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    Fighting Irish

    March 5, 1998

    Notre Dame Heads to Fresno State Softball Classic

    After solid showing at NFCA Leadoff Classic, Notre Dame will face #4 Okla. State, #14 South Carolina, #20 Ore. State

    NOTRE DAME, Ind. -- Notre Dame's softball team finished 3-3 at the NFCA Leadoff Classic with wins over Canisius, 11th-ranked South Carolina and Auburn and losses to Florida, ninth-ranked Oklahoma State and seventh-ranked Arizona State. The Irish went 3-1 to finish second in their pool to eventual tournament runner-up Oklahoma State. Notre Dame heads to Fresno State this weekend for the Fresno State Classic with rematches versus South Carolina and Oklahoma State and games against Oregon State and Western Illinois.

    Fresno State Softball Classic Preview: The Irish head to the Fresno State Softball Classic for four games to begin their spring break trip that also will take them to UCLA and Hawaii. Notre Dame will face South Carolina and Oklahoma State for the second straight week. The Irish beat the Gamecocks 5-2 but lost to the Cowgirls 4-0. Notre Dame will face Oregon State for the first time and will play Western Illinois for the first time since a 2-1 win in 1996 in Tallahassee, Fla.

    NFCA Leadoff Classic Recap: The Irish started 3-0 in their pool with wins over Canisius, South Carolina and Auburn. Against Canisius, Notre Dame took advantage of seven Golden Griffin errors and six walks and used 12 hits for a 15-0 five-inning win. Jenn Giampaolo and Lizzy Lemire each had three hits while Amy Laboe scored three runs. Freshman Jennifer Sharon picked up her first career win on the mound.

    The Irish outhit the Gamecocks 13-2 in the 5-2 win which snapped a four-game losing streak against South Carolina. Notre Dame used seven third-inning singles to jump out to 4-0 lead. Kelly Rowe, Giampaolo and Lisa Tully led off with singles to load the bases to set up Melanie Alkire who smacked a two-run single to center field to drive home Rowe and Giampaolo. Sarah Mathison would single to score Tully and Danielle Klayman would single to score Mathison for the 4-0 lead. Starter Angela Bessolo left after five innings pitched in which she allowed just one hit and no earned runs. Kelly Nichols relieved Bessolo in the bottom of the sixth and picked up her first save of the season and 19th of her career, tying the NCAA career record.

    After falling to Auburn 4-2 in its season-opening tournament in Tampa, Fla., Notre Dame came back for a 1-0 win over the Tigers despite leaving nine runners stranded, including seven in the first three innings. Kelly Nichols pitched the shutout as she allowed just two hits in seven innings. Lemire led off the top of the sixth with a single, went to second on a sacrifice hit and scored on an error.

    Against Oklahoma State, the Irish allowed a pair of runs in the third inning on three singles and a wild pitch. Notre Dame put runners on first and second with no outs in the fourth inning but a triple play ended the inning. Melanie Alkire flied out to right field, Jenn Giampaolo was tagged out at third attempting to tag up and Lisa Tully was caught in a run down to complete the triple play. Notre Dame would manage just two hits against the ninth-ranked Cowgirls.

    In the silver medal bracket, Notre Dame outhit Florida 11-10 but left 10 runners stranded and committed four errors in a 9-3 loss to the speedy Gators. Losing pitcher Angela Bessolo struck out eight batters in four innings pitched. Against seventh-ranked Arizona State, Notre Dame jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the third inning on RBI by Lisa Tully and Melanie Alkire to score Kelly Rowe and Jenn Giampaolo. The Sun Devils went ahead in the bottom of the third when Raja Woods two-out fly ball went over the head of the Irish outfield for a base-loaded triple to clear the bases.

    Nichols Matches NCAA Record: Senior Kelly Nichols will be looking for the NCAA record for career saves this weekend after matching the record last week. She pitched the final two innings of the 5-2 win over South Carolina in relief of Angela Bessolo and allowed just one hit for her first save of the season and 19th of her career. Cal Poly Pomona's Lori Thompson also saved 19 games from 1987-89.

    Scouting the '98 Irish: Seniors Kelly Nichols (Vancouver, Wash.), junior Angela Bessolo (Lakewood, Calif.) and freshmen Jennifer Sharron (Agoura Hills, Calif.) and Melanie Alkire (Union City, Calif.) give the Irish a young but talented and potentially dominant pitching staff.

    After leading the nation in saves in each of her first two seasons, Nichols shifted into a starting role for the Irish as a junior, finishing with an 11-5 record. She entered her junior season with 10 career wins and more than doubled that with her 11 in '97.

    Bessolo led the Irish staff in wins for the second straight year with her 15 wins as a sophomore and is already fifth on Notre Dame's all-time wins list. She has the ability to dominate batters and has returned stronger than ever after a summer of impressive improvement and hard work.

    The pair of freshman hurlers should fill the gap left by three-time academic All-American Joy Battersby. Sharron will make history when she steps on the mound for Notre Dame as she will become the first-ever lefthanded pitcher in Irish history. Alkire will help the Irish both on the mound and at the plate. She frustrates hitters with a variety of pitches and can also frustrate pitchers with her bat as well.

    Senior Korrie Allen (Carol Stream, Ill.) and junior Kris McCleary (Westerville, Ohio) should handle the catching duties once again for Notre Dame. McCleary also will be counted on to provide the Irish lineup with power after a breakthrough sophomore season in which she hit .311. The top returning catcher in the BIG EAST, McCleary led all conference catchers in BIG EAST batting (.405) and base runners thrown out (eight) in '97. Allen will serve as backup to McCleary once again and has given Miller contributions to the team in offensive areas, including pinch running.

    With two starters gone from 1998, the Irish infield will have a new look as the coaches have pieced together the infield with seven talented players vying for the four positions.

    Senior Kelly Rowe (Edison, N.J.) and sophomore Tara King (Overland Park, Kan.) are likely to anchor the Irish once again at first base. Rowe had a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage in BIG EAST games while handling the most fielding opportunities on the team. King hit .322 in her freshman year in which she played in 44 games, starting 29 of them at first base and right field.

    Dawn Cunningham (Bethalto, Ill.) and Alkire should share time at second base. Cunningham brings the most experience of any of the infielders after starting 85 games in the infield in her first two years. Sarah Mathison (Hilton Head Island, S.C.) has been impressive in her switch to shortstop after playing in the outfield as a freshman. The unanimous BIG EAST all-rookie selection started all 60 games in 1997, the first Irish freshman to accomplish this in six years. Lisa Tully (Garden Grove, Calif.) returns in '98 after an off-season training regimen which has improved her power as she appears ready for a breakthrough season offensively.

    The outfield will be a sure strength of the team as senior Jenn Giampaolo (San Marino, Calif.) returns to center field while Amy Laboe (Monroe, Mich.) and freshmen Sarah Kirkman (Kokomo, Ind.), Danielle Klayman (San Diego, Calif.) and Lizzy Lemire (Irvine, Calif.) will play in right and left field. Giampaolo has been the team's best outfielder since her arrival in '95 thanks to her speed and quick reads and reaction to fly balls.

    Laboe, who served as backup to Kara McMahon at third base in her first two years, gets the nod in left field in '98 after a fall season in which she showed great improvements defensively and with the bat. Lemire looks to nail down right field, a position that saw numerous players rotate in and out last year. She brings a powerful bat into the lineup as well as her mature defensive skills. Klayman has impressed the coaches with her quick footwork and range in the outfield. She should split time with Laboe in left field in addition to helping with the rest of the outfield. Kirkman has been improving in the outfield and should develop into one of the top hitters on the team.

    Irish Softball Enters 10th Season: The 1998 season marks the 10th season of Notre Dame softball since its first year in 1989. The program has 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.

    Double Triple For Lemire: Freshman Lizzy Lemire currently boasts a team-best .417 slugging percentage thanks to two triples against Canisius, matching an Irish single-game record for triples in a game. She smacked both triples to the fence in right center field and also had a single with three RBI and three runs scored.

    California Homecoming: Seven Notre Dame players will be returning to California at the Fresno State Classic. Freshman Melanie Alkire (Union City), junior Angela Bessolo (Lakewood), senior Jenn Giampaolo (San Marino), freshman Danielle Klayman (San Diego), freshman Lizzy Lemire (Irvine), freshman Jennifer Sharron (Agoura Hills) and sophomore Lisa Tully (Garden Grove) all hail from the Golden State, the most from any state. Two players (Dawn Cunningham and Korrie Allen) come from Illinois, the only other state represented more than once on the Irish roster.

    Notre Dame Picked As BIG EAST Favorite: For the third straight year, Notre Dame is the preseason pick to win the BIG EAST South Division in a vote by the conference coaches. The Irish received six of a possible seven votes with Rutgers garnering the other vote. Defending BIG EAST champion Boston College is the preseason favorite in the North Division. The BIG EAST schedule, reduced from 20 games each of the last two years, features a 17-game season, with each team playing divisional opponents three times and cross-divisional opponents twice.

    '98 Schedule: The Irish face a difficult schedule once again, with games against ranked teams in 11 of their first 14 contests, after opening-day games against 10th-ranked South Florida and ninth-ranked Kansas. Notre Dame has 15 games against teams that played in the 1997 NCAA regionals and three games against teams in the College World Series. For the third consecutive year, the Irish traveled to Columbus, Ga., for the prestigious National Fastpitch Coaches Association Leadoff Classic and have trips scheduled to Fresno, Calif., Los Angeles, Calif., and Honolulu, Hawaii.

    All-BIG EAST Returnees: The Irish return four players that received all-BIG EAST honors a year ago, including seniors Kelly Nichols and Kelly Rowe, junior Kris McCleary and sophomore Sarah Mathison. McCleary's .405 conference batting average is the highest of Notre Dame's returning all-BIG EAST selections and was the highest of any BIG EAST catcher. McCleary also threw out a conference-best eight base runners attempting to steal and picked off five runners.

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