May 13, 2016
by Tony Jones
RALEIGH, N.C. -- A strong first inning propelled the offense for the University of Notre Dame lineup in its second game of the day Friday during the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Softball Championship. Three Irish runs in the top of the first and a strong pitching performance from Rachel Nasland guided Notre Dame to a 4-2 win over Louisville at the Dail Softball Stadium.
No. 20/23 Notre Dame (41-10) reached its second ACC Championship game in three seasons with the victory, and will face top seed Florida State on Saturday at 2 p.m. (ET) on ESPN. Pam Ward and Cheri Kempf will have the call from the Dail Softball Stadium. The Irish and Seminoles split an ACC doubleheader on April 3 at Melissa Cook Stadium.
Ali Wester reached on a four-pitch walk against Louisville (35-15) starter Megan Hensley (15-5) in the top of the first inning, taking second base with a steal and third base after a throwing error on Cardinals catcher Jenna Jordan. Micaela Arizmendi cashed in the RBI opportunity with a single into left field, plating Wester for the 1-0 Notre Dame lead. Caitlyn Brooks reached by way of a one-out walk, and after both runners moved into scoring position on a ground ball out Morgan Reed cleared the bags with a two-run single up the middle to make it 3-0 Irish.
Maryssa Becker chipped away at the Notre Dame lead in the bottom of the first, clubbing a solo home run deep and gone to left field with one out to cut the Irish advantage to 3-1. Nasland (15-3) struck out the side by punching Jordan McNary and Nicole Pufahl out looking and Hailey Smith on a swinging strike three to get out of the inning.
Louisville looked to keep the momentum rolling in the bottom of the second inning when Sidney Melton pulled a slap double into the right field gap. A picture perfect relay from Megan Sorlie to Reed to Kimmy Sullivan put Melton out grinding for the triple at third base. Nasland grounded Brittany Sims out to shortstop to end the Cardinal ups.
Nasland worked out of a bases loaded jam in the bottom of the third inning with only one Louisville out on the scoreboard. Hensley struck out swinging gunning for a 1-2 pitch and Pufahl just missed on a fly ball out to left field to leave the bases full of Cardinals.
Notre Dame pushed an insurance run across in the top of the fourth inning against the Louisville reliever Becker. Reed singled to second base and Casey Africano singled up the middle before Bailey Bigler dropped a base knock into right field with one out to load the bases. After a force out at home put out Reed trying to score, Ali Wester located a high chop RBI single to shortstop to score Africano and extend the Notre Dame lead to 4-1.
Nasland worked out of a bases loaded jam in the bottom of the fourth inning once more to stall the Louisville offense. Becker grounded out to third base to leave the bases full of Cardinal runners in the stanza.
Nasland was strong in a complete game effort against Louisville, scattering nine hits and five walks but limiting the earned runs against to only two. Nasland punched out seven Cardinal batters for her second victory of the day after downing Virginia Tech 5-4 in the ACC Championship quarterfinal earlier in the day.
Louisville kept bringing it on offense to Notre Dame in the bottom of the sixth inning. Sims walked and pinch hitter Lillie Goetz ripped a single off Nasland's glove, and McNary picked up a run-scoring single later in the frame to close the gap to 4-2. Nasland slammed the door with a groundout of Becker to third base and fouled Smith out down the left field line to end the Louisville half.
Louisville made one last run at the ballgame in the bottom of the seventh after Hensley and Pufahl flew out to the Notre Dame outfield. Jordan rocked a single to center field and Melton added a single to the Cardinal surge to bring the tying run to the plate in Sims. Nasland got Sims chasing a 3-2 pitch for a swinging strike three and the clinching out.
Reed went a perfect 3-for-3 in the game with two RBI and a stolen base, while Bigler added two base hits. Ali Wester and Arizmendi converted both RBI opportunities.
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.