April 2, 2014
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The University of Notre Dame softball team countered an early 3-0 deficit after the first inning with 10 unanswered runs, and ultimately scored 11 of the game's final 12 tallies on its way to an 11-4 non-conference win over Michigan State on Wednesday night at Melissa Cook Stadium.
The No. 23/25 Irish (22-7) won their fourth consecutive game, and improved to 3-0 at Melissa Cook Stadium this season. Notre Dame is now 8-1 all-time against Michigan State.
“It’s no fun to get down early, and it’s tough, not an easy thing,” Notre Dame head coach Deanna Gumpf said. “I’m really proud of the way we came back and started hitting the ball well in the second inning. I knew once we scored in the second inning we would be fine because we started having good at-bats, and I liked our level of play. We had a lot of energy and stayed there, and I thought that was how we were able to keep going.”
Notre Dame scored 11 runs for the second straight game, matching Tuesday’s 11-4 final score in the team’s win against Ball State. The Irish have totaled 34 runs in their first three home games of 2014, the most runs scored by Notre Dame in its opening three contests of a season at Melissa Cook Stadium since the facility opened in 2008.
“The girls are really seeing the ball well, and they are comfortable up to bat,” Gumpf said. “I don’t think it really matters where they are (in the batting order) right now. We usually keep them in the same general area, and I think they are ok there. They are doing a nice job.”
Senior captain Chloe Saganowich paced the Notre Dame offense with a 2-for-3 day at the plate, adding a home run and a career-high five RBI. Saganowich extended her team-leading hit streak to an even 10 games, and is batting .467 (14-for-30) with five extra base hits and 15 RBI over her past 10 starts.
“I think we are just ready to play games at this point, after having so many canceled, and it really has showed,” Saganowich said. “We are doing a great job of manufacturing runs right now, and I like where we are at.”
Michigan State (8-21) struck first in the top of the first inning, as Lindsey Besson crushed a three-run home run to put the Spartans in front 3-0. Starter Allie Rhodes got out of the jam by forcing Alyssa McBride to ground out to second base for the frame’s final out.
The Irish clawed back in the bottom of the second inning, as a walk drawn by junior Cassidy Whidden and a fielder’s choice off the bat of sophomore Casey Africano gave Notre Dame runners on with one out. A stolen base by Whidden and an advance by Africano slid both runners into scoring position. Saganowich laced a 2-0 pitch from Michigan State starter Valerie Kaff (4-9) into right center field, plating both Whidden and Africano to bring Notre Dame within one run at 3-2.
“You just have to chip away at that point, it’s so early in the game,” Saganowich said. “I think we did such a great job of making sure we scored every inning after that, which resulted in a win.”
Rhodes worked a scoreless top of the third inning, gaining retribution on Besson by forcing the Spartan catcher to line out to junior Katey Haus at third base to end the Michigan State half.
Notre Dame broke the game open in the bottom of the third against Kaff. Junior Jenna Simon got the inning started with a single up the middle, and moved to second on a single by junior All-American Emilee Koerner. A sacrifice bunt executed perfectly by Haus moved both runners into scoring position. Sophomore Micaela Arizmendi laced a one-out RBI single into left field on a 0-1 count, scoring Simon to tie the game at 3-3.
The Irish took their first lead of the contest with a Whidden sacrifice fly down the right field line, scoring Koerner from third to make it 4-3 Notre Dame later in the third inning. Africano kept the inning alive with a seeing-eye single up the middle that brought Saganowich to the plate. The Notre Dame captain drilled the first pitch she saw from Kaff deep and gone over the wall in right center field, clearing the bases and capping a five-run Irish surge (7-3).
“People in front of me were getting on base, and we were able to move them,” Saganowich said of her day at the plate. “It was a good game for our team. Offensively we are doing a great job, and when you do that everything else sort of falls into place. When you’re putting runs on the board, it makes it a lot easier to win games.”
Following a Simon walk to lead off the Irish half of the fourth inning, the Notre Dame second baseman swiped her position base cleanly. A throwing error by Michigan State on the stolen base allowed Simon to advance to third. Koerner made the most of the opportunity, grooving a sacrifice fly to center that allowed Simon to tag up and make the score 8-3 Notre Dame.
Haus kept the momentum rolling with a single as the next batter at the plate, turning a 2-1 Kaff offering into left field for a base knock. Arizmendi followed with a no-doubt shot to right center that cleared everything for her sixth home run of the season (10-3).
Arizmendi finished the game with three RBI and two runs scored in addition to the home run, while Koerner and Haus each added a pair of hits, an RBI and a run scored on the day. Simon and Africano chipped in two runs apiece toward the Notre Dame team total.
Michigan State added a run in the top of the fifth inning, as a Besson RBI single closed the gap to 10-4 in favor of Notre Dame. Irish reliever Rachel Nasland (4-1) picked up the game’s first strikeout, freezing McBride looking to turn away the Spartans.
Nasland earned her second consecutive home victory after throwing four innings of three-hit relief, walking three while striking out three Michigan State hitters.
Freshman Karley Wester began the Notre Dame bottom of the fifth with an infield single to shortstop, and a throwing error by Michigan State’s Destinee Luna enabled Wester to coast into second base. Haus came through with an RBI single to right center field three batters later, bringing Wester across from second to up the Irish cushion to 11-4.
After Michigan State loaded the bases in the top of the seventh inning, Nasland battled back to pop Luna out to third base, stranding all three Spartan runners to end the game.
“We were strong defensively, we made one mistake, but I thought as a whole we had very good defense” Gumpf said. “We didn’t strike too many people out today, and we do typically, so not getting those strikeouts left a lot of balls in play. I thought the defense was a strength of ours and we made plays (in the field), but hitting was certainly our strength today.”