April 17, 2016
by Tony Jones
BLACKSBURG, Va. - Much as it notched two wins during the first day of play at Tech Softball Park, the University of Notre Dame softball team seemed to have the answer for Virginia Tech. A 13-hit performance, which featured two runs in the fifth and sixth innings, guided the Irish to a 5-3 win on Sunday to complete an Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) series sweep.
No. 19/20 Notre Dame (32-6, 9-3 ACC) secured its second conference sweep of 2016 by taking three games against Virginia Tech (21-24, 10-8 ACC), outscoring the Hokies 15-8 during the weekend set. The Irish also finished with a 28-13 overall edge in hits.
Melissa Rochford notched the first Notre Dame hit of the game, knocking a two-out double off the left field wall against Virginia Tech starter Maggie Tyler (16-15) in the top of the first inning. Tyler came back with a strikeout one batter later to leave Rochford stranded on second base.
Allie Rhodes (15-4) worked out of an early jam in the bottom of the first after issuing a walk to Breanna Davenport by striking out Olivia Lattin looking and Katey Smith swinging. With Lauren Duff at the plate, Maddie McCracken made a perfect throw to Morgan Reed to retire the stealing Davenport at second base for the final out of the opening inning.
Notre Dame claimed the lead in the top of the second inning after Reed reached by way of a four-pitch walk. Megan Sorlie legged out an infield single that allowed Reed to advance all the way to third base, where a Bailey Bigler RBI single to left field one batter later scored Reed to put the Irish in front 1-0.
After Rhodes struck out Duff and Caitlyn Nolan to open the bottom of the second inning, Emma Strouth sent a two-strike single into right center field to get the Virginia Tech offense in motion. Rhodes battled against Kelsey Mericka and forced a swinging strikeout to leave Strouth standing on first base.
Rhodes worked out of danger once more in the bottom of the third inning. Vanessa Gonzalez reached on a Notre Dame error and Chelsea Whitcomb walked. The Irish starter left both runners by fouling Davenport out to McCracken, Lattin flew out to a diving Bigler in left and Smith struck out looking.
The Notre Dame defense held once more in the bottom of the fourth, as Rhodes masterfully pitched out of trouble. A full-count walk to Gonzalez loaded the bases with two outs in the inning, but an off-speed pitch caught Whitcomb chasing strike three to leave the bases full of Hokies.
The Irish padded their lead with a successful top of the fifth inning against Tyler. Co-captain Karley Wester ripped a leadoff single into left field and took third base after a sacrifice bunt from Ali Wester. A Tyler wild pitch brought Karley Wester home to extend the Notre Dame advantage to 2-0. Rochford followed with a triple to the right center field gap, and was brought home one batter later by an RBI single through the right side by Caitlyn Brooks (3-0).
Following a 1-2-3 inning for Rhodes in the bottom of the fifth frame, Notre Dame kept the offensive pressure rolling in the top of the sixth. Sorlie began a two-out rally with a single up the middle, moving into scoring position on a Bigler single through the right side. Karley Wester came through with an RBI single down the left field line to score Sorlie and up the Irish cushion to 4-0. Ali Wester added a chop RBI single up the middle to plate Bigler for the 5-0 Notre Dame edge.
Virginia Tech broke through for its first run of the weekend against Rhodes in the bottom of the sixth inning. A sacrifice fly to center field by Mericka to center field scored Nolan to trim the Hokie deficit to 5-1. Gonzalez popped out to first base one batter later to end the Virginia Tech rally.
The Hokies kept the comeback alive in the bottom of the seventh against Notre Dame reliever Katie Beriont. Davenport stroked a two-run home run over the right field fence to bring the Hokies within two runs at 5-3. Smith looked to hit a sure one-out double to the right center gap, but Sorlie made a diving catch on the grass to snag the would-be hit. The catch would prove monumental, as Strouth strode to the plate later in the inning representing the winning run. Beriont forced the Virginia Tech hitter to fly out to center field to leave both runners on the pond.
Notre Dame resumes nonconference play on Tuesday against Western Michigan. The 6 p.m. (ET) first pitch will stream live on WatchND.
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.
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.