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Irish clinch No. 1 seed in Big East, complete regular season play

Heather VanHoegarden | Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Complacency can be a team’s worst nightmare, and the Irish found this out first hand Saturday.After clinching the No. 1 seed for the Big East Championship, Notre Dame dropped its first conference games on the season when they were swept by Seton Hall 5-0, 1-0, just days after earning a top-25 national ranking in two polls (No. 22 in USA Today/NFCA, No. 25 in ESPN.com/USA Softball).”We came out a little flat,” junior Megan Ciolli said. “We started to coast through the Big East.”In the first game of the doubleheader, Heather Booth struggled, giving up four earned runs on five hits, striking out just one. In the first, she walked the bases loaded, and then hit Lindsay Trottier with a pitch, giving the Pirates (41-17, 12-8 in the Big East) their first run. It continued to go downhill for the Irish.Pirates’ pitcher Megan Meyer allowed just four hits while striking out six. She was able to hold the Irish offense in check. With the win, she broke the Seton Hall record for wins in a season (21).In the second game, the Irish offense was dominated again, this time by Seton Hal senior Casey McDevitt, who surrendered just two hits and struck out three. The Pirates scored in the bottom of the third on two-out singles by McKenzie, Richards and D’arcy Djakalovic. Steffany Stenglein took the loss for the Irish, after striking out seven in six innings.Ciolli said that although the offense struggled, now is the time for them to do so.”Saturday was a wakeup call,” Ciolli said. “It’s better we lose now than in the tourney. That might be a blessing in disguise, because it was a reality check.”And the Irish also lost Ciolli, to a “tweaked hamstring” in the second game.But the Irish came back strong the next day traveling to St. John’s (28-26, 10-10) in the last Big East doubleheader of the regular season. In these games, Notre Dame dominated, defeating the Red Storm 8-1, 3-0.”We got the job done on Sunday,” Ciolli said. “That’s what is about – bringing the intensity to the field everyday. When we come to play, we dominate. When we come out flat, we don’t execute.”In the first game, the Irish exploded behind Mallorie Lenn’s three hits and Carrie Wisen’s three hits and three RBI. Wisen, the third Irish pitcher, stepped up in Ciolli’s absence playing rightfield – shifting Nicole deFau to center and Nicole Wicks to left.On the mound, Booth recovered from Saturday’s rough outing, scattering five hits, while giving up one run and striking out eight.In the second game, Stenglein gave up just three hits while striking out four.With the win, the Irish close out the Big East regular season and opened against No. 4 seed Boston College in the Big East Tournament Thursday, after The Observer went to press.”We’re not looking past the Big East Tournament,” said Ciolli, who will be back for the Big East Tournament. “The season has prepared us up to this point. Preseason was the toughest we played in a long time.”Ciolli also acknowledged that the Irish have to play with intensity to avoid games like Saturday’s.”Our Big East schedule and the middle week games have been where the gut check was,” she said. “It was about keeping the intensity and improving all season long. That was our challenge – to keep up the level we know we can play at for the entire season.”Hopefully we just peak and play well when it counts.”