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ND Softball: ND loses heartbreaker 8-7

Michael Bryan | Monday, April 23, 2007

No. 6 Notre Dame finished the regular season in tough fashion Saturday, losing its second straight game – this time 8-7 to Rutgers – a week before the inaugural Big East championship this coming weekend.

In a close game that featured six ties and five lead changes, Notre Dame led the Scarlet Knights 7-6 with less than two minutes remaining. Rutgers senior midfielder Katie Batiuk, who leads the Big East in points, scored an unassisted goal with 1:43 remaining to tie the game at 7-7. Then, with only eight seconds left, Batiuk scored off a loose ball in front of the Irish net for the game winner.

After Rutgers struck first with a Mary Cryan goal, the Irish responded to take a 2-1 lead with goals from junior Caitlin McKinney and sophomore Jillian Byers. The Scarlet Knights quickly matched the Notre Dame goals, however, taking a 3-2 lead.

Two more goals from Byers in the final three minutes of the half gave the Irish a 4-3 lead at the break.

Scarlet Knight attack Nina Frankowski’s 38th goal of the season tied the game at 4-4 to open the second half after a 10-minute scoring drought. Byers, who led the Irish offense, took the lead back for Notre Dame with a goal off a pass from senior attack Lena Zentgraf.

McKinney’s second goal of the game gave the Irish a two-goal lead, the largest either team would enjoy all afternoon. As was the case all game, the lead did not last long. Rutgers scored two quick goals to tie the game at 6-6.

Byers’ fifth goal on the day gave the Irish a 7-6 lead that looked like it might hold up. Down the stretch, however, Batiuk and the Scarlet Knights took the victory.

Irish coach Tracy Coyne said she thought the team was concentrating too much on last week’s close loss at Vanderbilt.

“In a lot of ways we were replaying the Vanderbilt game instead of playing Rutgers, second-guessing ourselves and playing tentatively,” Coyne said.

The five goals by Byers gave her 55 on the season, second-best in Notre Dame history. McKinney provided the other two goals for the Irish, and five Notre Dame players each had an assist.

Batiuk led Rutgers with three goals and an assist, and junior Katy Lawrence also added a goal and a feed. The Scarlet Knights outshot the Irish 26-23 and received 12 saves from goalkeeper Erika Paige.

“We’re really determined to move forward from this game,” Coyne said. “We’ve renewed our commitment since the loss, and everyone’s back on a level playing field in the Big East tournament.”

With the loss, the Irish – who entered the game in a three-way tie for first in the Big East – finished tied for third with a 3-2 conference record. With Rutgers taking the tiebreaker over the Irish based on Saturday’s match, Notre Dame will be the No. 4 seed in the Big East tournament.