May 15, 2003
The University of Notre Dame softball team (37-15) won its fourth-straight game on the first day of the NCAA Regionals, defeating Missouri (31-19) 4-3 in eight innings on Thursday afternoon. The Irish advance to take on the winner of the DePaul – Wright State game at 12:30 p.m. on Friday afternoon.
Notre Dame fell behind 2-0 in the game, before rallying to go ahead 3-2 in the bottom of the fifth inning. Andria Bledsoe provided the big hit for Notre Dame with an RBI triple to post the go ahead run.
Missouri got a solo home run from Ashley Hays to tie up the game in the top of the seventh and send the contest into extra innings. The Irish then put runners on the corners with two outs in the bottom of the eighth. Alexis Madrid bounced a ground ball to first base, but the throw to the bag was wide. Madrid reached safely on the play and Liz Hartmann scored the winning run from third to end the game.
Heather Booth picked up the victory for the Irish with a solid performance by working her way out of numerous jams and scattering seven hits, giving up three runs (two earned) and striking out four.
“We just kept putting the ball in play and waiting for something to happen,” Irish head coach Deanna Gumpf said about the Notre Dame comeback.
“With a (rainy) day like today, crazy things are going to happen out there. We’ll take this victory any way we can get it.”
It was a rainy day at Alumni Field in Ann Arbor, rainy enough to push the start time of Notre Dame’s first game back two and a half hours. Originally scheduled for 10 a.m., the Irish-Tigers match up did not see its first pitch until 12:30 p.m.
Notre Dame has now won its first game in each NCAA regional since 2000. The Irish defeated Illinois-Chicago 2-0 in Ann Arbor in 2000, Western Illinois 8-0 at Iowa City in 2001 and Iowa in Iowa City 3-2 last season.
Notre Dame spoiled a gift from the Tigers in the bottom of the first. Alexis Madrid reached on fielding error by Missouri’s Jeni Schellert at second base. Andrea Loman followed by reaching on a throwing error by the Tiger short stop. With two runners on and just one out, Andria Bledsoe bounced into a fielder’s choice back to the pitcher and Madrid was forced out at third. Lisa Mattison then dribbled a ground ball right in front of home plate for the third out.
Missouri was able to get the lead runner on in the top of the second and bring home the first run of the game. Rachael McGinnis led off with a single up the middle, then stole second base on a very close call. Booth came back to get a strike out and pop up to almost escape unscathed, but Morgan LeCluyse dropped a bloop hit into no-man’s land in left-centerfield to drive the runner home. Booth struck out Kristen Burke to end the inning.
An unwanted pattern started to develop for Notre Dame in the second inning. Designated player Meagan Ruthrauff blistered a long single down the leftfield line to get on with one out. Pinch runner Kellie Middleton immediately stole second base to get in scoring position, but much like the first inning, she was stranded right there. Liz Hartmann fouled out to first base and Nicole deFau grounded out to third to end the inning.
In the first two innings, Notre Dame had left three runners on base.
Another alarming pattern popped up in the top of the third. For the second-straight inning, Booth allowed a batter to reach base after getting ahead 0-2 in the count. McGinnis had reached in the second after fighting back from an 0-2 pitch, and Ashley Hays followed suit in the third. This time, Booth got ahead of Hays 0-2, then issued four-straight balls to walk her.
The walk became an even bigger issue when Missouri’s Joanne Loethen laid down a sacrifice bunt that was misplayed by Booth, putting two runners on with no outs.
Sara Vassmer moved both runners into scoring position with a ground out to second and set the table for Missouri’s number three hitter, Heather Kunkel. Booth buckled down to strike out Kunkel on three pitches, but McGinnis came through with her second hit of the game, a slow roller to short stop, and beat out the throw from Bledsoe to drive in Missouri’s second run of the game. Schellert popped up to end the inning.
Notre Dame’s fourth runner in scoring position was stranded in the bottom of the third. Loman posted a two-out hit and stole second base (her 18th theft of the season), but Bledsoe popped up down the rightfield line to end the inning.
In Missouri’s half of the fourth inning, Notre Dame’s pattern of allowing the lead off batter to reach appeared again. Booth threw four pitches out of the zone to Daisy Mettlach to begin the inning. The Tigers sacrificed pinch runner Kendra Power to second base, putting yet another runner in scoring position.
Burke grounded out to third to get to two outs, but Power was able to advance to third base on the play with yet another close play at the bag. Loman threw across to Mattison, who recorded the out then tossed the ball over to Bledsoe covering third. Apparently, Power reached around the tag and snuck her hand in.
Notre Dame escaped any damage in the inning when Hays grounded out to second base.
Missouri continued to put pressure on the Irish in the fifth, getting the lead runner on for the fourth-straight inning. Lead off hitter Loethen bounced a ground ball over Loman at third and beat out Bledsoe’s throw. Vassmer followed by grounding into a fielder’s choice, as Booth turned around and got the force at second.
Kunkel then dribbled a hit through the left side when Vassmer broke for second, forcing Bledsoe to move out of her usual fielding position. Instead of a routine ground ball, Missouri now had two runners on with just one out.
The Irish escaped again. McGinnis lifted a fly ball to centerfield that Megan Ciolli settled under, then gunned down Vassmer attempting to advance from second to third for a double play to end the inning.
Notre Dame’s offense finally woke up in the bottom of the fifth inning. DeFau led off with a solid single through the left side. Ciolli then stepped in and lined a slap hit ground ball to first base, but Missouri’s Loethen decided to try to get the runner at second. deFau beat the play, however, and the Irish were in business with two runners on and no outs.
Madrid was due next and after working to a 3-2 count, drilled a single through the middle of the Tiger defense. deFAu easily scored on the hit and both trail runners advanced when Missouri catcher Daisy Mettlach dropped the throw home.
The Irish tied up the game on a wild pitch, with Ciolli coming home and Madrid reaching third. Loman drew a walk to put runners on the corners and immediately took off to steal second, but she was called out on yet another questionable call.
Notre Dame’s clean up hitter, Andria Bledose, then went to battle with Kalka. Bledsoe fought off seven pitches before drilling a long drive to centerfield. It initially looked like a home run, but the ball careened off the very top of the fence. Bledsoe ended up at third on the RBI triple.
Kalka came back to get Mattison swinging on three pitches and Lenn lined out to rightfield to end the big inning for Notre Dame.
Finally, the patterns were broken in the game. The Irish had come through with runners in scoring position and Booth retired the first batter of the sixth inning with a ground ball back to her.
Missouri would draw a walk, but nothing more in the sixth to get Notre Dame’s offense back to work. Hartmann would post a one out hit for the Irish, but deFau hit into a fielder’s choice and Ciolli struck out to end the inning.
Unfortunately, Booth could not close out the seventh inning. Hays led off the top of the seventh by jumping all over the first pitch of the inning for a home run to leftfield. It was her first home run of the season.
“It was a good pitch,” Booth said of the ball that left the park.
“We had been following a pattern with her all day and kept to it. She was able to get her bat around and hit it out of the park.”
Loethen grounded out to get the first out of the inning, but the slap-hitting Vassmer drilled a double to centerfield to get in scoring position with one out. Kunkel then grounded out to third for two outs. McGinnis flied out to end the inning.
Madrid led off the seventh for Notre Dame and grounded the first pitch to short stop. Loman followed up by drawing a four-pitch walk. Bledsoe could not advance the runner, however, as she flied out to centerfield.
With two outs, Lisa Mattison came thorough with a single to rightfield, moving Loman to third. Mallorie Lenn was due up and drilled the fourth pitch she was offered right on the screws….. but directly at Missouri’s LeCluyse in centerfield for the third out.
Booth shook off the home run from the seventh and pitched a solid inning in the top of the eighth, getting two fly outs to right field and a pop up to work her first one-two-three inning since the top of the first.
Notre Dame would then take advantage of three Tiger miscues in the bottom of the eighth to get the victory. With one out, Liz Hartmann reached base after being hit by a pitch. deFau moved her into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt, looking for Ciolli to come through with the game-winning hit. Ciolli did make contact, but it was a routine ground ball to short stop. Missouri’s Kunkel fielded the ball cleanly and looked to make a solid throw, but Loethen dropped it at first base, putting runners on the corners for Madrid.
“I just knew that something positive was going to happen,” Gumpf said afterward.
“Alexis was the person I wanted in the batter’s box at that time.”
Gumpf gave Madrid a shot of confidence before her at bat when Missouri called a defensive time out.
“Coach told me that she had a feeling something was going to happen,” Madrid said.
“She told me to just put the ball in play.”
Madrid came through, slapping a ball down the first base line that should have been routine. Loethen fielded the ball cleanly, but with Madrid charging down the line, she rushed her throw to the Missouri second basemen covering the bag. The throw pulled Schellert off first base and Madrid ended up safe on the play, with Hartmann scoring easily from third.
ALL-REGIONAL TEAM: The NFCA (National Fastpitch Coaches Association) has released its all-region teams for the 2003 season, and two Irish players were named to the first team … senior Andrea Loman and sophomore Megan Ciolli both earned all-Mideast region accolades for the second-straight season … freshman designated player Meagan Ruthrauff was named to the second team … all three players now advance to the national ballot for the NFCA/Louisville Slugger All-American teams.