May 8, 2011
STORRS, Conn. - Alexia Clay's seventh-inning grand slam - one of two grand slams and five home runs on the day for No. 21 Notre Dame - capped off a five-run final frame for the Irish to secure the program's 13th BIG EAST Conference softball regular season title. Clay's only hit of the day helped the visitors overcome a nine-run fourth inning spurt by Connecticut, leading to a 14-11 shootout victory for the Irish Sunday at Burrill Family Field.
Notre Dame shared the regular season title with DePaul in 2010, an outcome that could have been replicated this year heading into the final weekend of play. DePaul ended its regular season earlier today in a controversial forfeited game with USF.
Living up to its billing as the preseason favorite to win the league title, Notre Dame (44-8 overall, 19-1 BIG EAST) closed the regular season with 13 straight wins, although not one was more dramatic than today's.
Trailing 11-10, the Irish were down to their last out in the seventh but managed to load the bases before Clay's crisp swing changed the game. Her grand slam ended a fierce rally which saw Notre Dame out-score Connecticut (19-30, 6-15) by an 8-1 margin over the final three innings.
Jody Valdivia (10-4) earned the win for Notre Dame with a steadfast 3.0 innings of relief. After the Huskies scored 10 earned runs on the first two Irish pitchers, Valdivia was her cool self while giving up two hits with four strikeouts.
Notre Dame was blanked in the top of the first and gave up two hits which produced a Connecticut run in the bottom half.
However, the Irish protected the plate with one out by catching Julianne Towers trying to steal home, and Alexa Maldonado ended the stanza by gunning down Andrea Huelsenbeck at the dish.
Maldonado also had an assist during Saturday's doubleheader.
The Irish used sacrifice bunts in the first and second innings to put runners in scoring position.
Notre Dame was able to cash in on Erin Marrone's sixth hit of the series, a single to center that scored a run following Sadie Pitzenberger's leadoff single in the second.
The four RBI brought Johnson's season total to 62. Totaling a school-record 68 RBI in 2010, Johnson is the first player in program history with two 60+ RBI campaigns.
Connecticut put two runners on with singles to begin the bottom of the second and failed to score.
Laura Winter gave up five hits and one earned run in the first 2.0 innings for Notre Dame and was replaced in the third by Brittany O'Donnell. O'Donnell retired the side in her first inning but gave up eight runs in the fourth when Winter made her return to the circle with the bases loaded.
Winter then gave up a two-RBI double to Marissa Guches as part of a nine-run outburst by the Huskies to give the home team a 10-6 lead. Each run was scored with no outs on the board.
Brianna Jorgensborg cleared the fence in left-center with a two-run homer in the fifth to cut into the Connecticut lead, 10-8.
The Huskies got one back in the bottom of the fifth and Maldonado turned on a sixth-inning offering for a solo home run to once again make it a two-score deficit. Maldonado went 4-for-4 to lead the Irish.
Pitzenberger had a hit in each of her first three at-bats before grounding out in the seventh.
UConn loaded the bases with two away in the sixth but came up scoreless. The Huskies left 10 runners stranded on the day.
Katie Fleury belted a one-out, solo home run in the top of the seventh to make it an 11-10 affair.
Marrone represented the tying run on first when she was hit by a pitch two batters later. Lauren Stuhr doubled down the leftfield line to put runners on second and third for Maldonado. Maldonado was walked to load the bags to set the stage for Clay's deep ball, which was Notre Dame's fifth home run of the game.
The Irish now travel to the BIG EAST Championship (May 12-14) in Louisville, Ky.