April 16, 2016
by Tony Jones
BLACKSBURG, Va. -- A gritty performance against a game Virginia Tech squad was what the University of Notre Dame softball team was in search of during a Saturday Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) doubleheader at Tech Softball Park. The Irish responded to the challenge of the host Hokies in kind, as a stellar outing from senior pitcher Allie Rhodes in game one led to a 3-0 Notre Dame win before sophomore Katie Beriont shut the door with 4.2 innings of no-hit relief in a 7-5 comeback victory in the nightcap to sweep the day.
No. 19/20 Notre Dame (31-6, 8-3 ACC) assumed solo third place in the ACC standings with the win over Virginia Tech (21-23, 10-7 ACC) after the teams entered the day deadlocked for that spot. Saturday's double-dip clinched Notre Dame's first series win over the Hokies at Tech Softball Park since joining the ACC in 2014.
"V Tech came to win today and they were tough," Notre Dame head coach Deanna Gumpf said. "Maggie Tyler (Virginia Tech starter) does a great job on the mound, and I liked the way that we got to her in the second game. We started hitting better while making much stronger contact. We got into trouble because we gave them baserunners, but that was just a well-fought day. I love the way that our team kept attacking throughout the day."
Notre Dame broke a scoreless tie entering the top of the seventh inning of game one by pushing across three runs against Tyler (16-14), a three-time ACC Pitcher of the Week selection in 2016. The 3-0 lead was all that Rhodes (14-4) needed for the win, as the Irish senior southpaw spun a one-hit shutout with five strikeouts in the day's opening contest.
Beriont (5-1) entered out of the bullpen with Notre Dame facing a 5-3 deficit in the bottom of the third inning of game two and was equally up to the test. Beriont blanked the Hokies the rest of the way, surrendering a mere three walks and adding four strikeouts.
"It's tough to play these guys at home, and I just like where we're at to be honest," Gumpf said. "V Tech is a really good team, but I feel like everyone we're playing at this point of the season is going to be a good team. We just have to stick to our game and focus on attacking."
The Notre Dame offense took that aggressive mentality to heart against the standout pitcher Tyler, with sophomore Bailey Bigler leading the way with a 4-for-6 doubleheader that included two doubles, one triple, two RBI and two runs scored. Sophomore Morgan Reed and junior co-captain Karley Wester also scored a pair of runs on the day, while Wester chipped in a team-high four RBI.
"One of my favorite things today was how we attacked, and I'm really proud of Bailey Bigler," Gumpf said. "She stepped up big for us and made things happen. Our at-bats got better throughout the day, and I was really proud of how the girls played.
"It shows that the sophomore class has grown so much this year already, both as a class and individually," Gumpf added. "They all just expect so much from themselves and they're doing it. They are competing and attacking, and the way KB came in and kept them off balance, I couldn't be more proud."
Notre Dame and Virginia Tech will clash in the series finale on Sunday at 1 p.m. (ET) at Tech Softball Park, with the game slated to air live on ESPN3. With the series already in hand, Gumpf expects the Irish to bring the same intensity to the diamond to close out the weekend.
"I have no doubt on that," Gumpf said. "You never know what's going to happen with the result, but I will tell you right now that we're going to work and fight tomorrow."
For the latest news and updates on all things Notre Dame softball, visit www.und.com/softball, follow the Irish @NDsoftball and @NDcoachGumpf on Twitter and at Instagram.com/notredamesoftball, and Like the team at Facebook.com/NDSoftball.
Ali Wester got the Notre Dame offense in motion with an infield single off Virginia Tech starter Maggie Tyler in the top of the first inning, advancing to second base on a Hokie throwing error. Melissa Rochford worked a one-out walk to put two Irish hitters aboard, but an inning-ending double play thwarted the Notre Dame momentum.
Virginia Tech threatened in the bottom of the first on an Oliva Lattin single to right field and a Katey Smith walk. Lauren Duff ripped what looked to be a hit for extra bases to center one batter later, but Karley Wester made a tremendous catch on the run at the wall and doubled Smith off at first base for an equally impressive double play to get out of the inning.
Allie Rhodes struck out the Virginia Tech side in the bottom of the second inning, but Kelsey Mericka did advance to first on a swinging third strike that got away in the dirt to keep the inning alive. Emma Strouth flew out to left field to leave the Hokie runner on the pond.
A Breanna Davenport fly ball out to left field in the bottom of the third inning looked to shift Virginia Tech's Chelsea Whitcomb into scoring position at third base, but it was determined she had not tagged up at second and the Notre Dame defense turned a double play to erase the lead runner. Lattin flew out to left field one batter later to cap the Virginia Tech inning.
Caitlyn Brooks reached by way of a one-out walk in the top of the fourth against Tyler, and co-captain Carly Piccinich moved into scoring position on a successful stolen base. Tyler locked down the Notre Dame offense with back-to-back strikeouts to leave Piccinich at second base.
Rhodes worked a spotless 1-2-3 inning against the Virginia Tech order in the bottom of the fourth inning. Smith, Duff and Caitlyn Nolan were each retired on ground ball outs to sit down the Hokie side.
After both teams jockeyed for position on defense in the fifth and sixth innings, Notre Dame found its breakthrough against Tyler in the top of the seventh inning. Morgan Reed ripped a leadoff single up the middle, and advanced to third base following a Virginia Tech fielding error on a Kimmy Sullivan sacrifice bunt. Pinch runner Casey Africano stole second uncontested to set the stage for Bailey Bigler, who roped an RBI single down the left field line to score Reed and put Notre Dame in front 1-0.
Karley Wester followed with an RBI single up the chute to plate Africano for the 2-0 Irish advantage later in the seventh. The Virginia Tech second baseman Lattin made a nice play to field an Ali Wester slap and throw Bigler out at home for the second out, but aggressive baserunning allowed Karley Wester to score from second base and Ali Wester to reach second base for the 3-0 Notre Dame lead.
Rhodes slammed the door on the Hokies during a 1-2-3 bottom of the seventh inning to lock up the win. Duff grounded out to third base, Nolan flew out to right field and Jessie Mehr grounded out to first base.
Karley Wester walked on four straight pitches to open the top of the first inning against Virginia Tech starter Mikaela Allen, advancing to second base on a wild pitch. An Ali Wester sacrifice bunt and Melissa Rochford sacrifice fly to right field brought the run across, giving Notre Dame a quick 1-0 lead.
Virginia Tech responded with three runs on three hits in the bottom of the first inning, the last an RBI single to left field by Chelsea Whitcomb to put the Hokies ahead 3-1. Rachel Nasland forced Caroline Schoenewald to pop out to second base two batters later to escape a bases loaded jam.
Notre Dame responded with two runs in the top of the second to tie the ballgame. A Maddie McCracken one-out double to right center field moved Morgan Reed over to third base following a walk. Megan Sorlie did her job with an RBI groundout to the right side, scoring Reed to trim the Irish deficit to 3-2. Bailey Bigler then ripped an RBI double off the right center field wall against Virginia Tech reliever Maggie Tyler to score McCracken and square the contest at 3-3.
Nasland settled in against the top of the Virginia Tech order in the bottom of the second inning. Breanna Davenport fouled out to Rochford at third base, Olivia Lattin struck out swinging and Katey Smith fouled out to Ali Wester behind the first base bag for a 1-2-3 frame.
Virginia Tech retook the lead in the bottom of the third after Notre Dame stranded two runners in the top half of the inning. Emma Strouth blasted her second home run of the season deep and gone to left field to lift the Hokies back on top 5-3. Katie Beriont entered in relief and struck Whitcomb out looking and popped Schoenewald out to second base to limit the damage of the big fly.
Bigler rocked a one-out triple off the fence in right center field to get Notre Dame going in the top of the fourth inning. Karley Wester connected on a hot shot back to the circle one batter later and Tyler opted for the out at first over the run, scoring Bigler to trim the Notre Dame deficit to 5-4.
Notre Dame dug out of its hole with a big top of the sixth inning against Tyler. Kimmy Sullivan reached with an infield single as a pinch hitter, with Bigler adding a double up the middle with two outs. Karley Wester cashed in with a two-run single through the three-four hole to clear the bases and give the Irish a 6-5 lead.
Beriont kept the momentum rolling with a three-up, three-down frame in the bottom of the sixth inning. Schoenewald struck out swinging, Davenport grounded out to second base and Lattin lined out to a diving Bigler in left field.
Rochford padded the Notre Dame lead on one swing in the top of the seventh inning, turning on a 2-1 Tyler pitch and blasting it over the left field wall. Rochford's fourth home run of the season vaulted the Irish in front 7-5.
Beriont closed her stellar relief appearance with yet another 1-2-3 inning in the bottom of the seventh stanza. Smith flew out to right field, Duff struck out swinging and Caitlyn Nolan grounded out to shortstop for the series-clinching out.
Tony Jones, athletics communications assistant director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 2012 and coordinates all media efforts for the Notre Dame softball and men's soccer programs. A native of Jamestown, New York, Jones is a 2011 graduate of St. Bonaventure University, and prior to arriving at Notre Dame held positions at the University of Louisiana at Monroe and with the National Football League's Buffalo Bills.