March 18, 2001
March Madness is not limited to games played in the 2001 NCAA basketball tournament. The ‘luck of the Irish’ on St. Patrick’s Day is not limited to the basketball-playing friends and classmates of the Notre Dame softball team.
Continuing a wild weekend of action at the 2001 Kia Klassic, the University of Notre Dame softball team defeated its fifth ranked opponent of the season with a marathon 5-1 victory over #10 Arizona State in the quarterfinals of the Kia Klassic.
Just how wild were the developments in the tournament on Saturday afternoon? Two of the heavily favored teams entering the weekend, Arizona and Oklahoma, were eliminated from championship competition by Texas and DePaul, respectively. With the schedule of competition thrown off due to tight contests and an injury in the DePaul-Arizona matchup that required an ambulance to be brought onto the field, the Irish-Sun Devil contest was pushed back to a starting time of 9:15 p.m., previously scheduled for 7 p.m.
As the cool California evening chilled both team’s potent offenses, the extra time both pitchers faced before the game must have been time well spent. Notre Dame starter Kristin Schmidt (Houston, Texas) and her counterpart, Erica Beach, baffled both team’s hitters over six innings of play.
After Arizona State started off the bottom of the first inning with a bunt single, Schmidt would retire the next 17 Sun Devil batters in a row before yielding a two-out walk to Kristin Farber in the bottom of the sixth.
Beach was equally effective, allowing just a Melanie Alkire (Union City, Calif.) hit in the fourth inning over a six-inning stretch. She was lifted in the top of the seventh when Alkire reached on an error by ASU shortstop Kara Brun.
Kirsten Voak picked up right where Beach left off, posting three consecutive outs and not allowing Alkire to advance past first base in the inning.
Schmidt worked a perfect one-two-three inning in the seventh and the game was sent to extra innings under the international tie breaker rule, which stipulates that the batter making the last out in the previous inning is placed on second base when her team comes to bat.
Andrea Loman (Riverside, Calif.) strode out to second at the start of the eighth inning and was moved to third base by an Andria Bledsoe (Higley, Ariz.) sacrifice bunt. Voak rebounded to strikeout Jen Sharron (Agoura Hills, Calif.) and get Alexis Madrid (Temecula, Calif.) to line out to shortstop to end the inning.
Now it would be up to Schmidt to keep the Sun Devil offense off the board as Alicia Flanagan, pinch running for Beach, was placed on second base. Voak popped the first pitch of the inning up to third base. Shiloh Talanoa then fouled out to third base and the Irish seemed to have the ability to escape the inning unscathed. Bonnie Brannen drew a walk, though, and Flanagan stole third base to renew the pressure on the Irish defense. Sun Devil pinch hitter Sara Kahler foul-popped the first pitch to Loman at first base, though and Notre Dame received another opportunity to take the lead as both teams headed to the ninth.
Madrid was placed on second and Jenny Kriech (Indianapolis, Ind.) ripped a grounder to shortstop that Brun was able to smother but not make a throw to first or third. With runners on the corners Klayman singled to short-leftfield, allowing Madrid to score the first run of the game. Next, Alkire connected for a long drive down the leftfield line that just missed wrapping around the foul pole for a home run. She followed the near-miss by bouncing a grounder to Brun that the Sun Devil shortstop could not handle once again. Kriech scampered home on the play and the Irish were poised to put even more runs on the board with Alkire at second and Klayman at third.
Voak recovered to strikeout Notre Dame’s Jarrah Myers (Carbondale, Calif.) but Lizzy Lemire (Irvine, Calif.) knocked in the second run of the game with a single to leftfield, advancing Kriech to third and moving to second base on the throw home attempting to tag Klayman.
Loman was due next in the lineup and Voak was able to strike her out, but Brannen lost control of the pitch behind the plate and Alkire came in to score on the passed ball. Loman ran to first and turned the corner to second base, drawing a throw from Brannen to pick the Irish sophomore off.
Loman was eventually tagged out, but Lemire scored on the play to give the Irish a 5-0 lead heading into the bottom of the ninth.
Jennifer Forner was placed on second to start the bottom half of the ninth. Farber grounded the first pitch of the inning back to Schmidt, who tossed it over to Loman for the first out. Nichole Thompson followed with a single to leftfield and Forner scored the first and only Sun Devil run of the game. Brun then lined out to leftfield on a spectacular running catch by Lemire, robbing the ASU shortstop of an extra base hit. Phelan Wright popped up to Madrid at second base and the Irish were free to enjoy their first win over Arizona State in seven attempts.
Notre Dame will face Cal State Fullerton at 11 a.m. on Sunday, March 18, for the right to move on to the Kia Klassic Championship final at 3 p.m.
GAME NOTES: Even though Kristen Schmidt (now 8-1 this season with a 0.84 ERA and 77 strikeouts) kept the Arizona State bats under control, she was helped by three stellar defensive plays by the Irish … in the bottom of the fifth inning, Danielle Klayman ran down a deep drive in the gap by ASU’s Shiloh Talanoa … Andrea Loman made a spectacular grab of a line shot in the bottom of the seventh to force the game into extra innings … Lizzy Lemire’s running grab in the ninth inning secured the victory for the Irish and robbed Kara Brun of the opportunity to make up for her two errors at shortstop.