March 13, 2014
ORLANDO, Fla. – A late 2-1 deficit against FIU in its first game at the UCF Softball Complex Thursday did not deter the resolve of the University of Notre Dame softball team. Clutch hitting and base running pushed the tying run across with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning to tie the game at two, sending the Irish from the brink of defeat into extra innings.
In what was the longest game in nearly 20 years for Notre Dame, the No. 22 Irish outlasted the Panthers 4-3 in 13 innings on a walk-off RBI double by senior captain Chloe Saganowich in the opening game of the day’s doubleheader. Host UCF gained the edge in the nightcap, forcing a split for Notre Dame following a 3-0 victory.
The Irish (18-5) won their latest game played, in terms of innings, in a given season since April 22, 1995, when Notre Dame defeated Cleveland State 8-4 in 15 innings. Thursday’s victory was the team’s second in 2014 in extra innings, following a 3-2 win in eight frames over Auburn on Feb. 9.
Junior catcher Cassidy Whidden sparked the Notre Dame comeback in the bottom of the seventh inning, lacing a leadoff single into left field with the Irish trailing 2-1 and facing their last ups. It was Whidden’s first hit of the day, and came at an extremely opportune time for the Notre Dame offense.
Whidden was again called upon again for her offensive heroics in the bottom of the ninth inning with the Panthers in front 3-2, launching a 2-2 pitch over the left field wall for a huge solo home run that tied the game at 3-3, and restarted the Irish momentum in extra frames.
“The mindset really was to put the ball in play, somewhere,” Whidden said. “I felt comfortable in the box, unlike the past couple of weekends, so that was really a comforting feeling. I felt like I was seeing the pitcher, and just found a good pitch to hit.”
Even more impressive than the home run in the ninth was the run that Whidden scored in the bottom of the seventh inning to tie the ballgame. On the move in a two-out scenario Whidden rounded third base and scored the tying run on freshman Karley Wester’s infield single, from second base.
“Two outs, (the mentality is) two bases,” Whidden said. “It’s listening to and trusting Coach (Deanna Gumpf), putting your head down and going all the way.”
Whidden’s big fly two innings later again brought the score level with the game on the line, and was the first home run from either team with a stiff, swirling wind blowing in from the outfield. The crucial hit seemed to charge the Irish lineup, and provided a spark for the next four innings.
“I hope that it made everyone else say, ‘We can do this,’ and at no point did I think we couldn’t do it,” Whidden said. “It was just a matter of when, and how. At that point it was a nice deep breath of relief, and got us focused to get it going and get the win.”
Victory would follow in the home half of the 13th inning, when Saganowich crushed the second pitch of her at-bat against FIU starter Shelby Graves (8-4) off the left field wall, scoring pinch runner Monica Torres from second base and securing the win for Notre Dame.
Senior pitcher Laura Winter (12-2) threw all 13 innings in the circle in game one for Notre Dame, allowing 11 hits and no earned runs during the outing, walking none and tying a career-high with 15 strikeouts. The win was the 95th of Winter’s career, moving her within one victory of tying Heather Booth (’06) for the Irish program record.
Whidden paced all Notre Dame batters with three hits and her pair of runs scored during the doubleheader, while Saganowich and Winter added two hits each. Sophomore pitcher Allie Rhodes tossed 5.2 scoreless innings out of the bullpen in game two against UCF, striking out two Knight batters.
Notre Dame resumes Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) play on Saturday at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. All three contests will air live on ESPN3.
Game One – #22 Notre Dame 4, FIU 3 (13 innings)
A 1-2-3 FIU half in the top of the seventh inning gave the Irish one last chance at a rally in the bottom of the seventh inning. A sharp single into left field off the bat of junior Cassidy Whidden got the inning going, and a sacrifice bunt by senior captain Chloe Saganowich moved the runner into scoring position. A fly out to left field retired the second Notre Dame out of the frame, and FIU chose to intentionally walk junior Emilee Koerner to set up the force on the infield. A flare to the left side by freshman Karley Wester barely escaped the reach of converging Panther defenders, allowing Whidden to score and tie the game at 2-2. Graves escaped with a pop up to shortstop to send the game to extra innings.
An Irish error and a single that skipped through the left side gave FIU runners at second and third with nobody away in the top of the ninth. An RBI double to left field by Dani Mowry scored Stephanie Teixeira to vault FIU in front 3-2.
Whidden would not allow Notre Dame to go quietly in the bottom of the ninth inning, crushing a 2-2 pitch over the left field wall to lead off the Irish half, stunning FIU and tying the game at 3-3. A pair of outs brought Koerner to the plate, where Graves lost a two-strike pitch inside that hit the Irish center fielder. A Wester groundout to first base ended the threat and sent the game to the 10th inning.
Back-to-back three-and-out innings for FIU gave Notre Dame a chance to win in the bottom of the 11th. A four-pitch walk drawn by Whidden gave the Irish a look, but a fielder’s choice groundout and a lineout halted the Notre Dame surge.
FIU (18-8) managed a pair of back-to-back singles in the top of the 12th off senior Laura Winter, but the Irish ace forced Rebekah Sanchez to fly out to center field to end the half inning.
A one-out infield single to left side by Wester got the Notre Dame ups going in the bottom of the 12th, but a foul out and groundout again stalled the Irish offense.
Two FIU singles in the 13th gave the Panthers runners at first and second with one away. What looked to be an RBI single into left field by Krystal Garcia was thwarted by Wester, whose perfect throw to the plate gunned down Nicole Rascon. Gabby Spallone tried to make a push for third base, and was thrown out by the catcher Whidden at third base for the final out of the inning.
Notre Dame put the game away for good in the bottom of the 13th inning, which began with sophomore Micaela Arizmendi being hit by a pitch. Pinch runner Monica Torres advanced to second base on a sacrifice slap hit from sophomore Megan Sorlie. A fielding error by FIU shortstop Garcia on a sharply hit ball by Whidden left both Irish runners safe to bring Saganowich to the plate. The Notre Dame captain came through on a 0-1 pitch from Graves, stinging an RBI double off the wall to score Torres and complete the Irish comeback.
Koerner opened the Irish bottom of the first inning with a leadoff triple, crushing a 1-1 pitch from FIU starter Graves over the head of the right fielder Rascon and off the wall. An RBI single to right field by junior Katey Haus two batters later found the grass and scored Koerner from third, giving Notre Dame a 1-0 lead. A single off the bat of Winter advanced Haus into scoring position at second base, but consecutive fly ball outs forced by Graves got the Panthers out of the jam.
Winter struck out the side on nine pitches in the top of the second, retiring Mowry, Aleim Lopez and Rachel Slowik all on swinging strikes to post her second straight shutout frame.
Winter cruised along in the top of the third inning, striking out Bre Kaye looking and Sanchez swinging before inducing a pop out to Koerner in center to retire the FIU side.
FIU broke through against Winter in the top of the fourth inning, as Mowry tripled off the right field wall and scored on a field error by Notre Dame, also bringing lead runner Garcia across to make it 2-1 Panthers. Winter forced Lopez to fly out to left field to end the FIU threat in the half inning.
Winter tried to help her own cause in the bottom of the sixth, lacing a one-out single into left field off Graves. A Notre Dame pop out and strikeout left pinch runner Carly Piccinich stranded at first base.
Game Two – UCF 3, #22 ND 0
UCF struck first in the bottom of the opening frame, as an RBI single up the middle by Farrah Sullivan scored Jahley Novak to give the Knights a 1-0 lead. Back-to-back singles from Jessica Ujvari and Mariah Garcia put a second UCF run on the scoreboard (2-0). A sacrifice fly off the bat of Samantha McCloskey upped the advantage to 3-0 in favor of the Knights, but Garcia got herself doubled off trying to advance to third base.
Reliever Allie Rhodes shut the door in the bottom of the second, retiring Brittany Solis and Kalyn Cenal on ground balls and Taylor Wagner on a fly out to Karley Wester in left field to calm the Knight bats in the inning.
Jenna Simon broke through with the first Notre Dame hit of the evening, grooving an infield single to the left side off UCF starter Shelby Turnier (11-1) in the top of the third inning. Turnier retired the next three Irish hitters in order to strand the Notre Dame runner in scoring position.
Rhodes cruised through the bottom of the fifth inning, striking Wagner out looking and Novak out swinging. Linnea Goodman flew out to Wester in left field to complete the 1-2-3 inning.
Wester added the second Notre Dame infield hit in the top of the sixth inning, but Turnier forced consecutive fly ball outs, including a deep fly to the warning track in center off the bat of Laura Winter, to hold the Irish at bay.
Cassidy Whidden tried to start the rally in the top of the seventh, lacing a leadoff single into center field off Turnier. Pinch hitter Casey Africano then ripped a shot down the third base line that caught third baseman Sullivan in the face for a single, bringing the tying Notre Dame run to the plate. A single to left field by captain Chloe Saganowich loaded the bases for Koerner, but a dangerous fly ball to no man’s land was snagged by UCF shortstop Solis to end the game.