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Softball: Notre Dame splits with USF

Dan Murphy | Monday, May 1, 2006

Notre Dame maintained a slim lead in the Big East standings after splitting a doubleheader with South Florida Saturday before having two games with Louisville rained out Sunday.

Much like last week’s doubleheader with Purdue, the Irish took Saturday’s first game with a score of 7-4, then lost the second 7-3.

In game one, the offense began hot with five runs in the second.

Junior outfielder Stephanie Brown hit a grand slam – her sixth home run of the year – with one out in the inning. Right fielder Carissa Jaquish delivered an RBI double to score second baseman Katie Laing, left fielder Gessica Hufnagle singled and designated player Stephanie Mola walked to load the bases before Brown delivered her blast over the left field wall.

“To get on the board first was important for us, and once Laing scored we were able to keep it rolling,” Irish assistant coach Kris Ganeff said.

But the Bulls quickly chipped into Notre Dame’s cushion with four runs of their own in the next half inning.

Two errors cost Notre Dame, as the Irish surrendered two unearned runs. South Florida center fielder Samantha Ray, who was 4-for-4 with a run scored, knocked in the other two runs with a single to right.

Irish right-hander Heather Booth (19-9) calmed down after that and was able to keep the Bulls from getting past second base for the remainder of the game.

“Heather has a really good command on all her pitches right now,” Ganeff said. “It makes it very hard for hitters to know what is coming next.”

Booth has now picked up a win in her last five appearances.

The stretch includes a 9-1 victory over Purdue and a perfect game against Rutgers on April 23.

Her fellow pitcher Brittney Bargar has been struggling in her last few starts, losing her second straight in game two on Saturday.

The freshman has given up at least six runs in each of her last two games.

The Bulls scored two in the second and then added four more in the bottom of the fourth against Bargar.

USF clean-up hitter Tiffany Stewart hit a bases-clearing double and scored on third baseman Krista Holle’s single to left two pitches later.

Despite out-hitting the Bulls 11-9, Notre Dame was unable to punch any runs across until the sixth inning. Brown stayed hot, going 4-for-4, and Meagan Ruthrauff added two hits and a walk.

The team had runners on base every inning expect for the second but could not find away to drive them in.

“We got a lot of strikeouts and pop-ups with runners on base,” Ganeff said. “That’s not normal for us.”

Bulls pitcher Christi Ecks struck out eight Irish batters in the game – nearly four times Notre Dame’s average for the season.

The loss was Notre Dame’s second in the conference, matching South Florida’s total.

The Irish cling to the Big East lead because they have played two more games

than the Bulls. But the team will be challenged once again this afternoon as they take on No. 18 Louisville, currently third in the Big East.

The two games that were scheduled for Sunday afternoon were postponed a day due to the weather in Kentucky.

With only five games left on the schedule, the games – starting at 1 p.m. – are crucial in determining how the top three seeds will shake out for the conference tournament at the Belleville Softball Complex in South Bend beginning May 11.