Feb. 22, 2002
The University of Notre Dame softball team (4-3) split a pair of games on the first day of competition in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Leadoff Classic in Columbus, Ga., on Friday. The 19th-ranked Irish dropped a 4-0 decision to #11 Oregon State (13-3) to begin the day, but rebounded to shutout Southern Mississippi (4-4) 6-0 in the second game.
It was a career-first type of day for a trio of Irish freshman. Rookie righthander Steffany Stenglein posted her first career shutout and complete game in the victory over Southern Mississippi, while classmates Megan Ciolli and Annie Dell’Aria hit their first career home runs in the same contest.
Notre Dame had a tough time generating any offense against Oregon State starting pitcher Crystal Draper in the first game. Draper was coming off a nightmare final inning of relief against Texas A&M (the Beavers lost to the Aggies in the game before their matchup with Notre Dame), giving up a three-run home run to tie the game and a solo homer for the loss.
Draper showed no ill effects of the blown save in the game against the Irish. She held the Notre Dame offense to just four hits, striking out 10 and walking just one. Draper even worked her way out of a jam in the fourth inning, when Notre Dame put runners on second and third with no outs.
All of Oregon State’s runs came in the bottom of the second inning. Irish starting pitcher Carrie Wisen allowed a leadoff walk, followed by a double. After another walk loaded the bases, OSU’s Michelle Chariton slapped a ball into leftfield to drive in the first run for her team.
Clare Burnum then launched a sacrifice fly to score the second run and an errant throw from the outfield allowed the runners to advance to second and third. Alana Mendoza promptly singled up the middle to score both runners and the Irish faced a four-run deficit.
Unable to muster any offense against Draper, Notre Dame ended up going one-two-three in the last three innings and drop its third game of the season.
The loss to the Beavers was not without its promising moments. Stenglein came in to relieve Wisen in the third inning and was very solid. The rookie allowed just three more hits to the Oregon State batters, while striking out six and not issuing a single walk.
Stenglein would get the call to start game two against Southern Mississippi. Both teams started out slowly, until the Golden Eagles managed to get two runners on with one out by way of consecutive singles. Stenglein avoided any damage in the inning by inducing two harmless groundouts.
Notre Dame would finally get on the scoreboard for the first time of the day in the third inning. Jenny Kriech led off with a hit and attempted to steal second. She made it to the bag in plenty of time, but the first base umpire ruled that she had left too early and called Kriech out.
It was a beneficial call for the Golden Eagles in more ways than one. Ciolli was in the batter’s box for the Irish and launched the first pitch after Kriech was called out deep over the centerfield wall for her first career home run. The Irish lefthanded hitter had hinted at a power surge in the final inning of the Oregon State loss. Ciolli had just missed her first round tripper in the bottom of the seventh by five feet down the rightfield line, but her solo shot in the second game finally got the Irish offense on track and gave Stenglein a bit of breathing room.
After both teams traded scoreless half-innings, Dell’Aria led off the bottom of the fifth by drawing a walk. Kas Hoag was inserted to run for Dell’Aria and the Irish planned to bunt Hoag over to second base. Alexis Madrid was unable to get the bunt down, however, and popped up to the catcher.
Kriech stepped in and lobbed a cue ball shot down the leftfield line that landed fair, but bounced sideways to the retaining fence. Hoag skirted around second and slid into third safely, while Kriech reached second with a stand-up double.
Southern Mississippi pitcher Felicia Gonzales stayed far away from Ciolli, walking her on four consecutive pitches low and out of the zone. Gonzales would have a hard time finding the zone again for Andrea Loman, who was due up next. Loman eventually drew a five-pitch walk to drive in the third Notre Dame run of the game and second of the inning.
Jarrah Myers stepped in next and, once again, Gonzales walked her to force in a run. After Andria Bledsoe dribbled a ground ball down to first base and Ciolli was thrown out at home, Lisa Mattison bounced a single through the left side to score both Myers and Loman. Notre Dame now had a comfortable 5-0 lead.
Not that Stenglein needed any additional help. She worked perfect one-two-three innings in the sixth and seventh to earn the shutout victory. Dell’Aria’s solo home run occurred when she led off the sixth inning and worked the count full. She drilled the ball deep over the leftfield wall for the sixth and final run of the game.
NOTES: Steffany Stenglein ended up working 11 innings on the day, giving up just eight hits and striking out 12 to lower her season ERA to 2.76 … Megan Ciolli ended the day two for four with a run scored, RBI and home run … Jenny Kriech ended up three for four with a run scored on the day … Notre Dame’s defense was solid once again, committing just a single error in both games.