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    Notre Dame Plays Host to Villanova

    Softball series will decide BIG EAST southern division champion.

    April 21, 1998

    NOTRE DAME, Ind. -- Notre Dame's softball team moved into first place in the BIG EAST South Division with doubleheader sweeps of Connecticut and St. John's this past weekend to go with wins over Indiana and Butler for an 8-0 week. The Irish take a 10-game winning streak into a doubleheader at Toledo on Thurs., April 23, before playing host to Villanova on the final weekend of BIG EAST regular season competition in a three-game series to determine the South Division winner.

    Week in Preview: Notre Dame will travel to Toledo for a doubleheader on Thurs., April 23. The Irish were originally scheduled to play at Northwestern on Thursday but a scheduling conflict by the Wildcats forced a cancellation of that doubleheader. Instead, Notre Dame heads to Toledo for a doubleheader that was originally scheduled to be played March 21 but was postponed due to rain. The Rockets are currently 8-31 but have won two of their last three games, including a win over Northern Illinois. Freshman Laurie Nagel leads Toledo with a .349 batting average while Amy Lukowski has three wins with a 2.31 ERA. This will be the first meeting between the teams.

    Villanova enters the week with a 30-14 record and 8-3 mark in the BIG EAST prior to the doubleheader this week against Lehigh and St. Joseph's. The Wildcats enter with the best batting average in the BIG EAST with a .332 average in conference games and are the 17th-best hitting team in the country with a .314 team batting average according to the latest NCAA statistics. Seven players are hitting over .300, led by senior Jessica DeLuca who sports a .392 average. Sophomore Megan O'Leary has the second best batting average in the BIG EAST with a .459 mark. A balanced pitching staff of sophomore Carrie Walpole, senior Brenda Roach and freshman Keri Stoller lead the third best pitching staff in the conference.

    The Irish and Wildcats have met nine times with Notre Dame holding an 8-1 advantage. Villanova's only win came in the first game of a four-game series in 1996, snapping an Irish school-record 19-game winning streak and handing the Irish their first-ever BIG EAST loss and only loss of the season.

    South Division Race Recap: Notre Dame and Villanova will play a three-game BIG EAST South Divisional series this weekend at Ivy Field. The Irish enter with a 10-3 conference record while the Wildcats stand in second place at 8-3. The BIG EAST South Division winner is determined based on overall league winning percentage. If all three games are played, Notre Dame needs to win just two of three to clinch the division while Villanova needs to win at least two games. The Irish have won each of the last two BIG EAST South Division titles, finishing with a 19-1 record in 1996 in its first year in the BIG EAST and with a 16-4 record in 1997. Rutgers, which has completed its BIG EAST schedule with a 10-5 conference record and currently is in third place in the division, cannot finish with the highest South Division winning percentage under any scenario between Notre Dame and Villanova.

    Sharron Leads BIG EAST Pitchers: Freshman pitcher Jennifer Sharron has stumped BIG EAST hitters in her first year as she sports the best ERA in the BIG EAST in conference games with a 1.06 ERA in 46.1 innings pitched. She boasts the best record at 5-1 and has pitched 6.62 innings per outing, the best showing in the conference. In her last five BIG EAST starts, she is 4-0 in 34.1 innings pitched with a 0.41 ERA, 21 strikeouts and three shutouts. Opposing batters have hit just .138 against her and have scored just three runs and just two earned in those 34.1 innings.

    1 Vs. 1, 3 Vs. 3: When Notre Dame and Villanova square off this weekend it will be strength against strength in hitting and pitching. The Wildcats will bring the best hitting team with a .332 batting average in BIG EAST games while the Irish boast a team ERA of 1.48, also tops in the conference. Notre Dame stands third in the conference in hitting with a .300 batting average while Villanova is third in pitching with a 1.65 ERA.

    Week in Review: The Irish were a perfect 8-0 last week, outscoring the opposition 42-9 and shutting out each of their four opponents once. Notre Dame used a strong offensive performance and solid pitching to begin the week with a sweep at Indiana 2-0 and 9-3. Senior Jenn Giampaolo (San Marino, Calif.) scored five runs and hit 4-7 while freshman Melanie Alkire (Union City, Calif.) was 4-8 with four RBI, a run and a solo home run. Freshman Jennifer Sharron (Agoura Hills, Calif.) pitched a three-hit shutout in the first game. Alkire picked up the win in the second game.

    The Irish used 18 hits to sweep former Midwestern Collegiate Conference rival Butler 5-3 and 7-0 at Ivy Field on Thursday. Giampaolo went 4-6 with two doubles, three runs scored and two RBI in both games to lead the Irish offensively. Sharron pitched a complete game, and senior Kelly Nichols (Vancouver, Wash.) and junior Angela Bessolo (Lakewood, Calif.) combined to allow Butler just one hit in the second game. The Irish improved to 22-2 all-time against the Bulldogs.

    Notre Dame used a two-hit shutout by Sharron in the first game and a 13-hit attack in the second game to sweep a BIG EAST doubleheader against Connecticut by 4-0 and 7-2 scores at Ivy Field. Sharron threw her fifth straight complete game and third complete game shutout in six BIG EAST starts. Sharron faced just four batters over the seven-inning minimum and held Connecticut hitters to 0-14 in the final four and two-thirds innings.

    Giampaolo led the Irish by hitting 3-9 with two runs scored, an RBI and a triple. She scored her first run with the only run the Irish would need in the first inning of the first game when she singled and later scored on an RBI single by freshman Lizzy Lemire (Irvine, Calif.), who was 3-6 with two RBI and a run scored. Alkire went 2-3 with a run and an RBI and picked up the win on the mound.

    Notre Dame used complete games from Sharron and Bessolo and six extra-base hits to sweep visiting St. John's 3-1 and 5-0. Sophomore Lisa Tully (Garden Grove, Calif.) went 4-6 with two triples to lead the Irish. Freshman Danielle Klayman (San Diego, Calif.) and Alkire each hit 3-6. Lemire put the Irish out in front 1-0 in the first game when she blasted a 1-2 pitch over the leftfield fence for her first career home run in the second inning. Sharron scattered six hits and walked just one batter while striking out two. Bessolo improved to 5-7 with the shutout. She faced just three batters over the seven-inning minimum while striking out eight Red Storm hitters. At one point, after allowed a lead off single to start the game, she retired the 16 consecutive batters giving up two hits in the sixth inning.

    Home Sweet Home: After the doubleheader at Toledo, the Irish will play five games at home before the BIG EAST championship comes to Ivy Field. Notre Dame has played 10 of its last 12 games at home, winning eight of those games. The Irish played seven straight BIG EAST games on the road to open the conference season and finished 4-3 in those games before winning all six of their home BIG EAST games. Notre Dame is 13-2 at home in 1998 with an all-time record of 129-43-2 (.747). The Irish have a 27-4 record at Ivy Field in BIG EAST games since 1996.

    Irish Earn BIG EAST Honors: For the second straight week, the BIG EAST has honored the Irish with player and rookie of the week selections. Lisa Tully was named BIG EAST player of the week after she hit 11-24 (.458) with three runs, three doubles and two RBI triples in Notre Dame's eight wins. Melanie Alkire earned BIG EAST rookie of the week honors after leading the team by batting 10-21 (.476) with two doubles, a home run, five RBI and a .714 slugging percentage. She was also 2-0 on the mound for the Irish with a 1.40 ERA. Jenn Giampaolo was BIG EAST player of the week last and week while Danielle Klayman was rookie of the week.

    Head Coach Liz Miller: Liz Miller has compiled a 228-112 (.671) record in her five-plus seasons at Notre Dame since 1993. Miller, with a career record of 769-254 (.752) led the Irish to a school-record 48 wins in 1996 and to their third consecutive NCAA appearance that same year. She was named the 1996 BIG EAST coach of the year in her first year in the conference and led Notre Dame to a 35-5 record and two BIG EAST South Division titles in her first two years in the conference. Miller won her 700th-career game on April 27, 1996, at the time becoming one of only five collegiate softball coaches to have won 700 career games. Miller began her coaching career at Lake Michigan Community College where she posted a 541-142 (.792) record.

    Irish Softball Enters 10th Season: The 1998 season marks the 10th season of Notre Dame softball since its first year in 1989. The program compiled a 335-183-2 (.646) record in the first nine years, an average of 37-20. In the first four years under head coach Brian Boulac from 1989-92, the Irish went 135-90-2, winning the Midwestern Collegiate Conference in 1990 and 1991. Liz Miller, who served as an assistant to Boulac in 1992, took over in 1993 and has compiled a 200-93 record from 1993-97 with MCC titles in 1993-95 and NCAA appearances in 1994-96.

    Streakin' Irish: Notre Dame will travel to Toledo riding a 10-game winning streak, the longest for the Irish since a school-record 19 straight wins in 1996. The streak is currently the sixth-best in the country. DePaul has won 19 straight games, Chattanooga and Nebraska 15, LSU 13 and Morgan State 12. Hofstra also has won 10 consecutive games.

    Lizzy Lemire has a streak of her own during Notre Dame's 10 wins. She has hit safely in each of these 10 games, the longest hitting streak of any player this season. She is 16-32 (.500) during the streak with two doubles, a triple, a home run and 10 RBI with a .719 slugging percentage.

    Fab Frosh Impact Irish: Notre Dame's class of 2001 has had a tremendous impact both at bat and on the mound this year. The freshman hitters of Melanie Alkire, Danielle Klayman and Lizzy Lemire have accounted for 25 percent of the runs scored (48-189), 32 percent of the hits (116-364) and 41 percent of the RBI (61-150). Klayman leads the freshman in runs scored with 20 while Alkire leads the class with 47 hits and 30 RBI, also a team-high for RBI. The freshman pitching staff of Alkire and Jennifer Sharron has accounted for 52 percent of the innings pitched (160.2-310.2), 58 percent of the starts (26-45), 63 percent of the wins (17-27), 67 percent of the shutouts (8-12) and 75 percent of the complete games (17-20). Sharron leads the team with 12 wins, 18 starts, 13 complete games, seven shutouts and 128 innings pitched.

    Irish Fixtures: Three Notre Dame players have been fixtures in the lineup, starting all 45 games. Jenn Giampaolo has started every game in center field and in the leadoff spot in the lineup. Lisa Tully has anchored third base every game and has played 33 games at the ninth spot in the lineup. Melanie Alkire has batted in the third spot in the lineup all 45 games but has been the most versatile player on the team. She has started eight games as pitcher, seven games at first base, 11 games at second base, 11 games at shortstop and 16 games as the designated player.

    BIG EAST Championship Come To Ivy Field: The first ever postseason games will be played at Ivy Field May 2-3, when the 1998 BIG EAST Conference softball championship comes to Notre Dame. The Irish have qualified for the past two championships but have gone 4-4 in those two appearances. Boston College, who has clinched the BIG EAST North Division and a spot in the four-team field, will look to defend its title against the field comprised of the two division winners plus two at-large selections.

    The softball championship will mark the fourth BIG EAST championship held at Notre Dame in the three years since joining the conference in 1995-96. The Irish have won each championship at Notre Dame, winning volleyball in '95, women's soccer in '96 and men's golf in the fall of '97.

    USA Today/NFCA Coaches Top 25
    (April 22)
       Rk. Team                 Record   Points
       1.  Arizona (25)           47-3   625
       2.  Michigan               40-4   598
       3.  Washington             35-7   565
       4.  Fresno State           33-8   544
       5.  Oklahoma              42-10   523
       6.  South Florida *       51-10   496
       7.  Nebraska               36-8   483
       8.  Texas                 41-12   449
       9.  Stanford              29-12   445
       10. LSU                    47-6   424
       11. Hawaii *              36-10   362
       12. Oklahoma State *      33-14   330
       13. Arizona State *       32-16   315
       14. Long Beach State      28-12   244
       15. DePaul *               31-5   224
       16. Florida State         47-18   216
       17. Texas Tech            42-16   188
       18. Missouri              31-18   176
       19. California            28-19   159
       20. Iowa                  28-12   152
       21. Minnesota             34-14   138
       22. Oregon State *        25-16   113
       23. Cal State-Northridge  31-16   106
       24. Illinois-Chicago      49-16    98
       25. Oregon                33-20    66
    * indicates 1998 Notre Dame opponents
    

    BIG EAST Standings (4/20) South Division BIG EAST Overall 1. Notre Dame 10-3 27-18 2. Villanova 8-3 30-14 3. Rutgers 10-5 19-14 4. Seton Hall 0-15 14-24-1

    North Division BIG EAST Overall 1. Boston College 11-2-1 31-7-1 2. Connecticut 5-7 19-17-1 3. St. John's 5-9 13-24-1 4. Providence 4-9-1 17-22-2

    Irish Leaders Batting Danielle Klayman .346 Runs Jenn Giampaolo 35 Slugging Percentage Tara King .450 ERA Kelly Nichols 1.31 Strikeouts Per 7 Innings Angela Bessolo 7.2 Innings Pitched Jennifer Sharron 128.0


     
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