April 26, 2005
The University of Notre Dame softball team (36-10) earned its biggest victory in the second half of the 2005 season with a 4-3 stunning come-from-behind win over #15 Northwestern (34-11) at Ivy Field on Tuesday afternoon. The Irish scored four unearned runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to surprise the Wildcats, with the big hit provided on a walk-off two-RBI single by junior Sara Schoonaert with two outs.
The big win gives the Irish a huge burst of momentum entering the final BIG EAST Conference weekend of the season and is an important victory in terms of NCAA Tournament seeding. Northwestern came into the game with wins in 19 of their last 21 games and a 14-0 record in Big Ten Conference play.
The Wildcats were out-hitting and out-playing the Irish until Notre Dame posted its comeback in the bottom of the seventh. Reeling from surrendering two runs in the top of the inning to make the comeback even more daunting, senior Megan Ciolli was struck by a pitch with one out to reach first base.
Junior Meagan Ruthrauff followed by drawing a five-pitch walk to bring the tying run to the plate. Senior DP Carrie Wisen was due next and she connected on a towering fly ball to leftfield. Northwestern’s leftfielder Katie Logan seemed settled under the ball, but it fell just short of the wall and the Irish runners – holding to see if the ball was caught – immediately took off for the next base.
Ciolli was waved around third in attempt to score, but the ball was clearly going to beat the All-American to the plate. She slammed on the brakes and headed back to third, but Wildcat catcher Jamie Dotson somehow lost control of the ball. Ciolli reversed herself once again and came home to score on the error, while Ruthrauff moved to third and Wisen ended up at second on the single.
Junior Kellie Middleton stepped in next and drew a walk to load the bases for classmate Mallorie Lenn. Lenn bounced a ground ball up the middle and the play was mishandled for another Wildcat error – this one from second base Kelly Odell.
All the runners moved up a base – which still remained loaded for senior Liz Hartmann – who only needed a fly ball to tie up the game.
Hartmann hacked at the first pitch and put it in the air, but it stayed on the infield and she was retired on the infield fly rule. The game would come down to Schoonaert with two outs.
The Irish shortstop had posted Notre Dame’s lone hit in the game until the seventh inning and she came through by lacing a 1-2 pitch directly up the middle for a walk-off hit. The speedy Middleton scored easily on the play from second and Notre Dame had capped its stunning comeback.
Senior Steffany Stenglein picked up the win in the game, though she was a bit off of her usual dominating style in the contest. Entering the game in the fifth inning, Stenglein gave up five hits and three earned runs – with NU’s Stephanie Churchwell touching her for two doubles.
Stenglein finished pitching three innings and striking out six, while junior Heather Booth started the game for Notre Dame and pitched well over three innings, giving up three hits and striking out three.
Northwestern’s pitching was highly effective until the seventh inning, holding Notre Dame to just one hit over the game’s first six innings. Eileen Canney pitched the first five innings, giving up two hits and striking out just one (the Irish had several hard ground outs in the game). Courtnay Foster entered with a one-run lead in the sixth looking for a save opportunity, but eventually was responsible for loading the bases in the seventh and suffered her sixth loss of the year. Canney reentered and registered one out in the seventh before giving up Schoonaert’s clutch hit.
Notre Dame can group this victory in with its wins over #19 Florida, #21 South Florida and #5 Tennessee (rankings at the time of the game) to enhance the team’s already impressive postseason resume. The Irish will be back to action on Friday, April 29, in BIG EAST Conference play against Boston College (3 p.m.).