May 11, 2011
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Hours after completing final exams for the spring semester, Notre Dame will be put to the test again at the BIG EAST Conference Softball Championship (May 12-14) hosted by the University of Louisville at Ulmer Stadium.
Ranked 24th by the NFCA and 18th in the USA Softball poll with an RPI of 18, Notre Dame earned the top seed in the tournament after securing the regular season title last week with a three-game sweep of Connecticut. The respective rankings are the highest of any BIG EAST team.
The regular season title is the second straight - and 13th overall - for the Irish since joining the BIG EAST in 1996. Notre Dame's 19 league wins match the second-highest total in program history.
Notre Dame enters the tournament riding a 13-game winning streak - the longest to end a campaign since the 2001 squad rattled off an astounding 33 consecutive wins to end its regular season - with the last defeat coming against Louisville on April 17.
Providence grabbed the tournament's No. 8 seed and squares off with Notre Dame in at 4:00 p.m. (ET) on Thursday.
Regular season runner-up DePaul will face seventh-seeded Rutgers, defending champion and third-seeded Syracuse will play No. 6 Pittsburgh with host Louisville facing off against No. 4 USF.
The first and second rounds of the eight-team, single-elimination event will be streamed live on UND.com courtesy of the BIG EAST Conference. The May 14 title contest will be televised live on ESPN2.
In Notre Dame's first season of BIG EAST Conference competition (1996), Liz Miller guided her team to the league's South Division title with a 19-1 record. When the Irish first joined the conference, they faced each divisional team in a pair of doubleheaders over the course of a two-day weekend. The formula changed in 1998, as the games were dropped to just a single doubleheader followed by a solo contest the next day. The conference adopted its current format in 1999, which pits each team in a single-day doubleheader.
Notre Dame is currently 262-47 (.843) in BIG EAST Conference regular-season competition. They finished the 1999 (16-0) and 2001 (20-0) conference schedules with perfect records and have claimed the regular-season title in 13 of the last 16 seasons. Notre Dame broke through with its first BIG EAST Tournament title in 1999 led by the event's Most Outstanding Player, Jennifer Sharron. The Irish repeated in 2000, then fell to fourth in 2001 before claiming the title in 2002 and 2003.
The 2003 team pounded out 21 runs during the tournament and earned the title on Andrea Loman's walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning against Villanova. Loman would go on to earn the tournament's Most Outstanding Player award.
The 2006 season produced another championship, as the Irish saddled the strong pitching of Most Outstanding Player Heather Booth to hoist the hardware. It was Notre Dame's fifth BIG EAST Tournament crown, and was followed by a runner-up finish in 2007. Notre Dame brought home the league trophy once again in 2009.
Notre Dame is one of only three BIG EAST teams that have won at least 18 league games in a single season. The Irish have accomplished the feat on four occasions since 2001, after first reaching the 18-win mark in 1996 then again in 2010. In 2009, both Notre Dame (19-4) and Louisville (19-5) reached the 19-win mark. DePaul won 18 games in 2010, with both the Irish and Blue Demons hitting the 19-win level in 2011.
Notre Dame has seen a team member earn the BIG EAST Conference's top player award on eight occasions. Melanie Alkire won the award in 1999 and 2000, followed by Lizzy Lemire (2001), Jarrah Myers (2002), Andrea Loman (2003) and Megan Ciolli (2004). Meghan Murray also was a two-time honoree, winning the league's top award in 1996 and 1997.
All-BIG EAST accolades have been passed out to Irish players on 101 occasions since 1996.
No. 24/18 Notre Dame Fighting Irish
BIG EAST Conference Championship
First Round - Thursday, May 12--
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