Feb. 2, 2016

by Tony Jones

To preview the upcoming University of Notre Dame softball season, UND.com will feature the 10 things you need to know in advance of the opening Irish tournament of the spring at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Arizona on Feb. 12. With insight from your favorite Notre Dame players and coaches, The Top 10 will give fans a special look at Irish softball as the team prepares for 2016.

#10 – The Steady Influence Over Irish Softball#9 – Two Captains, Two Thousand Sixteen
#8 – How To Build A Nationally Renowned Offense
#7 – Meet The Freshmen
#6 – Strength In Numbers
#5 – The Cali Squad#4 – A Dynamic Defense

“Home is where the heart is” ââ’¬” Pliny the Elder, Roman philosopher

“There’s no place like home” ââ’¬” Made famous in L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 1900

Phrases about the importance of home, and the safety, security and familiarity being present in a location identified as home, have been prevalent in society throughout history. In the world of competitive sport the spirit of the home-field advantage is a tried and true ideology that attempts to explain why, in most cases, teams play best inside home venues. Sifting through the 28-year history of the University of Notre Dame softball team, it is not hard to see that the Irish have thrived and prospered while at home.

On the eve of the 2016 regular season Notre Dame sits exactly on the 400-win plateau all-time on home soil, sporting a cumulative 400-90-3 (.814) record spread across three different venues. One of two varsity programs in the history of Notre Dame athletics to never record a losing season, along with women’s soccer, Irish softball has churned out 27 consecutive winning records on home fields since 1989.

Of those 400 home victories, Notre Dame has shut out opponents 173 different times. Irish primary home fields played host to the BIG EAST Conference Championship on three different occasions, 1998, 2006 and 2012, and Notre Dame softball has also welcomed regional rounds of the 2005 and 2015 NCAA Championship tournaments to campus.

From the inception of the varsity softball program in 1989 through the 1992 season, the Irish resided at the former Notre Dame Softball Field. The first home victory in program history occurred on March 23, 1989, a 1-0 shutout of St. Joseph’s (Ind.). The triumph was one of 10 home wins during the inaugural Irish season.

Notre Dame would post a 13-3-1 (.794) mark in 1990, a 13-2 record (.867) in 1991 and a 9-1-1 (.864) effort in 1992 to close up shop at Notre Dame Field a combined 45-13-2 (.767). As the 1993 softball season loomed, the Irish made the move to what would become their longtime home on the Notre Dame campus, Ivy Field.


As a freshman in 1992, Sara Hayes (’95) started all 65 games, including the final 11 contests ever held at Notre Dame Field

Under first-year head coach and eventual National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) Hall of Fame inductee Liz Miller, Notre Dame wasted little time in properly christening Ivy Field with something that would become popular on those grounds for the next 16 years, wins. In the first regular season game held at the facility on March 30, 1993, the Irish downed in-state rival Indiana 7-1 in the opening game of a doubleheader. The triumph over the Hoosiers set the stage for a 10-2 (.833) debut campaign at Notre Dame’s new home.

Entering its fourth year at Ivy Field in 1996, Notre Dame established single-season program records with 26 home games and 24 victories (.923 winning percentage). Included in the standout home showing for that season’s Irish were a doubleheader sweep of No. 19 Indiana on March 24, and BIG EAST four-game series sweeps of Rutgers (March 30-31) and Seton Hall (April 27-28). The nightcap against Seton Hall was the 100th all-time win at home for the Notre Dame program.


Two-time all-BIG EAST Conference first team selection Meghan Murray (’97) was one of the early Notre Dame stars at Ivy Field

Notre Dame welcomed the first postseason softball contests ever held at Ivy Field in 1998 after posting an 18-2 regular season output at home leading into that season’s BIG EAST Conference Championship tournament. A pair of upset defeats at the hands of Connecticut and Rutgers on May 2 of that year left the Irish just shy of securing their first BIG EAST tournament title, and slotted that season’s final home record at 18-4 (.818).

The plateau shattering 2001 Notre Dame team, which still holds program bests for most wins (54), fewest losses (7) and highest ranking achieved in the NFCA coaches poll (No. 8), completed the only undefeated season at Ivy Field with a perfect 18-0 record. The Irish embarked on the nation’s longest overall winning streak that season, claiming 33 straight games from March 28-May 5.

Notre Dame went a combined 46-9 (.836) at Ivy Field from 2002-04, including all-time home victory number 200 on April 13, 2003 against Seton Hall (5-0), before hosting the program’s first NCAA Regional in 2005. Adding in a pair of NCAA victories against Louisville and No. 18 Northwestern, the Irish closed the 2005 campaign 17-4 (.810) overall at Ivy Field.

The first conference tournament championship secured on Notre Dame turf was earned in 2006, after the Irish raced to a 16-3 regular season home mark at Ivy Field. A 4-1 against Providence on May 13, a 5-0 shutout of Pittsburgh, and a 1-0 triumph over No. 18 Louisville on May 14 clinched Notre Dame’s fifth BIG EAST Championship crown.


Notre Dame won 232 games at Ivy Field over parts of 16 seasons, closing its longtime home with a doubleheader sweep of Eastern Michigan on April 9, 2008

As the 2007 season drew to a close, the Irish prepared to move beyond the fences of Ivy Field in 2008. After serving as the site of 232 Notre Dame wins (232-56 record, .806 winning percentage) in parts of 16 seasons, the Irish closed Ivy Field in style with a doubleheader sweep of Eastern Michigan (10-1, 5-1) on April 9, 2008. Notre Dame immediately relocated a short distance down Twyckenham Drive to Melissa Cook Stadium for the BIG EAST portion of its 2008 schedule, logging a 7-3-1 (.682) mark to cap the season.

During its first full year at Melissa Cook Stadium in 2009, Notre Dame posted a 17-5 (.773) record that included victories over No. 22 DePaul (5-2 on April 8) and No. 18 Louisville (7-4 on May 3). The strong debut season set the stage for a 2010 run that saw the Irish win all 19 games at home, outscoring opponents a combined 146-30. A total of 10 of the 19 Notre Dame home wins in 2010 ended before the seventh inning due to the NCAA eight-run rule, including the program’s historic 300th triumph on campus on April 1 of that year against Rutgers (8-0 in six innings).

An 18-2 (.900) home record in 2011 and a 19-3 (.864) finish at Melissa Cook Stadium in 2012 for the Irish were followed by abnormally long winters in Indiana over the next two years. Notre Dame only played 13 games at home in 2013 (10-3 record) and 15 contests at Melissa Cook Stadium during its inaugural Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) campaign in 2014 (13-2 record) due to lingering inclement conditions.


Notre Dame earned the right to host the first NCAA Regional in Melissa Cook Stadium history in 2015

Returning to normalcy with milder conditions in 2015, Notre Dame put together one of the best home seasons in program history. The Irish went a combined 20-3 (.870), the second-most home wins in a single season by a Notre Dame team and a Melissa Cook Stadium record, on their way to hosting the 2015 NCAA South Bend Regional. During a 24-game winning streak that spanned March 15-April 26 of last year Notre Dame defeated the first 17 opponents it faced at Melissa Cook Stadium, and a 14-5 victory in five innings over Northwestern on May 16 became the first NCAA tournament win by the Irish in stadium history. Notre Dame’s 400th all-time home win followed later in the day (15-4 in five innings) to eliminate Ball State from the NCAA South Bend Regional.

Entering its ninth season of play at Melissa Cook Stadium in 2016, Notre Dame has put together a sterling 123-21-1 (.876) mark on friendly dirt since the gates opened on April 13, 2008. The Irish have won 10 or more home matchups in each of the seven full years inside the stadium, reaching 17 or more victories on five occasions. Counting all games played at Melissa Cook Stadium and a 100-22 record in parts of seven years at Ivy Field, Notre Dame head coach Deanna Gumpf is 223-43-1 (.837) all-time at home.

Irish standouts of the past find their names etched throughout the career record book at Melissa Cook Stadium, with three-time NFCA All-America selection Emilee Koerner (’15) the Notre Dame leader in runs scored (75), hits (98) and doubles (31) in home games since 2008. A pair of 2011 third team All-Americans, Dani Miller (’12) and Heather Johnson (’11), own the home run (21 for Miller) and RBI (86 for Johnson) records at Melissa Cook Stadium, respectively. Notre Dame pitching great Laura Winter (’14) holds the career stadium mark for wins (43), complete games (33) and strikeouts (331).


Three-time NFCA All-American Emilee Koerner (’15) holds the Notre Dame career records for runs, hits and doubles at Melissa Cook Stadium

As the Irish look ahead to the rapidly approaching 2016 slate, 21 crucial games are set on the Melissa Cook Stadium calendar. Key ACC meetings with preseason national No. 10 Florida State (April 2-3), No. 23/25 North Carolina State (May 7-8) and No. RV Louisville (April 30-May 1) highlights the marquee showdowns on the Notre Dame campus for the upcoming softball year.

If history serves as the same guide that it has over the past 27 seasons, Notre Dame is primed to rise to the occasion and protect home field with the same consistency and excellence that has been seen regularly throughout program lore.

Visit UND.com on Thursday (Feb. 4) for the ninth installment of the Irish Top 10 series. For the latest news and updates on all things Notre Dame softball, visit www.und.com/softball, follow the Irish @NDsoftball and @NDcoachGumpf on Twitter and at Instagram.com/notredamesoftball, and Like the team at Facebook.com/NDSoftball.


Tony Jones, athletics communications assistant at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 2012 and coordinates all media efforts for the Notre Dame softball and men’s soccer programs. A native of Jamestown, New York, Jones is a 2011 graduate of St. Bonaventure University, and prior to arriving at Notre Dame held positions at the University of Louisiana at Monroe and with the National Football League’s Buffalo Bills.