#24/25 Irish Down Eastern Michigan 12-2 In Home Opener
March 27, 2014HOOSIER SPORTS 365
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - The wintry weather that has maintained its hold over the University of Notre Dame campus for almost four months briefly broke on Wednesday afternoon, just in time for softball. Blue skies and warmer temperatures greeted the No. 24/25 Notre Dame softball team in its home opener against Eastern Michigan, and the Irish emerged with a 12-2 win in five innings at Melissa Cook Stadium.
"We've tried to not focus on the weather here, for a variety of reasons, but we were just ready to play," Notre Dame head coach Deanna Gumpf said. "We sat out a long time, a week and a half of sitting and not playing any games after playing 26 almost back-to-back, it was weird. To get on the field and get another game under our belt was very good."
Notre Dame senior pitcher Laura Winter (14-3) made Irish program history after entering in relief in the fifth inning, tossing a scoreless final frame to become the all-time leader in career wins with 97. Winter surpassed Heather Booth's ('06) total of 96 victories in just her 145th appearance in a Notre Dame uniform.
"It's so cool, to work four years and finally reach something as amazing as that is great," Winter said. "My teammates have helped me along the whole way, and it really just feels great."
"It was crazy, she threw to three hitters and got the win," Gumpf said. "She's been amazing for us, and has carried us. I'm proud of her, happy for her, and can't wait to see what happens the rest of the way."
Senior captain Chloe Saganowich led all players with a 3-for-3 day at the plate, adding a double, three RBI and two runs scored. Junior All-American Emilee Koerner contributed a three-run home run and scored twice, while freshman Karley Wester added an RBI, a run scored and three stolen bases. Seven different Notre Dame players logged at least one hit during the contest to help erase an early 2-0 deficit.
"We needed a big offensive performance just because we got down quick when they got two runs on us early," Gumpf said. "We hadn't done a whole lot prior to that third inning and we needed to let things go a little bit. I like the way we responded, we started hitting the ball real well, and attacked a little bit better."
Irish starter Allie Rhodes cruised through the top of the first inning, striking out Jenna Lucas looking and Lindsay Smith swinging, and forcing an Abby Davidson groundout to Saganowich at shortstop to end the Eastern Michigan (8-17) half of the frame.
Wester worked a four-pitch walk in her first career home plate appearance, and moved into scoring position with a stolen base. Junior Katey Haus added a four-pitch walk, and a missed catch on a pop fly when the infield fly rule was invoked moved up both runners. A hard line out to shortstop by junior Cassidy Whidden ended the Notre Dame surge.
Eastern Michigan pushed the first run of the game across in the top of the third, as an RBI double down the right field line by Davidson scored Lucas and gave the Eagles a 1-0 lead. A hard-luck error at third base pushed the second run of the inning in (2-0) before reliever Rachel Nasland forced a Smith fly out to left field to end the threat.
The Irish (20-7) promptly broke the game open in the bottom of the third inning. Haus legged out an RBI infield single to score Koerner from third base. A fielding error at first base allowed Wester to come around from second during continuation of the play to make it 2-2. After Whidden drew a walk and sophomore Casey Africano looped a single to right field, the Irish had the bases loaded against Eastern Michigan starter Lauren Wells (1-7) with one out. Sophomore Megan Sorlie laid off a full-count offering to score pinch runner Monica Torres with a bases loaded free pass that gave Notre Dame a 3-2 lead.
Saganowich kept the momentum rolling one batter later, grooving a single up the middle to score both Whidden and Africano, upping the Irish edge to 5-2 and running Wells in the process. Koerner made the most of her second plate appearance of the inning two batters later, crushing a 1-1 pitch from reliever Lindsay Rich over the right field wall, clearing the bases and giving Notre Dame eight runs in its half of the inning (8-2).
Whidden opened the bottom of the fourth with a flurry, drilling a leadoff double into the gap in left center field. Africano was then hit by a pitch to move Whidden on to second base. Saganowich turned on the first pitch she saw in her at-bat, smashing a double to the deepest part of the park in straightaway center that scored Whidden and made it 9-2 in favor of Notre Dame. An infield single to shortstop off the bat of junior Jenna Simon scored Africano from third base (10-2). A fielder's choice groundout off the bat of Wester scored Saganowich to increase the lead to 11-2, and pinch hitter Kimmy Sullivan brought around the final Notre Dame run with a four-pitch, bases loaded walk (12-2).
Notre Dame is scheduled to host No. RV/23 Northwestern on Thursday at Melissa Cook Stadium. First pitch I scheduled for 4 p.m., and the game will be available live on WatchND.