March 31, 2012
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Notre Dame's trek to defend its 2011 BIG EAST Conference regular season softball crown got off to a healthy start with a sweep of Saturday's doubleheader against Connecticut in front of 509 fans at Melissa Cook Stadium.
Two complete games by pitchers Laura Winter and Brittany O'Donnell coupled with 19 total hits by the Irish offense carried Notre Dame to the sweep. Behind a three-run homer from Dani Miller and Winter's eight strikeouts, the Irish took game one, 5-2. In game two, the Irish added 10 hits and scored three times in both the first and third innings to give O'Donnell a comfortable cushion to work with during a 7-3 win.
The doubleheader marked the opening of BIG EAST play for the Irish as last weekend's series at Georgetown was rained out.
Notre Dame (16-10 overall, 2-0 BIG EAST) and Connecticut (13-13, 3-2) will finish the three-game series Sunday at 11:00 a.m. (ET). Live video, audio and stats will be available at UND.com.
After the Huskies opened the scoring with a run in the third, the Irish quickly answered in the bottom of the frame with the long ball.
With two away, the Irish put runners on first and second for Miller, who quickly fell behind in the count after a pair of strikes. The unfretted Miller then launched a towering three-run home run off the top of the scoreboard to give the Irish a 3-1 lead. The home run was Miller's team-leading sixth on the season.
The run support would prove to be enough for Winter (9-6). Winter overcame four Irish fielding errors and the ensuing Connecticut scoring threats to fire home the seven-hitter. Winter's change-up helped her record eight strikeouts as the Connecticut hitters were consistently out in front of her offerings. The only two runs scored with Winter in the circle were of the unearned variety while the hurler walked one of 30 batters faced.
Winter was especially challenged in the third frame. After a single and an error by Katey Haus put runners on first and second, Amy Vaughan stepped to the plate.
Vaughan led the Huskies with nine home runs and 28 RBI entering the day, and a 15-pitch battle between Winter and Vaughan ensued as the Connecticut cleanup hitter fouled off eight straight pitches at one point, including a couple deep town the left field line. Finally, Vaughan popped out to Jenna Simon for the second out.
While the Huskies managed to score on an RBI single by Brittany Duclos, Winter avoided further damage by striking out Andrea Hueslenbeck to end the stanza.
The Irish extended their lead to 5-1 in the fourth, capitalizing on Connecticut miscues. Haus and Winter laced singles with one out and Simon sent a slow roller to Kim Silva at third, who tried to step on the bag for the force out but lost control of the ball for an error.
With the bases loaded, the Irish took advantage of another Connecticut mistake on a wild pitch which plated Haus. Winter then scored on an Alexa Maldonado RBI groundout to make the score 5-1.
After allowing an unearned run in the fifth, Winter cruised through the final 2.0 innings while striking out four.
The game ended on a strike-out, throw-out double play as Marissa Guches was fanned and catcher Amy Buntin snapped a throw to first to pickoff Emilee O'Donnell.
Connecticut starter Kiki Saveriano dropped to 8-6 with the loss as she surrendered nine hits to the Irish in 6.0 innings.
Notre Dame used two big innings and rode another strong start by O'Donnell to complete the doubleheader sweep. The Irish scored three in both the first and third innings and tacked on 10 hits to hang on for a 7-3 win.
The Irish quickly took control of the game in the opening frame. The first three batters reached base for the Irish and each scored.
With runners on second and third, Buntin lined a two-run single to center and advanced to second on the throw home. She would later score from third on a wild pitch by Lauren Duggan.
Meanwhile, O'Donnell (7-4) pitched the second complete game of the day for the Irish, striking out four while allowing one earned run on six hits. O'Donnell retired six straight batters to start the game, including two on strikeouts. Kim Silva ended the streak with a leadoff single in the third and later scored on a two-out single to center to make the score 3-1 in favor of the home squad.
Trailing 7-1 entering the sixth, the Huskies raised some eyebrows when bringing the tying run to the plate. Connecticut staged a two-out rally after an error and passed ball allowed a pair of runners to reach base.
Audrey Grinnell drove a two-run double into the left-center gap to cut the Irish lead to 7-3. Jennifer Ward was then hit by a pitch to load the bases for Emily O'Donnell, though O'Donnell grounded out to second to end the threat.
The Huskies again tried to make things interesting in the seventh as the first two batters reached base. With the Irish bullpen stirring, O'Donnell settled down and finished off her complete game. Brittany Duclos lined a 3-2 pitch to Simon who caught it and flipped the rock to Chloe Saganowich at second base for the double play. A ground out to O'Donnell ended the game.
The other three-run inning for the Irish occurred in the third and increased their lead to 6-1. Kasey O'Connor blooped a two-out, two-run single down the rightfield line. O'Connor's hit chased Duggan (4-5) from the game after 2.2 innings. O'Connor later scored on a wild pitch by relief pitcher Ali Adelman.
The Irish tacked on another run in the fifth on a bases-loaded walk by Alex Maldonado to make the score 7-1. Connecticut escaped further damage when Kelsey Thornton grounded out to second.
The Irish offense shined in the second game as all but two batters in the lineup recorded a hit. Saganowich, Haus, and Buntin each had two-hit games. In addition, Saganowich reached base safely in all three of her plate appearances.
The 10-hit performance marked the sixth time this season that the Irish have recorded a multi-hit game.