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Softball: Team sweeps two doubleheaders over weekend

Joe Meixell | Monday, April 3, 2006

Notre Dame began Big East play Saturday by showing how dominant it can be on offense or defense, sweeping a doubleheader against Connecticut with a 9-0 blowout and a 2-1 no-hitter.

For the Irish, everything seemed to go their way in game one, especially on offense. Notre Dame lit up the Huskies’ starting pitcher, Krista Micalczyk, for nine runs on 11 hits in only three-and-one-third innings of work. Each of the first five hitters scored in the first inning on Micalczyk.

Irish head coach Deanna Gumpf said it was her team’s ability to get ahead early that really sparked the Irish offense.

“We got into a really good hitting rhythm,” Gumpf said. “The fact that we jumped out early really helped us win.”

Although the Huskies quieted down the Irish bats in the second – allowing no runs and one hit – Notre Dame refused to be stopped, scoring two insurance runs in each of the third and fourth innings.

The top of the Irish lineup continued to help start the offense as it has all year, as the second and third hitters – center fielder Alexendra Kotcheff and Mallorie Lenn, respectively – each scored two runs while Kotcheff reached safely in all three of her at-bats.

Second baseman Katie Laing, batting fifth for the Irish, also had a huge day at the plate, driving in three runs on a double and a triple.

But it was not just the Irish lineup that beat the Huskies, but also the work of the pitchers – starter Heather Booth and reliever Kenya Fuemmeler – who combined for a five-inning shutout before the game was called due to the eight-run slaughter rule.

Booth came out strong by striking out five in her four innings of work. Her performance was especially impressive having just come off an 11-inning complete game against Bowling Green.

“Heather did a great job coming in fresh and ready to go,” Lenn said. “She knew that she had to be ready for this game, and she didn’t let the other game [against Bowling Green] affect her performance.”

While the first game for the Irish proved their ability to hit well against Big East pitching, the second game showed Notre Dame’s potential dominance over Big East hitting with Brittney Bargar’s eight-inning no-hitter.

Bargar pitched well against the Huskies in the second game, something the Irish needed as their bats were no longer dominant against the new Huskies pitcher, Michelle Caouette. Bargar was perfect through four-and-one-third innings, including four strikeouts at that point, when an error by third baseman Meagan Ruthrauff allowed the first Husky runner of the game to reach base. Bargar did not let this faze her and moved on through the next two innings with no trouble.

But going into the top of the sixth, staked to a tenuous one-run lead for the Irish off of a Stephanie Brown homerun in the third, Bargar began to have some serious trouble with her control.

An error by shortstop Sara Schoonaert allowed the leadoff runner on first, while a hit batsman and walk loaded the bases with no outs. Bargar buckled down, getting two outs, but then plunked the next hitter in the back to allow the only run of the game for the Huskies.

“I was really frustrated with Bargar’s control issues,” Gumpf said of her freshman starter. “She is such a great pinpoint pitcher that she didn’t have to hit those batters. They were crowding the plate, but she has to learn to avoid hitting people.”

Bargar’s error sent the game into extra innings, where she reasserted her control and her dominance by finishing off the no-hitter after a Ruthrauff sacrifice fly scored right fielder Stephanie Mola for a 2-1 Irish win.

For Bargar, this game marked the biggest win of her short Notre Dame career as well as the second no-hitter she contributed to this week, the other being a combined no-hitter against Western Michigan with Fuemmeler March 26.

“It feels good to have done this,” Bargar said, “But the defense played very well too. There’s no way I could have done it without them.”

Notre Dame came into this game with a sense of purpose – to assert themselves as the dominant team in the Big East.

“If we play well we can beat anybody, and if we don’t anybody can beat us,” Gumpf said. “We have to come out on fire, and we did that today.”

The Irish continued their successful start on Sunday against Providence, winning both games in convincing fashion.

Notre Dame was able to jump out to an early lead, thanks to the consistent production in the top half of the batting order. The team went ahead 3-0 in the third inning when the one through four hitters strung together two doubles and two singles resulting in two runs and runners on second and third. Second baseman Katie Laing dropped a sacrifice bunt to scratch across the third run of the inning.

Sara Schoonaert was able to sneak in another run in the fourth by catching the Friars’ defense off guard and stealing home.

“I am always extremely aggressive on the bases and love to use my instincts,” Schoonaert said.

The run gave the Irish a 4-1 lead which Booth was able to hold for the remainder of the game.

Booth stayed hot Sunday, improving her record to 9-7 on the year. The only run for Providence in the game was due to a fielding error in the top of the fourth inning.

The stingy defensive play continued in the second contest of the afternoon as freshman Brittany Bargar led the team to an 8-0 victory.

The top of the order continued to dominate as the plate as both Mallorie Lenn and Brown finished the day going four-for-six. Brown’s last hit was a walk-off home run in the sixth that gave the Irish the eight-run mercy rule win.

The bulk of the scoring came in the fourth inning when the team sent nine batters to the plate and posted five runs on four hits and one error. The big blows came from Laing and Lenn, who each drove in two runs on long doubles.

The duo struck again as they both drove in one run, each setting up Brown to deliver the knockout punch in the sixth.