May 21, 2016
by Tony Jones
ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Stellar pitching performances from the circle remained the story for the University of Notre Dame softball team throughout play on Saturday at the NCAA Ann Arbor Regional. Irish pitchers yielded four hits over 12 innings to blank Valparaiso 8-0 in five innings and Miami (Ohio) 5-0 in a pair of elimination games at Alumni Field.
No. 23 Notre Dame (43-12) advanced to a regional final round of the NCAA Championship for the third straight season and 10th time in program history. The Irish and No. 2 seed Michigan are scheduled to meet at 2 p.m. (ET) on Sunday at Alumni Field on the Big Ten Network.
Allie Rhodes (19-6) threw a strong first game of the day against Valparaiso (18-34), eliminating the Horizon League champions with a one-hit shutout over five full innings. Rhodes did not yield a walk to the Crusaders and struck out one batter on only 47 pitches.
Rachel Nasland (16-4) followed with a big-time start in a rematch with Mid-American Conference (MAC) titleholder Miami (35-23), spinning a three-hit shutout over seven innings. RedHawk hitters managed to draw three walks against Nasland, while the Notre Dame right-hander struck out four batters.
Co-captain Karley Wester finished Saturday with four hits, including a double, and added an RBI, stolen base and three runs scored. Micaela Arizmendi chipped in four hits, including two doubles, and drove in a team-high four runs during the pair of games. Co-captain Carly Piccinich equaled Wester with three runs, while Caitlyn Brooks chipped in three RBI.
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#23 Notre Dame 8, Valparaiso 0 (5)
Notre Dame came flying out of the gates in the top of the first inning against Valparaiso starter Taylor Weissenhofer (10-14). Karley Wester led off with an infield single before moving into scoring position on an Ali Wester single on the dirt. As Morgan Reed attempted to lay down a sacrifice bunt one batter later, a fielding error by Crusader second baseman Carly Trepanier brought Karley Wester in for the 1-0 Irish lead. Micaela Arizmendi then ripped an RBI single through the right side to plate Ali Wester for the 2-0 Notre Dame cushion. Caitlyn Brooks cleared the bags with a two-run double off the left field wall to push the Irish advantage to 4-0.
Allie Rhodes made quick work of the Valparaiso order in the bottom of the first inning. Trepanier grounded out to shortstop, Taylor Lawson grounded out to third base and Sam Stewart chopped out back to the circle.
Carly Piccinich reached on a fielding error to open the top of the Notre Dame second inning, moving to third base on the play. Karley Wester drew a five-pitch walk and took second base on a steal, where a Morgan Reed sacrifice fly to center field allowed Piccinich to tag and score for the 5-0 Irish lead.
It was another three-up, three-down inning for Rhodes and the Notre Dame defense in the bottom of the second frame. Kaitlyn Ranieri and Taylor Nadler were both retired on fly ball outs before Jorgi Calombaris grounded out to the circle.
Notre Dame pushed an insurance run across in the top of the third inning. Arizmendi ripped an automatic double that hopped over the wall in foul ground down the right field line. After Arizmendi took third base on a passed ball, Brooks brought her home with a sacrifice fly to right field (6-0).
Following another 1-2-3 inning for Rhodes on the Notre Dame mound in the bottom of the third inning, the Irish scraped another run over the plate in the top of the fourth. Karley Wester slugged a leadoff double to the gap in right center before Ali Wester moved her to third with a sacrifice bunt. Reed dropped an RBI double down the left field line to score Karley Wester for the 7-0 Notre Dame lead.
Valparaiso legged out its first hit of the game with one out in the bottom of the fourth inning, thanks to a Lawson infield single. Rhodes was undeterred, forcing Stewart to fly out to center and Ranieri to ground out to second base to escape the stanza.
Notre Dame tacked on an additional run after returning to the plate in the top of the fifth inning. Kimmy Sullivan golfed the second pitch she saw from Weissenhofer deep and gone into the right field bleachers. Sullivan’s fourth home run of the season extended the Irish edge to 8-0.
Rhodes polished off Valparaiso with another 1-2-3 inning in the bottom of the fifth. Mackenzie Buchelt struck out looking, Calombaris flew out to right field and Stephanie Moreno popped out to Reed at shortstop.
#23 Notre Dame 5, Miami (Ohio) 0
Morgan Reed kept the Notre Dame top of the first inning moving by ripping a two-out single up the middle off Miami starter Carly Mortensen (6-7). Micaela Arizmendi rocked a 3-2 pitch into the right center gap one batter later to score Reed from first for the 1-0 Irish lead.
Rachel Nasland worked through an economical 1-2-3 bottom of the first inning against the Miami order. Michaela Schlattman lined out to third base, Eryn McCarver grounded out to Reed at shortstop and Taylor Shuey struck out swinging to close the RedHawk ups.
Notre Dame was able to chase Mortensen from the game with another steady offensive inning in the top of the second. Casey Africano rocked a one-out double off the wall in right center field before Megan Sorlie reached on a walk. Karley Wester hung back on a pitch and drove an RBI single into left field, scoring Africano for the 2-0 Irish advantage.
Miami looked for its best chance to threaten in the bottom of the fourth inning. McCarver lined an infield single off the glove of Kimmy Sullivan at third base, and Shuey worked a walk to get the RedHawks in motion. Johniann Wahl flew out to left field before an infield fly-rule application off the bat of Kaitlyn Gliha moved both Miami runners into scoring position. Hailey Reed lined out softly to Arizmendi at first to strand both Miami runners on the bases.
Arizmendi continued her solid offensive day with another big hit for the Notre Dame lineup in the top of the fifth. Carly Piccinich and Karley Wester each reached on infield singles, moving into scoring position on a Reed groundout to shortstop. Arizmendi ripped the first pitch she saw from Amber Logemann up the middle to clear the bases with a two-run single that upped the Irish cushion to 4-0.
Nasland worked around a Rylee Whispel one-out walk in the bottom of the fifth inning to leave Miami off the scoreboard once more. Kat Lee flew out to center field and Schlattman grounded out to second base to leave Whispel aboard.
Piccinich kick started the top of the seventh inning with a perfect bunt single in front of the plate, taking second base with a steal. Ali Wester brought Piccinich in from there with a power slap single over the head of the Miami shortstop Schlattman into left center to extend the Notre Dame lead to 5-0.
A 1-2-3 inning for Nasland in the bottom of the seventh sent Notre Dame back to a regional final for the third straight season. Lauren Anderson grounded out to shortstop, Whispel grounded out back to the circle and Lee struck out swinging for the game’s final out.
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.