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ND SOFTBALL: Irish pitchers confuse Crusaders

Ryan Duffy | Thursday, March 31, 2005

After squeezing out a walk-off win in their previous game against Western Michigan, the Irish left no room for doubt this time around, jumping out to early leads and sweeping Valparaiso in a Wednesday doubleheader.

Notre Dame appeared to be clicking on all cylinders, winning the first game 5-0 and the second game 10-0 in five innings behind several of the most dominating performances of the year from both the offense and defense.

“Valparaiso came in here with an 0-18 record, and sometimes that’s hard for better teams, because they’ll play down to the other team’s level,” junior Sara Schoonaert said. “But I feel we did a good job of playing to our ability level and not dropping down to theirs.”

In the first game, Steffany Stenglein allowed only two hits in five innings, striking out 10 for her fourth double-digit strikeout game this season.

Sophomore Kenya Fuemmeler followed her with one of her best outings to date, finishing the shutout with two innings of no-hit ball.

With the strong pitching keeping Valparaiso off the scoreboard all game, the Irish were able to build on their lead after an early start. Senior Liz Hartmann doubled to lead off the second inning, then came home after centerfielder Malorie Lenn doubled to center. Two batters later, Schoonaert stepped to the plate and smacked a double down the right field line to stake the Irish to a 2-0 lead.

In the third inning, the Irish delivered the knockout blow. Freshman Katie Laing led off with a single, and after Megan Ciolli reached on a bunt single, Meagan Ruthrauff walked to load the bases. Hartmann then drew the second walk of the inning to drive in a run, and Carrie Wisen singled to left to score two more.

Starting pitcher Heather Booth and Carrie Wisen combined to throw a perfect game in the conclusion to the doubleheader, retiring all 15 batters they faced.

The Irish have now recorded no-hitters against Valparaiso in two of the last three years.

Although the dominant pitching performance took the pressure off the Notre Dame offense, the team came out in the first inning to bash three home runs on the way to an eight-run rally that put the game away from the start.

“Our pitchers were really good, particularly in the second game when they combined for a no-hitter,” Schoonaert said. “All the way through the lineup the offense was clicking – the first, fifth and eighth hitters all had homers in the first. It was a total team effort. We got solid defense, especially in the second game, our pitchers kept us in the ball game and the hitters took care of things.”

Notre Dame began its eight-run inning when sophomore Stephanie Brown crushed a solo shot to lead off the game for her first homer of the year. Laing, who went 3-for-6 hitting out of the number two spot, followed with a double, then moved to third after Ciolli singled to center. After Ruthrauff walked to load the bases, Hartmann calmly stepped into the batter’s box and launched the second pitch she saw over the leftfield fence for a grand slam, the first of her career. Hartmann finished the day 3-for-4 with a homer and five RBIs.

After Hartmann’s grand slam cleared the bases and gave the Irish a 5-0 lead, Gessica Hufnagle singled to right, bringing senior Nicole Wicks to the plate.

Wicks has had just eight at-bats this season, but still managed to drive a pitch deep over the left field wall for her first hit of the 2005 season.

giving the Irish a 7-0 lead. Notre Dame completed the inning when Sara Schoonaert reached on a bunt single and scored on two Valparaiso errors.

Notre Dame scored two more runs to reach the 10-run level in the third inning, when Brown walked and came home on a Laing triple to left-center. In college softball, if one team is up by 10 runs or more after the fifth inning the game is called.

Ciolli then drove in Laing with a sacrifice fly.

“It was an all-around good day for the Irish,” Schoonaert said. “This was a good game to help us get ready. These games that we play this week will really prepare us for the opening of Big East play next week.”

Notre Dame returns to action today with a game against Loyola-Chicago.