Feb. 24, 1997
Notre Dame to Face Packed Field at NFCA Leadoff Classic
South Carolina, Texas A&M Up First for Irish
Notre Dame, Ind. -- Notre Dame's softball team started the 1997 season with three straight losses at the Arizona State Tournament before leaving Tempe, Ariz., with its first win of the season. The Irish travel to the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Leadoff Classic in Columbus, Ga., Feb. 28-March 2.
NFCA Leadoff Classic Preview: The Irish head to Columbus, Ga., for the NFCA Leadoff Classic where they will face South Carolina and Texas A&M in their first round of pool competition. Notre Dame and South Carolina met twice last year with the Lady Gamecocks winning both contest, a 5-2 win in Tampa, Fla., and a 3-0 win at the NCAA regional in Ann Arbor, Mich. Notre Dame played Texas A&M last year at the same tournament as the Irish came away with a 3-1 win. Among the other teams in the field include 1996 NCAA runner-up Washington.
Arizona State Review: Notre Dame was late arriving in Arizona due to travel difficulties and was forced to cancel its season opener against Wisconsin. The Irish opened against the host Sun Devils on Fri., Feb. 21, and did not make it past the fifth inning of the 9-1 loss. On Saturday, Indiana handed Notre Dame its second-consecutive five-inning loss, a 10-1 Hoosier win.
The Irish rebounded with solid play in their next game against 1996 World Series participant Iowa. The two teams battled to a 1-1 tie through seven innings, each scoring a single run in the sixth inning. Starting pitcher Kelly Nichols (Vancouver, Wash.) turned in the best performance of the weekend by Notre Dame's pitching staff as she scattered eight hits, allowing just one run while striking out five Iowa batters.
With the international tiebreaker in effect in extra innings, the two teams each scored a run in the eighth and ninth to send the game to the 10th inning, double number of innings the Irish had played in their first two games combined. Notre Dame failed to score in the top of the 10th, stranding the runner at third with just one out. Iowa quickly capitalized, loading the bases with no outs and using a single to score the winning run for a 4-3 victory.
The Irish played a third game on Saturday against Auburn, which was added to make up for the lost game against Wisconsin. The team sailed through the first six innings without a run. Notre Dame then exploded for four runs in the top of the seventh, highlighted by Dawn Cunningham's (Bethalto, Ill.) two-run bases-loaded single. Auburn attempted to rally with two runs in the bottom of the seventh but Angela Bessolo (Lakewood, Calif.) shut down the Tiger rally for the complete game and Notre Dame's first win of the year.
Head Coach Liz Miller: Liz Miller has compiled a 166-71 (.700) record in her four-plus seasons at Notre Dame since 1993. Miller led the Irish to a school-record 48 wins in 1996 and to their third consecutive NCAA appearance. She was named the 1996 BIG EAST coach of the year in her first year in the conference as she lead Notre Dame to a 19-1 record and the BIG EAST South Division title. Miller won her 700th-career game on April 27, 1996, 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). She ranks fifth in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association career-win standings with a 707-213 (.768).
Marten and Murray Off to Fast Start: Two-time All-American Katie Marten (Lisle, Ill.) and 1996 BIG EAST player of the year Meghan Murray (Minnetonka, Minn.) have started the 1997 season with hot bats. Marten went 6-12 with an .833 slugging percentage and a run scored. She belted two triples, already half of her 1996 total of four triples.
Murray batted 5-12 for a .417 average. She blasted an RBI triple against Iowa in the top of the ninth for Notre Dame's final run of the game. Murray also added a stolen base and a run scored for the Irish.
1996 Review: Notre Dame advanced to its third straight NCAA championships a year ago, earning its first-ever at-large bid into the 48-team field. It was a quick trip into the post-season for the Irish who dropped consecutive games to South Carolina and Central Michigan and were eliminated, ending the season with a school record 48 wins. Notre Dame went 19-1 in the BIG EAST regular season, capturing the BIG EAST South Division title. Connecticut upended the Irish at the BIG EAST championships in Chestnut Hill, Mass., as the Huskies used a classic 1-0 win in the deciding game seven of the championships to win the title and the BIG EAST Conference's automatic bid into the NCAA championships.
Nichols Come Through: Normally a relief pitcher, Kelly Nichols, who is on pace to become the all-time NCAA saves leader, has been asked to start two games in the 1996 and 1997 seasons and has pitched seven innings both times. Nichols, a junior who has saved eight games in both her freshman and sophomore seasons, pitched a complete game win against Northern Illinois in 1996. She nearly did the same against Iowa but was taken out when the game went into extra innings.
Irish, Huskies Tapped As Preseason BIG EAST Favorites: In a vote of the conference coaches, Notre Dame has been unanimously selected as the preseason favorite to win the BIG EAST South Division. Rutgers was picked to finish second with Villanova third and Seton Hall fourth in the South Division. Connecticut was selected first in the North Division followed by Boston College, Providence and St. John's. The teams will play a 20-game league schedule, playing divisional opponents four times each and non-divisional opponents twice. The top two teams from each division advance to the BIG EAST championships May 3-4 at Connecticut.
Notre Dame Earns Academic Honors: The 1996 Notre Dame softball team was named one of the National Fastpitch Coaches Association top-10 all-academic teams, marking the sixth consecutive year the Irish have received this honor. Notre Dame was the only team honored as one of the NFCA all-academic teams to be ranked in the final USA Today/NSCA Top 25 and participate in the 48-team NCAA championship.
In addition to the team honors, four Notre Dame players were recognized for their academic and athletic achievements and were named on the 1996 GTE/CoSIDA Academic All-America softball team. Katie Marten, Joy Battersby and Meghan Murray were second-team Academic All-Americans and Jenna Knudson, who graduated in May, was a third-team selection. Notre Dame lead the Academic All-America teams with four players and joined Jacksonville State and Southwestern Louisiana (two each) as the only schools that placed more than one player on the three teams.
1997 Notre Dame Captains: Seniors Katie Marten and Meghan Murray will serve as captains of the 1997 Notre Dame softball team. Marten is a two-time NFCA All-American as designated player in addition to her GTE/CoSIDA Academic All-America honors. Marten is a three-year starter for Miller and has stolen the most bases in Notre Dame history. She has a career .368 batting average, the highest in school history.
Murray was named the 1996 BIG EAST player of the year after batting .507 in BIG EAST games. She became the first Notre Dame batter in school history to hit over .400 in a season with a .402 average in 1996. The Academic All-American was also the team's MVP last year as she started every game of the year.
NSCA/USA Today Top 25 - Final 1996 Poll
Team Record Pts
1. Washington 49-7 500
2. Arizona 47-9 476
3. Fresno State 47-9 452
4. UCLA 40-8 450
5. Southwestern La. 42-8 401
6. Cal State Northridge 41-13 376
7. Michigan* 43-12 353
8. South Carolina* 36-10 347
9. Oklahoma 45-18 307
10. UNLV 36-21 290
11. California 36-20 270
12. South Florida 40-10 234
13. Minnesota 42-14 233
14. Iowa* 43-15 231
15. Cal State Fullerton 39-26 226
16. Florida State 48-19 194
17. Oklahoma State 33-15 177
18. Nebraska 37-18 144
19. Long Beach State 34-17 130
20. Notre Dame 48-14 129
21. Texas A&M* 38-18 108
22. Illinois-Chicago 39-11 97
23. Indiana* 36-19 91
24. Princeton 38-6-1 53
25. Hawaii 36-25 32
* indicates 1997 Notre Dame opponent.
1997 BIG EAST Softball Preseason Poll
1996 BIG EAST
South Division (votes) Pts W L Pct
1. Notre Dame (7) 28 19 1 .950
2. Rutgers 20 10 10 .500
3. Villanova (1) 18 10 8 .555
4. Seton Hall 10 4 14 .222
North Division (votes)
1. Connecticut (7) 28 16 4 .800
2. Boston College (1) 22 9 11 .450
3. Providence 16 9 11 .450
4. St. John's 10 1 19 .050