Irish bats dominate Spartans in home opener
Marek Mazurek | Thursday, March 23, 2017
In its first home game of the year, Notre Dame came away with an 11-3 victory over nonconference rival Michigan State on the back of 11 hits — all of which were RBIs — by eight different players.
“It’s just really good to be home,” Irish head coach Deanna Gumpf said. “We’ve been on the road a long time and we’ve had a lot of tough trips, playing 13 ranked teams, you always wonder if it’s going to pay off or not. We’re going to let it pay off and today it showed it’s paying off.”
Notre Dame (13-13, 1-5 ACC) almost fell behind in the first inning as Michigan State (15-8) got a runner on first with two outs. Spartans senior Sarah Gutknecht smashed a pitch to straight-away center field. The ball would have cleared the fence to give the Spartans a 2-0 lead, but Irish senior captain Karley Wester leapt and snagged the ball to rob Gutknecht of the home run.
Gumpf said Wester’s play was a key one, in that it set the tone for the rest of the game.
“It is a momentum shift, big time,” Gumpf said. “Karley Wester robbing the home run and [freshman second baseman] Katie Marino making that play, that changes everything. Because all of a sudden they’re like, ‘Wait a minute, we’re hitting the ball well and we’re not getting on base.’”
In the bottom of the inning, the Irish mounted their own threat. Wester reached base and then her younger sister, sophomore left fielder Ali Wester, reached base and advance Karley on her bunt. Sophomore first baseman Caitlyn Brooks walked to load the bases.
Junior shortstop Morgan Reed opened the game up with a double to left field. Karley Wester scored easily from third base, and Gumpf sent Ali Wester from second. The throw was in time, but freshman catcher Kelcey Carrasco couldn’t hang on to the ball and Wester slid in safely to give Notre Dame the 2-0 lead.
And the Irish weren’t done. Later in the inning, with runners still on second and third, Marino blasted a line drive to deep right field. The Spartan right fielder couldn’t handle it, and Brooks scored from third to make it 3-0. Senior right fielder Kimmy Sullivan walked to load the bases again and designated player Sara White walked as well to bring in another run.
Irish junior pitcher Katie Beriont rolled in the second inning on the help of a double play and a diving stop by Marino, but the Spartans got on the board in the top of the third as junior outfielder Lea Foerster clubbed a line drive home run to right center field. The Spartans managed to put two runners on with two outs, but Beriont found a strikeout to end the inning with just one run given up.
The Irish answered back in the bottom of the third as sophomore third baseman Melissa Rochford and Marino got on base. White walked for a second time and loaded the bases for sophomore catcher Maddie McCracken with one out. Michigan State switched to freshman pitcher Jordan Watson, but McCracken took Watson’s first pitch on the ground into left field to score a run and put the Irish up 5-1.
In the fourth inning, senior Rachel Nasland replaced Beriont on the mound. Nasland put up a scoreless frame — despite a hit batter — with the help of two more diving plays by Marino.
Marino said she felt her big defensive plays were a product of the tone set by Wester’s home run theft in the first inning and that her play in turn helped build momentum for the rest of the game.
“My defense is my favorite part of the game,” Marino said. “We’re a team about momentum and we’re really focused on getting momentum ourselves so once we could continue the momentum from the first inning into the rest of the game. That was big for us.”
The Spartans closed the gap in the fifth frame as a triple from sophomore left fielder Ebonee Echols drove in Foerster to make it 5-2. Echols scored on a sacrifice fly one batter later and the Michigan State deficit was down to just two runs.
However, the Irish were determined to put the game away. In the bottom of the fifth, freshman Madison Heide fouled off six pitches before knocking a towering homer to left field to score herself and White to make it a 7-3 ballgame.
Later in the inning, both Wester sisters reached base on infield hits and Brooks walked to load the bases, still with no outs. Reed picked up her third RBI of the day with a walk and Rochford took a pitch off the elbow to score another run, making it 9-3. A few batters later, Heide came back up and singled with the bases loaded to end the game via mercy rule, 11-3.
Next up for the Irish is Virginia Tech. The Hokies (13-13, 3-6 ACC) come to town for a three-game set that is currently scheduled to start Friday evening. Gumpf said she thinks the team can take the lessons it learned from Michigan State and apply them to Virginia Tech.
“I look at Virginia Tech and I think they’re a lot like Michigan State,” Gumpf said. “They have pitchers who keep them in ballgames who do a nice job and their hitting is definitely their strength. We have to be in charge of ourselves and making sure we’re making those same great plays against Virginia Tech because they can flat out hit.”