz. The 14th-ranked Irish began the day with a 3-0 loss to #1 Arizona (9-2), but recovered to rally for a 3-2, 10-inning victory over Auburn (9-1) in the nightcap. With the tournament schedule falling behind over an hour, the Notre Dame-Auburn contest did not begin until 8:15 p.m. (it was slated to start at 7 p.m.), and ended almost two hours later at 11:10 p.m. The Irish will be forced to perform a quick turnaround, as the team’s next two games are set for 9 a.m. (vs. Louisville) and 11 a.m. (New Mexico State) on Saturday.
On paper, the task of defeating the Arizona Wildcats on their home field seems to be a daunting task for any team. Arizona carried a 48-game home field win streak into the matchup with the Irish, and starting pitcher Jenny Finch has compiled a string of 45 consecutive victories.
The variables the Irish brought into the game made the challenge event more compelling. Freshmen Steffany Stenglein and Carrie Wisen would be forced to log their first collegiate action against the defending National Champion and #1-ranked team in the nation.
Take away the eight walks the Irish pitchers yielded to the Wildcats (five by Stenglein, three by Wisen) and the Notre Dame rookies held their own. After a quiet two innings to begin the first game, Arizona got on the board after Lovieanne Jung drew a leadoff walk.
Jung eventually advanced to second on a wild pitch and Courtney Fossatti followed with a bunt single. With runners on the corners, Mackenzie Vandergeest singled just past the reach of Irish shortstop Andria Bledsoe to drive in Jung and put the home team up 1-0. Wildcat slugger Leneah Manuma then smacked the first pitch up the middle, but a perfect throw by Notre Dame centerfielder Jenny Kriech held the runner at third base.
The bases were loaded for Jenny Finch. After falling behind 2-0, Stenglein got Finch to pop up to third base for the first out of the inning. The dreaded walk came back to haunt Stenglein next, however, as she walked Jenny Gladding on five pitches to force in the second Arizona run.
Notre Dame’s defense eventually ended the Wildcat threat. Jackie Coburn flied out to Megan Ciolli in leftfield, who threw a perfect strike to Andrea Loman at third base – catching Manuma attempting to advance and turning a double play to end the inning.
Arizona added another run in the fourth on a hit-by-pitch with the bases loaded, but Notre Dame came back to threaten in the fifth. After Andria Bledsoe drew a leadoff walk, Lisa Mattison followed with a single to left field to put runners on first and second. Kas Hoag was inserted to run for Mattison as freshman Liz Hartmann stepped into the batter’s box.
Finch induced Hartmann to ground into a fielder’s choice, and the Wildcats were able to get Bledsoe at third. Hoag was still in scoring position at second base, but attempted to advance after Wildcat catcher Vandergeest bobbled a pitch. Vandergeest recovered quickly though, and Hoag was thrown out easily at third base. Finch then struck out Carrie Wisen to end the inning.
Notre Dame would not be able to mount another offensive surge against the Wildcat All-American pitcher, but after forcing the Arizona third run in with a hit-by-pitch, Wisen was able to keep the Wildcat offense quiet. Wisen would end up working the last 2.2 innings of the game, striking out three and not allowing a single hit.
Unfortunately, Wisen was unable to carry that momentum over into the first inning of game two against Auburn. The Tigers entered the game 9-0, off to the best start in school history and fresh off a 7-2 victory over South Florida earlier in the day.
Auburn tagged Wisen for two runs in the first inning off three hits, but it would be the last time a Tiger runner would see home plate in the game. Wisen eventually settled down to pitch 3.2 solid innings and reversed roles with Stenglein from the first game. Stenglein pitched the rest of the way, working 6.1 innings, giving up just four hits and striking out six.
After Auburn put up the first two runs of the game, their starting pitcher was able to keep the Irish offense off the board until the fifth inning. Mattison drew a four-pitch walk to begin Notre Dame’s half of the fifth and, after Hartmann fouled out to third and Hoag subbed in to run once again, she was moved into scoring position on a Nicole deFau ground out.
Alexis Madrid was due next, and the Irish slap hitter came through with an infield hit. As Auburn attempted to throw the speedy Madrid out at first, Irish head coach Deanna Gumpf sent Hoag around third base to attempt to score. The Auburn throw from first easily beat the Notre Dame co-captain to home plate, but Hoag performed a perfect slide around the tag to score the first Irish run of the game.
In the sixth, Auburn decided to switch pitchers and inserted Kristen Keyes. Keyes induced a ground out from Ciolli on an 0-2 pitch, but Andrea Loman liked the 0-2 pitch Keyes offered in the next at bat. Loman sent the ball sailing over the leftfield fence and suddenly the Irish had momentum after the game-tying home run.
The game would remain deadlocked until the 10th, as the international tiebreaker rule (the batter making the last out in the previous inning is put on second base to begin the inning) was implemented in the top of the inning for Auburn. It would be up to the Notre Dame defense to keep the Tigers off the board.
Typically, a team will bunt over the runner placed on second to begin the inning. Auburn’s Kasey Angulo attempted to bunt the runner over twice, but Stenglein kept her off balance with a steady stream of rise balls. The ploy backfired momentarily for the Irish, though, as Angulo drew a walk and runners were on first and second with no outs.
Sara Dean followed with a sacrifice bunt, which moved the runners up to second and third. Stenglein then got exactly what she needed, a ground ball back to the pitcher. She fielded the ball cleanly, looked the runner at third back to the bag, and made a solid throw to first for the second out of the inning. The Irish freshman then battled Auburn’s Martha Phillips for a number of pitches, eventually striking her out and ending the inning.
Now it was Notre Dame’s chance to plate the winning run in the bottom of the inning. Madrid walked out to second base to start the inning, and senior Jenny Kriech moved her to third with a perfect sacrifice bunt.
Ciolli stepped into the box for the Irish one more time. The freshman promptly lifted the first pitch she saw deep into leftfield, easily scoring Madrid from third with a sacrifice fly and providing head coach Deanna Gumpf with the first victory of her career.