April 24, 2010
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Sophomore Alexa Maldonado could not have asked for more on Saturday afternoon as she notched five hits in five trips to the plate, hit for the cycle on the day, drove in four runs, scored four more, ended game two with a three-run dinger, and set new career single-game highs in hits (three) and RBI (three) as No. 23 Notre Dame took a pair from Villanova by scores of 8-0 and 11-3 (both in five innings) at Melissa Cook Stadium. The Irish center fielder has now reached base safely in nine consecutive plate appearances dating back to the first game of the doubleheader at DePaul on Thursday.
After Notre Dame's contest earlier this season against Stephen F. Austin (Feb. 21), Maldonado sat at 3-for-23 (.130) on the season and was hitting .194 (27-for-139) for her career. But in 38 games since that day, the sophomore has been red hot, batting .404 (36-for-89) with 27 runs scored, 14 extra base hits - including all four of her career home runs - and 19 RBI. She has also had a remarkable eye at the plate of late, as she has walked 11 times and struck out just five occasions over the last 26 games, compared to two walks and 10 punchouts in the first 20 games of the year.
Lost in the fray was the right arm of junior Jody Valdivia (29-4), who one-hit the Wildcats (18-26 overall, 4-9 BIG EAST Conference) in game one, her fifth one-hitter this season and the eighth of her career, before picking up the win in the second game after tossing 3.0 scoreless innings of relief. Valdivia is now 4-0 with a 0.55 ERA in 14 career relief appearances and holds a current string of 20.1 consecutive scoreless innings when she is not the starter. She last gave up a run in relief on May 4, 2008, against Syracuse.
The game-one shutout was the 14th of the season for Valdivia, leaving her one shy of Terri Kobata's 16-year-old school record for shutouts in a season. She is also one shy of Brittney Bargar's single-season wins record of 30.
The Irish (37-9, 14-3) ran their home winning streak to 16 games and are outscoring their opponents 118-25 over that stretch.
Sophomore Dani Miller got the Irish on the board in the second with her fourth home run in the last 10 games, a line-drive to opposite-field on the first pitch she saw from Molly Manning (10-10). Senior Alexia Clay followed with a rocket off the glove of Kristi Burlin at third, and two outs later, Maldonado ripped her fifth triple of the season just out of the reach of Jamie O'Hara in centerfield to bring home Clay, putting the Irish up 2-0. Junior Katie Fleury's line-drive single to left made it 3-0 and extended her hitting streak to 10 games.
Shannon O'Brien became the first Wildcat baserunner after singling in the third inning, but she remained at first while Valdivia sent down the next three batters on eight pitches.
It was Miller again punishing a Manning pitch in the bottom half of the inning, as the Irish took advantage of a defensive miscue to extend their lead to 4-0. With one out, Christine Lux hit a short fly ball to center, but O'Hara broke back initially and was not able to come up with the ball in a diving effort. Miller then went to the opposite field again, this time for a double, to score Lux easily from second base.
While Valdivia continued to cruise, striking out five of nine Villanova hitters at one point, the Irish continued tack on runs, plating four more in the fourth to round out the game-one scoring. Junior Brianna Jorgensborg fell behind, 0-2, to begin the frame, but worked the count to 3-2, fouling off seven pitches along the way, before drawing the 11-pitch walk. Maldonado then chopped a single to no-man's land behind the pitcher before Fleury doubled home a run to make the score 5-0. Maldonado scored on senior Heather Johnson's sacrifice fly one out later before Lux blasted her 47th career long ball into the left-field bleachers to plate the final two runs of the game. The round-tripper tied Lux with Laura Taylor of Seton Hall for the most home runs in a career in BIG EAST play (24). After a four-RBI day, Lux is also just one shy of the league RBI record, trailing only former Notre Dame standout Jarrah Myers (64 from 1999-2002).
Valdivia retired 15 of the 16 batters she faced in the contest, needing just 59 pitches and reaching a three-ball count just once. She punched out five and allowed just one baserunner for the second time this season (and in her career), the other occasion being her 5.0-inning no-hitter against Seton Hall on March 27.
Manning suffered the loss for Villanova in a complete-game effort, yielding 10 hits while walking two and striking out one.
Three nice defensive plays and a pair of strikeouts with runners on base nearly helped freshman pitcher Brittany O'Donnell escape the first two innings unscathed, but the Wildcats managed to scratch across two runs in the second to take the early lead. Manning and Amanda Marquez led off the second with back-to-back singles before Jorgensborg made a superb running grab in foul ground in right for the first out, with Manning advancing to third on the play. O'Donnell then picked up a clutch strikeout of Eryn Teague for the second out, but Tess Braga pulled a liner to right that landed on the foul line to bring home one run, and an Irish fielding error on the play allowed Marquez to score as well to put Villanova up, 2-0.
O'Donnell yielded a leadoff base knock to Jess O'Boyle in the third before giving way to Valdivia. The rookie allowed two earned runs on four hits in 2.0 innings with two punchouts and a walk. O'Boyle ended up scoring with two outs and two strikes in the inning on Manning's gap shot to right-center, making the score 3-0.
Junior Kristina Wright took note of Manning's double and sent a rocket of her own to the right-center gap to lead off the bottom of the inning. The flood gates opened from there, as Wright was the first of five straight Irish batters to reach base (seven total in the inning). A Jorgensborg hit-by-pitch and a beautiful Maldonado bunt single loaded the bases for Fleury, who delivered again, ripping a Caitlin Delahaba offering up the middle to plate a pair and get the Irish within one at 3-2. After Delahaba plunked junior Sadie Pitzenberger, Johnson grounded into what would have been a 5-2-3 twin-killing, but Teague dropped the ball at first and it squirted away, allowing Fleury to score from second and tie the ballgame. Lux then followed with a double to right to bring home both Pitzenberger and Johnson, giving the Irish a 5-3 cushion.
Valdivia struck out the Wildcat side swinging in the fourth before the Irish bats went to work again, scoring three more times to increase the lead to 8-3. Wright again led off with a hit, advanced to third on Maldonado's double, and after a Fleury walk filled the bases, Pitzenberger roped an infield single off the third baseman to bring in a run. Johnson capped off the scoring with a two-run base knock up the middle. Miller nearly made it 11-3 with two outs in the inning, but Braga reached over the centerfield wall to rob the sophomore of her second homer of the afternoon.
Maldonado picked up her teammate and delivered a three-run, walk-off blast to right in the fifth to end the game, marking the third time this season the Irish have won consecutive BIG EAST contests in six innings or less.
Fleury and Pitzenberger went a combined 5-for-10 on the day; the duo is now batting .533 (16-for-30) with a .588 on-base percentage since they switched spots in the batting order (Fleury took over as the leadoff hitter against Valparaiso on April 21).
Delahaba (8-16) went the distance for Villanova, giving up 10 hits and four walks in the game.
Notre Dame and Villanova wrap up the set with an 11:00 a.m. (ET) contest on Sunday at Melissa Cook Stadium. The Irish will honor Christine Lux as part of Senior Day festivities.