April 20, 2016
by Tony Jones
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - A lightning start on offense that featured five runs in the first two innings set the University of Notre Dame softball team in motion on Wednesday, and the Irish never relented their stance. Two insurance runs in the fourth inning canceled out a pair of Valparaiso home runs to carry the Irish to a 7-3 win over the Crusaders in midweek action at Melissa Cook Stadium.
No. 18 Notre Dame (34-6) improved to a perfect 7-0 in home midweek games this season with the victory over Valparaiso (9-27). The Irish have outscored nonconference foes by a cumulative 54-11 run count over their first seven home nonconference games.
Rachel Nasland (12-1) retired the first two Valparaiso hitters she faced in the top of the first inning, popping Kaitlyn Ranieri out to first base and striking Taylor Lawson out swinging. Lanie Callaghan worked a full-count walk with two outs, but Nasland answered with a swinging strikeout of Carly Trepanier that stranded Callaghan at first base.
Melissa Rochford ripped a two-out single into left field off Valparaiso starter Sierra Pico (1-9) to get the Notre Dame offense in motion in the bottom of the first inning. Caitlyn Brooks seized the RBI moment and crushed a 1-1 Pico pitch deep and out to left field for a two-run home run one batter later. Brooks' ninth long ball of the season put the Irish on top 2-0.
Valparaiso notched its first hit of the game in the top of the second on a single through the left side by Brenna Boyle. Nasland regained her form after striking the first two batters of the inning out by grounding Stephanie Moreno out to third base for the inning's final out.
Notre Dame added three more runs to the scoreboard in the bottom of the second inning against the Valparaiso pitcher Pico. Ali Wester grooved a two-out double to the left center field gap to plate co-captain Carly Piccinich and vault the Irish ahead 3-0. A bases-loaded walk issued to Micaela Arizmendi two batters later pushed across Wester for the 4-0 Notre Dame lead. Morgan Reed capped the inning's scoring with an RBI single through the right side, bringing Rochford across home plate (5-0).
After a three-up, three-down top of the third inning, Nasland had to buckle down to strand a pair of Valparaiso runners in the top of the fourth. Pico grounded out to third base and Boyle struck out swinging to keep the Crusaders off the board.
Notre Dame padded its lead with two more runs in the bottom of the fourth inning. Co-captain Karley Wester jolted a leadoff single up the middle before cleanly swiping second base with her 33rd stolen base of the season, tying the single season record held by two-time All-American Megan Ciolli (2005). An Ali Wester sacrifice bunt moved the lead runner to third base, where a Rochford RBI single to center field brought Karley Wester in for the 6-0 Irish lead. Arizmendi added an RBI triple down the right field line later in the inning to score Rochford and stake a 7-0 Notre Dame advantage.
Valparaiso found its first real offensive surge to begin the top of the fifth inning, as Moreno clubbed a solo home run to right center to trim the Notre Dame lead to 7-1. Nasland worked around two walks later in the fifth to strike out Callaghan looking and ground out Trepanier to the circle.
The Crusaders inched ever closer in the top of the sixth after Boyle connected on a one-out home run to left field, also scoring Pico to bring Valparaiso within four runs at 7-3. Nasland notched yet another strong rebound with swinging strikeouts of Moreno and Jenna Stauffenberg to end the inning.
Katie Beriont worked a scoreless top of the seventh inning to keep her weeklong momentum rolling and clinch another Notre Dame victory. Ranieri and Lawson both struck out looking for two quick outs, and Callaghan lined out to Arizmendi at first base to close the ballgame.
Notre Dame hits the road for a three-game Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) series this weekend at North Carolina, with a pair of games Sunday leading into a Monday night series finale. Sunday's 3:30 p.m. (ET) start and Monday's 7 p.m. showdown will be televised live on ESPNU from Anderson Family Field in Chapel Hill.
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.