March 31, 1998

Irish head to Western Michigan, Play Host to Valparasio

  • notre dame opens BIG east season at rutgers;
  • regional rivals up next before trips to providence and boston college

    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.
    Against Rutgers, the Irish trailed 4-0 heading into the sixth inning of the first game but rallied with a run in the sixth and four in the seventh for a 5-4 win. The Lady Knights scored two runs in each of the first two innings but were held scoreless the last five innings. McCleary started the comeback with a single to score Mathison in the sixth. In the seventh, Jenn Giampaolo singled to continue the rally and later scored on a single by Alkire. Amy Laboe (Monroe, Mich.) scored on an error before King singled to score Mathison and Dawn Cunningham (Bethalto, Ill.) for the tying and winning runs. The second game of the doubleheader saw the Lady Knights score in five of six innings en route to a 9-2 win. In the single game on Sun., the Irish continued to struggle offensively as they could not manage a baserunner against Brooks, who had been tagged for 13 hits and five runs in the first game of the series.

    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.
    Valparaiso comes to Ivy Field for a 4:30 p.m. doubleheader on Thurs., April 2. The Irish and the Crusaders have met 15 times with Notre Dame winning 13 of those contests.
    Notre Dame will travel to Providence on Saturday in a 12:00 p.m. BIG EAST doubleheader. The Friars, who have never beaten the Irish in five meetings, open their BIG EAST season this week with a three-game series Tuesday and Wednesday against Boston College. The Irish will face the Eagles in a doubleheader on Sunday at 11:00 a.m. Boston College won all three games against Notre Dame last year, a doubleheader sweep during the regular season and an opening-game win on its way to winning the BIG EAST championship.

    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.

    USA Today/NFCA CoachesTop 25
    (March 26)
       Rk.  Team             Record   Points
       1.   Arizona (25)       30-2   625
       2.   Michigan           21-3   599
       3.   Washington         17-4   565
       4.   Fresno State       15-4   528
       5.   Oklahoma           30-7   518
       6.   Texas              29-7   466
       7.   Arizona State *    24-6   433
       8.   Missouri           20-5   425
       9.   South Florida *    34-9   412
       10.  Oklahoma State *   23-7   407
       11.  Hawaii *           30-6   370
       12.  Nebraska           21-7   355
       13.  Long Beach State 22-8-2   301
       14.  Stanford           17-4   292
       15.  Iowa               14-5   289
       16.  LSU                30-4   276
       17.  Florida State     32-12   208
       18.  Oregon State *     17-8   172
       19.  California        20-11   148
       20.  Minnesota          20-7   141
       21.  CS Northridge   17-11-1   117
       22.  Oregon            23-10   110
       23.  Texas Tech        32-10    74
       24.  DePaul *           10-4    46
       25.  USL                17-8    40
        * indicates 1998 Notre Dame opponents
    BIG EAST Standings (3/30)
    South Division   BIG EAST   Overall
    1.   Villanova      3-0       17-7
    2.   Rutgers        4-1        9-5
    3.   Notre Dame     1-2      12-16
    4.   Seton Hall     0-5       10-8
    North Division   BIG EAST   Overall
    1.   Connecticut      3-0   10-8-1
    2.   Boston College   0-0     13-4
    3.   Providence       0-0     9-10
    3.   St. John's       0-3   7-11-1
    Irish Leaders
       Sarah Mathison   .329
       Jenn Giampaolo   18
    Slugging Percentage 
       Melanie Alkire   .380
       Kelly Nichols   1.30
    Strikeouts Per 7 Innings
       Angela Bessolo   6.90
    Innings Pitched
       Jennifer Sharron   69.2
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