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Irish knock off two ranked opponents

Heather VanHoegarden | Tuesday, March 2, 2004

In their best performance at the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NCFA) Leadoff Classic, unranked Notre Dame (10-4) knocked off two ranked teams en route to the Silver Bracket Championship.

“As a whole team, we played better,” Irish coach Deanna Gumpf said. “I think that carried us through some tough outings.”

Notre Dame 2, Northwestern State 1

In the first game of pool play, the Irish escaped an early loss at the hands of the Demons (9-6). Sophomore Meagan Ruthrauff’s hit a two-run homer in the first inning, and that proved to be enough for pitcher Heather Booth. Booth was outstanding, holding the Demons to six hits in a complete game victory. The Irish needed Booth’s effort, as they couldn’t take advantage of every scoring chance they had after the Ruthrauff home run.

No. 6 Georgia 7, Notre Dame 1

In the nightcap, the Irish were blown out by a strong Georgia team, who was ranked No. 6 in the country heading into the tournament. Bulldog pitcher Michelle Green tossed a complete game one hitter with 11 strikeouts.

The lone Irish hit and run came from Stephanie Brown’s solo blast in the fifth inning. The home run interrupted a stretch in which Green had struck out 10-of-15 Notre Dame hitters. Irish pitcher Steffany Stenglein held the Bulldogs at bay in the first two innings, but surrendered seven runs on nine hits, including two home runs.

Notre Dame 5, No. 24 Cal-State Fullerton 4

Despite Friday’s late loss, Notre Dame rebounded Saturday, beating No. 24 Cal-State Fullerton. With the victory, the Irish jumped into the Silver Bracket, finishing pool play at 2-1.

The eight-inning battle was highlighted by Booth’s complete game victory. She struck out 11 en route to winning her fourth game of the season.

“[Booth] really stepped up,” Gumpf said of her starter that surrendered only one earned run in eight innings.

After the Titans (4-8) jumped out to a 1-0 lead, the Irish responded in the third inning with a solo home run from Nicole Wicks. The homer was her first hit at Notre Dame. Stephanie Brown followed Wicks with her own solo home run putting the Irish up 2-1. Brown later scored the run that put the Irish up 4-3. But the Titans responded with a run, sending the game into extra innings.

In international softball rules, a runner can be placed at second base to start each inning in order to speed up the game.

In the extra frame, Sara Schoonaert was put on second and then sacrificed to third by Megan Ciolli. Schoonaert then scored on a passed ball and the Irish had the lead for good.

Notre Dame 10, Princeton 1

The Irish offense finally awoke in Saturday’s second game. The Tigers were blown out in six innings after Ruthrauff drove in four runs while going 2-for-3.

“I think we were very solid defensively. We hit in situations and our pitching got us the ballgame,” Gumpf said. “Those are things that we have to have every game, and they all happened.”

Stenglein took the mound for Notre Dame, and she was effective, giving up just one run in four innings.

Nicole DeFau was 3-for-3 with a double and two singles at the plate.

Notre Dame 1, No. 14 Nebraska 0

In yet another Irish upset, Notre Dame was able to hold off the No. 14 Huskers (8-7) for the second time this season. Booth led the Irish, scattering four hits, striking out five and walking only two to pick up her second straight complete game and her third victory of the tournament.

The only Irish run was scored in the top of the first when Brown led off with a bunt single. She was forced out at second when Schoonaert attempted a sacrifice bunt. But Schoonaert moved to second when Ciolli grounded out, and scored when a pick off throw sailed into centerfield.

“We just played really well as a whole unit, and that is something that we haven’t done consistently this year,” Gumpf said.

Notre Dame 2, Georgia Tech 1

In the final game of the tournament, Notre Dame came away with yet another close victory. Stenglein shut down the Yellow Jackets (15-3), allowing only a first-inning run. She also struck out eight.

“Now she knows what she is capable of doing,” Gumpf said of Stenglein.

The Irish scored on solo home runs by Wicks in the third inning and by Ruthrauff in the sixth inning. It was Ruthrauff’s third home run of the tournament and ninth RBI.

Overall the Irish were happy to win the Silver Bracket, as they finished with four straight wins, two of them over ranked opponents.

“You have to play the best to be the best – we played some really good teams this weekend,” Gumpf said. “By no means are we there yet, as we still have a lot of work to do. We have a long way to go to be great. We’re a very good team right now, but we have a lot of work to do.”