Caitlyn Brooks’ walk-off single propels Irish past Broncos
Benjamin Padanilam | Thursday, April 20, 2017
Notre Dame took its sixth straight victory Wednesday night at Melissa Cook Stadium, as sophomore third baseman Melissa Rochford drove in four runs and sophomore designated player Caitlyn Brooks hit a walk-off single to help the Irish escape with a midweek win over Western Michigan.
The Irish (27-15, 11-7 ACC) entered Wednesday night’s contest with the Broncos (16-24, 4-11 MAC) coming off of a three-game sweep of ACC rival North Carolina State, which gave the Irish a lot of momentum as it enters the final stretch of its regular season and fights for a postseason NCAA berth.
“I think our pitchers stepped up,” Rochford said. “They were throwing well the whole weekend, and it helped us a lot. And we had their back when they needed us.”
“We definitely battled through the N.C. State sweep, and every game we just kept getting better, so it was a great [weekend],” sophomore designated player Caitlyn Brooks said.
Notre Dame hoped to continue that success when it hosted Western Michigan in its penultimate home midweek contest of the season. But it was the Broncos who started off the game’s scoring, as Broncos senior center fielder Ivy Schaaf doubled to left center field to lead off the top of the first inning before coming around to score two batters later on a single by senior third baseman Kelsea Cichocki. But Irish senior pitcher Rachel Nasland stranded two runners to limit the early deficit to 1-0.
The Irish responded quickly in the bottom half of the frame, however, as senior center fielder Karley Wester reached first via walk to start things off. After stealing second base, she came around to score two batters later on an RBI single by shortstop Morgan Reed. The junior followed up her run-scoring base hit by stealing second and eventually coming around to score on a base hit by Rochford. And though they would strand the sophomore third baseman on base, the Irish held a 2-1 lead after the opening frame.
After a scoreless second inning, Notre Dame found itself in trouble again in the top of the third, as two hits and a sacrifice fly by Western Michigan tied the game at 2-2. However, Nasland once again limited the damage by stranding a runner in scoring position with an inning-ending groundout to maintain the tie. And in the bottom of the frame, Rochford once again led an Irish response, as she connected on a three-run homer to left center with two outs in the third to give Notre Dame a 5-2 lead.
“I saw the defense moving towards an inside pitch, so I just turned on it. I saw it coming,” Rochford said of the pitch she hit the home run on.
“I think that was a big momentum changer for us, too,” Reed said. “That’s what got the rally started and kept us going throughout the game.”
After jumping out to that lead, however, the Irish bats went silent, notching only one hit over the next three innings. The Broncos, on the other hand, found their grove at the plate, as they got to Irish junior pitcher Katie Beriont — who pitched the game’s last three innings in relief — for seven hits and three runs, including two in the top of the seventh to tie the game. Brooks said the Irish bats went cold largely because of they started to force things at the plate in the later innings.
“I think we were just anxious to hit the ball, and we just didn’t wait for our pitches as much,” she said.
But Notre Dame did not allow the blown lead to keep it down long, as it managed to load the bases with two outs in the bottom of the seventh. Brooks stepped up to the plate — having gone hitless in her first three plate appearances — and worked a 2-0 count before the lights at Melissa Cook Stadium went out. The game was delayed 15 minutes before her at-bat would be resumed. Brooks remained poised, however, and worked a full count before hitting the payoff pitch into right center to send the Irish off with the 6-5 victory.
“It was nice that I had two balls, so I could just focus on hitting my pitch,” Brooks said. “I knew what she was going to throw at me — the whole time she threw the same pitch, I think, every single pitch — so I just waited for one that was a lot closer in the zone because I knew she didn’t want to walk [me], so it was a good mindset I was in during the second half of that at-bat.”
Next up on the schedule for Notre Dame is Virginia, who will travel up to Melissa Cook Stadium for a three-game set this weekend starting Saturday at 1 p.m.
“We need to [have the mindset of] play the whole game, finish it and don’t take an inning off,” Reed said.