May 22, 2016
by Tony Jones
ANN ARBOR, Mich. – As one of the top eight seeds in the 2016 NCAA Championship, Michigan proved to be a difficult host throughout the weekend at Alumni Field. Although the University of Notre Dame softball team was the only foe at the NCAA Ann Arbor Regional to score a run against the Wolverines, No. 2 Michigan emerged with a 6-2 win on Sunday in a regional final matchup with the Irish inside the Wilpon Softball Complex.
No. 23 Notre Dame (43-13) finished its 18th straight NCAA Championship season with an eighth straight 40-win campaign. The Irish have now made 21 NCAA Regional appearances in 28 seasons as a varsity program.
Michigan (49-5) got off to a fast start thanks to All-American Sierra Romero, who blasted her team-leading 19th home run of the year over the left field fence in the first inning to give the Wolverines a 1-0 lead. Rachel Nasland (16-5) bounced back quickly by forcing Kelly Christner to fly out to center field and Kelsey Susalla to strike out swinging.
Ali Wester got the Notre Dame offense going with a slap single into right field in the bottom of the first inning against Michigan starter Megan Betsa (26-3). Wester reached second base by way of a steal, but consecutive Irish outs left the tying run stranded.
Michigan padded its lead in the top of the third inning after Sierra Lawrence connected on a leadoff home run to left field. Lawrence’s 11th of the year put the Wolverines ahead 2-0. Nasland ultimately forced three fly ball outs to leave a pair of walks stranded on the bases.
Co-captain Karley Wester did her part to spark a Notre Dame rally in the bottom of the third inning, clubbing a solo home run over the fence in right center field. Wester’s third home run of 2016 trimmed the Michigan lead to 2-1. Ali Wester followed with a single up the middle but was ultimately thrown out stealing second base. An Irish strikeout stalled the Notre Dame attack.
Michigan’s Faith Canfield reached by way of a Notre Dame throwing error after executing a solid bunt in front of the plate in the top of the fourth. Nasland forced Abby Ramirez to ground out to third base and Lawrence to fly out to left field to leave Canfield at second base.
Notre Dame was able to push the tying run to second base in the bottom of the fourth inning after Micaela Arizmendi ripped a leadoff single through the right side. Caitlyn Brooks moved Arizmendi into scoring position with an effective sacrifice bunt, but consecutive Betsa strikeouts left the Irish runner on the pond.
Michigan extended its lead in the top of the fifth inning. Romero reached by way of a throwing error and took second base on a wild pitch. A bunt single and walk loaded the bases for Aidan Falk, whose two-run single to center field made it 4-1 Wolverines. A two-RBI base hit for Lindsay Montemarano vaulted Michigan ahead 6-1. Allie Rhodes entered in relief and popped Canfield out to second base before Maddie McCracken threw out Montemarano attempting to steal second for the inning’s final out.
Rhodes threw 2.2 innings of scoreless relief in her final collegiate appearance, striking out one Michigan batter. Rhodes finished the NCAA Ann Arbor Regional with a 1-0 record and a 0.58 ERA in three tournament appearances (two starts).
The Irish kept fighting against Betsa in the bottom of the fifth inning. Karley Wester kept the inning alive with a two-out single through the right side and advanced to second with a stolen base. Ali Wester brought her older sister home with an RBI single up the middle, taking second on the throw to trim the Notre Dame deficit to 6-2.
Michigan threatened once more in the top of the sixth inning after Ramirez led off the frame with a double to left field. Christner hit what looked to be an RBI single into center with two outs, but Karley Wester came up with a terrific throw all the way to the plate to gun Ramirez down at the dish.
Ali Wester led all players with a 3-for-3 day at the plate, adding an RBI and a stolen base. A finalist for the Schutt Sports/National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) Division I National Freshman of the Year award, Wester finished the tournament with a team-high four runs batted in.
Karley Wester added a 2-for-4 output with her solo home run, stolen base and two runs scored. The elder Wester established Notre Dame single-season records for hits (91), runs (68) and stolen bases (46) in 56 games in 2016 as a Top 10 finalist for the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year award.
Morgan Reed and Brooks both added hits to the Notre Dame cause, while Kimmy Sullivan chipped in a stolen base. Notre Dame’s 540 hits in 2016 were the second most in program history, marking the third straight year that the Irish logged 500 or more hits in a season.
Arizmendi added a single in her final career collegiate game, and tied Ali Wester for the Notre Dame tournament lead with four RBI. Arizmendi graduates with the second highest slugging percentage (.660), second most RBI (191) and the third most doubles (53) and home runs (38) in Irish program history.
Arizmendi, Rhodes, co-captain Carly Piccinich, Megan Sorlie and Casey Africano reached four NCAA Regionals as a senior class, winning 169 career games from 2013-16. Notre Dame notched eight wins over opponents ranked within the national top 10 since 2013, the second-most top 10 victories for the Irish ever in a four-year span (nine, 1999-2002).
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.