May 13, 2016
by Tony Jones
RALEIGH, N.C. - With its back against the wall and facing a 4-2 deficit in the bottom of the sixth inning, the University of Notre Dame softball team found three runs in its final two innings against all-conference first team pitcher Maggie Tyler to stun Virginia Tech 5-4 in the quarterfinals of the ACC Championship on Thursday and Friday at Dail Softball Stadium.
No. 20/23 Notre Dame (40-10) advanced to the second semifinal of the ACC tournament against second-seeded Louisville, which is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. (ET) on Friday at Dail Softball Stadium. The Irish and Cardinals split a two-game series on May 1 at Melissa Cook Stadium.
Virginia Tech (29-28) quickly loaded the bases against Allie Rhodes in the top of the first inning, as Breanna Davenport led off with a double down the left field line to start the frame. Katey Smith and Kelsey Mericka each walked to pack the bags with two outs. Rhodes forced a pop out to Ali Wester at second base to escape the jam.
Notre Dame took the lead in the bottom of the first inning against the Virginia Tech starter Tyler (23-18). Co-captain Karley Wester ripped a leadoff single up the middle, and advanced into scoring position on a bunt single by Ali Wester. An errant throw to first base by Mericka allowed Karley Wester to come all the way home for the 1-0 Irish advantage.
Following a 14-hour weather delay that spilt into Friday morning, Rhodes tossed a 1-2-3 top of the second inning. Caitlyn Nolan popped out to third base and Vanessa Gonzalez and Chelsea Whitcomb went down on swinging strike threes to close the frame.
Notre Dame padded its lead in the bottom of the second. Karley Wester ripped a one-out single through the right side. Ali Wester followed with an RBI double to the left center field gap that scored Karley Wester all the way from first base, extending the Irish cushion to 2-0.
Mericka blasted off with her seventh home run of the season to lead off the top of the fourth inning, connecting on a solo blast to bring Virginia Tech within one run at 2-1. Rhodes settled in from there, flying Emma Strouth out to center field, popping Nolan up to third base and fouling Gonzalez out down the left field line.
Whitcomb tied the game in the top of the fifth after sending a screaming solo homer out and over the wall in left center, squaring the game at 2-2. After Davenport's second double of the game chased Rhodes from the contest, Virginia Tech took the lead on a wild pitch and a Mericka RBI single to push the score to 4-2. Rachel Nasland (14-3) flew Strouth into a double play to center, with Karley Wester making a great throw to Kimmy Sullivan at third base to stall the Hokie attack.
Nasland worked through a three-up, three-down frame in the top of the sixth inning to keep Notre Dame within range. Nolan fouled out to first base, Gonzalez popped out to second base and Whitcomb grounded out to shortstop.
Notre Dame made its move in the bottom of the sixth. Caitlyn Brooks ripped a one-out single into center field off Tyler to set the table for Sullivan. The Irish third baseman drove her third home run of the season deep and gone over the left field fence to tie the ballgame at 4-4. A Reed walk and Casey Africano single kept the inning rolling, but Tyler bounced back with back-to-back strikeouts to leave two on the bases.
Nasland polished off another 1-2-3 inning in the top of the seventh inning. Davenport flew out to center, Olivia Lattin grounded out to third and Smith followed with a groundout to third.
After Rhodes struck out four batters in four innings in an efficient no decision, Nasland scattered a mere two hits in the final three innings to earn the victory.
Karley Wester wasted no time in putting the game away in the bottom of the seventh inning. She blasted a 2-1 pitch to center field and the Virginia Tech fielder Whitcomb made an ill-advised dive on an uncatchable ball. As Wester motored into third base with a leadoff triple, Whitcomb's throw got away from Mericka and enabled the winning Notre Dame run to score.
The elder Wester was 3-for-4 with the triple and three runs scored during the game, becoming the first Notre Dame player to score 60 or more runs in consecutive seasons in the process. Ali Wester added two hits and an RBI, with Sullivan (two RBI), Brooks, Africano and Bailey Bigler each contributing key hits.
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.