May 9, 2014
COLLEGE PARK, Md. - After three no-hit innings on offense during Friday's semifinal of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Championship, the University of Notre Dame softball team found itself trailing by five runs to Virginia Tech. What happened next was indicative of the fight in the 2014 Irish, as Notre Dame scored seven runs on seven hits in the bottom of the fourth inning to erase the 5-0 deficit. The Irish ultimately logged nine of the game's final 10 runs to claim a 9-6 victory over Virginia Tech in a wild finish at the Maryland Softball Stadium.
No. 20 Notre Dame (39-10) extended its season-long winning streak to nine games with the comeback victory, and will face No. 4 Florida State for the ACC Championship title on Saturday at 2 p.m. (ET) on ESPN2.
"It takes a pretty darn good team to come back and win a game in four innings," Notre Dame head coach Deanna Gumpf said. "We were down 5-0 for three innings without a hit, and we came back and did a great job. That's just the sign of a really good team, and that's where I think we are at right now."
ACC Freshman of the Year Karley Wester led off the bottom of the fourth inning with the first Irish hit of the day, sending an infield single to shortstop off Virginia Tech starter Maggie Tyler. Junior Jenna Simon followed with an infield hit of her own to move Wester into scoring position. A fielding error on a fly ball to left field by junior All-American Emilee Koerner loaded the bases with nobody out.
Junior Katey Haus then brought in a pair of runs with a single to right field, scoring Wester and Simon to pull Notre Dame within three at 5-2. An RBI single from senior Laura Winter plated Koerner, chasing Tyler at 5-3. Junior Cassidy Whidden then worked a full-count walk to load the bases once more against Hokie pitcher Kelly Heinz (20-13). Senior captain Chloe Saganowich followed with a single up the middle that got under Virginia Tech second baseman Kylie McGoldrick, scoring a pair to tie the game at 5-5.
Senior Lauren Stuhr officially completed the rally with an RBI single up the middle, bringing Whidden around from second to give the Irish a 6-5 advantage. Simon then laced her second hit of the inning, a flare single into center field, scoring Stuhr to complete a seven-run, seven-hit Notre Dame half inning (7-5).
Vanessa Gonzalez brought Virginia Tech back within one in the top of the fifth inning, smashing a solo shot over the wall in right center field to close the gap to 7-6.
"It happens (Gonzalez's home run), but all I knew was, if we keep the lead, we win the ballgame," Gumpf said. "That's all we had to do, keep the lead. Virginia Tech is going to do that, they are a great hitting team and have been all year, with major power numbers. I just knew all we had to do was keep the lead at that point."
After a Katey Smith fly out to center field, Haus made a great stab on a line drive to third base by Dani Anderson, spearing the ball for a loud out number two. Winter ended the threat by striking out Amanda Ake swinging.
Winter (27-4) was solid in the circle after a five-run Virginia Tech first inning, allowing only one run on three hits the remainder of the contest. Winter struck out eight batters in her 116 pitches to aid the winning cause.
"Laura's been our leader all year, and she just needed to slow things down the first inning," Gumpf said. "We didn't really do a good job to help her there. Once we slowed things down, and really started getting into her rhythm, she threw a great ballgame. If you look at six innings of that game, she did a heck of a job."
Two Virginia Tech (35-21) runs scored after a Notre Dame throwing error on an infield ground ball with the bases loaded in the top of the first inning, giving the visitors a 2-0 lead. A bases clearing double for Ake quickly made it 4-0 Hokies. An RBI single for Logan Spaw made it 5-0 before Winter forced Bailey Liddle to fly out to center field for the third out of the inning.
"I know what happens when we can get Laura where she needs to be," Gumpf said. "If we didn't get her there we would have made a switch, and that is typical for us to do if a pitcher is not fixing it. I could tell she was fixing it, and that's why she never left the game."
A one-out walk issued to Lauren Gaskill was the only base runner to reach in the top of the second, as Winter forced McGoldrick to fly out to right field before sitting Gonzalez down on strikes for the inning's third out.
"It was kind of a struggle early, but just knowing my teammates were behind me, making plays, was what got me through it," Winter said. "Cassidy (Whidden) and I talked and we figured out that we just needed to play our game, work together as a team."
A Liddle base hit in the top of the third inning looked to score a Virginia Tech run, but a nice throw from the Notre Dame right fielder Stuhr retired Anderson at the plate for a crucial out. The play at the dish ended the Hokies frame with no runs across.
Winter and the Notre Dame defense posted a 1-2-3 frame in the top of the fourth inning. Strikeouts by Michelle Prong and McGoldrick turned Virginia Tech aside in its half of the inning.
"I think slowing things down is really big for me," Winter said. "Sometimes I try to get going with a faster rhythm, which doesn't really help me."
The Irish loaded the bases once more in the bottom of the sixth inning, following a pair of walks and a Wester single. Koerner dropped a perfectly placed bloop single into center, scoring Saganowich from third to make it 8-6 Notre Dame. Haus worked a five-pitch walk with the bags still full, pushing Wester across to chase Heinz at 9-6.
Wester and Winter paced the Irish offense with two base hits each, with Wester scoring a pair of runs. Haus chipped in three RBI, while Saganowich added a pair of runs batted in.