March 31, 1998
Irish head to Western Michigan, Play Host to Valparasio
NOTRE DAME, Ind. -- Notre Dame's softball team opened its 1998 BIG EAST season with a win and two losses in a three-game series at BIG EAST South Division opponent Rutgers. Lady Knight pitcher Juliette Brooks capped off the series by becoming the first opposing pitcher to throw a perfect game against the Irish in a 5-0 Rutgers win. The Irish travel to Western Michigan for a doubleheader on Tues., March 31, before playing host to Valparaiso for a Thurs., April 2, doubleheader. Notre Dame then heads to New England for BIG EAST doubleheaders at Providence and defending BIG EAST champion Boston College.
Week in Review: Against Loyola (Chicago), the Irish opened an early six-run lead before the Ramblers cut the lead to 6-4. Tara King (Overland Park, Kan.) smacked a three-run double in the first inning, Melanie Alkire (Union City, Calif.) hit a two-single in the second and Lisa Tully (Garden Grove, Calif.) had an RBI double in the third for the 6-0 lead. Notre Dame scored single runs in the fifth and sixth to secure the win. In the second game, Loyola fought back from 3-1 and 4-3 deficits to tie the game twice at 3-3 and 4-4. Kris McCleary (Westerville, Ohio) put the Irish up for good with a single to score Sarah Mathison (Hilton Head Island, S.C.) in the fifth inning. Two more runs in the sixth assured the 7-5 win. Freshman Jennifer Sharron and junior Angela Bessolo (Lakewood, Calif.) pitched complete games to pick up the wins.
Week in Preview: Notre Dame and Western Michigan will square off in a doubleheader on Tues., March 31. Notre Dame leads the all-time series 7-3 with the two teams splitting a doubleheader last season. Notre Dame's last trip to Kalamazoo in 1996 was a memorable one as then-freshman Angela Bessolo threw an 11-inning complete game shutout 1-0, the longest in Irish history. Junior Yvonne Jenks leads the Broncos with a .375 batting average while junior Jennifer Vanover has pitched over 62 of the team's 103 innings with a 4-5 record.
Nichols Reaches NCAA Record: Senior Kelly Nichols reached the NCAA record for career saves with the 20th save of her career in Notre Dame's 5-4 win over Rutgers. She pitched the final inning win over Lady Knights in relief of Jennifer Sharron and retired three of the four batters she faced for her second save of the season and 20th of her career. Cal Poly Pomona's Lori Thompson saved 19 games from 1987-89 for the previous record. Nichols led the nation in saves in each of her first two years at Notre Dame with eight each year.
Head Coach Liz Miller: Liz Miller has compiled a 212-109 (.660) record in her five-plus seasons at Notre Dame since 1993. Miller, with a career record of 753-251 (.750) 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).
Western Connection: Two of the Irish coaches will have a homecoming of sorts when Notre Dame travels to Western Michigan. Head coach Liz Miller and assistant coach Stephenie Henderson both attended Western Michigan, Miller graduating in 1969 and Henderson in 1995. Henderson left Western Michigan with the highest single-season batting (.432 in 1994) and highest career batting average (.380). The Broncos enter the game with a 7-9 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 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.
Alkire In The Clutch: Freshman Melanie Alkire has quickly become one of Notre Dame's key hitters in the lineup. She has hit in the third spot in the lineup in every game of the season and has hit a team best 12-32 (.375) with runners in scoring position. Alkire also is 3-4 with the bases loaded and 7-10 with a runner on third and less than two outs. She has 21 RBI on the season, more than double of any other Irish hitter. Akire also has helped the Irish out on the mound with a 2-1 record in 22 innnings pitched with two complete games and a shutout.
King Catches Fire: Sophomore Tara King sparked the Irish last week with a hot bat. Beginning with a 2-3 performance in the first game against Loyola, King went 7-16 (.438) in five games with five RBI and a double. She smacked a two-run single in the seventh inning to drive home the tying and winning runs in Notre Dame's 5-4 win over Rutgers.
In The Beginning...: Notre Dame's offense has jumped on the opposition in the first inning this season. The Irish have outscored their opponents 17-8 in the first inning. Notre Dame has also finished strong, outscoring opponents 13-3 in the sixth inning and 16-11 in the seventh.
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.
Don't Look Now: Notre Dame's pitching staff has struck out 113 of the 882 batters faced, including 43 batters who have struck out looking, while Irish batters have struck out just 40 times, including 21 looking.
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.