Karley Wester’s grand slam powers Irish over Broncos
Marek Mazurek | Wednesday, April 20, 2016
No. 18 Notre Dame kept its momentum rolling Tuesday evening, knocking off Western Michigan, 6-3, for its 20th-consecutive nonconference victory.
In addition to its nonconference winning streak, the Irish (33-6, 9-3 ACC) have now won eight in a row overall after sweeping ACC rival Virginia Tech over the weekend.
Senior left-hander Allie Rhodes took the mound for the Irish, looking for her 16th win of the season. The Kirkland, Washington, native set down the side in order in the first inning but ran into trouble in the second against the Broncos (18-20, 10-3 MAC).
Broncos junior third baseman Kelsea Cichocki hit a leadoff single back up the middle and three batters later freshman catcher Courtney Sleeman drew a walk to put runners on first and second with two outs. Rhodes escaped, however, forcing a groundout and preserving the scoreless tie. Rhodes then tightened the screws and retired six straight batters in the third and fourth innings.
Behind Rhodes, the Irish got on the board in the bottom of the third with junior center fielder Karley Wester smacking a one-out double to center field. Her sister, freshman second baseman Ali Wester advanced her to third on a sacrifice bunt to bring up freshman third baseman Melissa Rochford.
Rochford walked and stole second to give the Irish runners on second and third with freshman designated player Caitlyn Brooks at the plate. Brooks put the Irish in front, 2-0, on a single to right field on the next pitch, with both Wester and Rochford coming around to score.
Notre Dame kept the heat up in the fourth with sophomore shortstop Morgan Reed and freshman catcher Maddie McCracken leading off the inning with back-to-back singles off freshman Broncos left-hander Jordan Kurth. Senior right fielder Megan Sorlie grounded out but advanced both runners to give the Irish another scoring opportunity.
Sophomore left fielder Bailey Bigler worked Kurth to a full count and fouled a ball to first base, which was dropped by Broncos freshman first baseman Brooke Wyman. Bigler drew a walk on the next pitch, and instead of two outs and runners on second and third, the Irish drew a bases-loaded at-bat for Karley Wester.
And she delivered.
After working to a full count, Wester drove a grand slam to right field for her second home run of the season to extend the Irish lead to 6-0. Irish head coach Deanna Gumpf praised Wester’s performance on the night.
“One of our small-ballers is the one who hit the grand slam,” Gumpf said. “[Wester] does such a great job with that. Karley had a great day. She did everything, she completely dominated her at-bats using small ball and going power. I was really proud of the way she attacked all day today.”
Western Michigan looked to answer, however, and loaded the bases with no outs to start the fifth. Broncos junior left fielder Ivy Schaaf lined a single to right field, but Sorlie had a chance to make a play at home. Sorlie’s throw was on time, but Broncos sophomore outfielder Geordin Craun slid in under the tag to put the Broncos on the board.
The Broncos continued to cut into Notre Dame’s lead as senior second baseman Melissa Palmer singled to to score two more runs. Cichocki walked to load the bases for the second time in the inning, but Gumpf stuck with Rhodes, who escaped the inning with the lead intact by getting junior designated player Abby Stoner to pop out.
“That was a tough inning,” Gumpf said. “We were talking about it in the team room, just little things that we can do better. I thought, even though we did a great job after that inning just shutting the door, I think there are some things we can continue to improve on. … And I think we’re going to do a much better job of that.”
Entering the sixth inning, Irish sophomore left-hander Katie Beriont replaced Rhodes. After retiring the first batter, Beriont allowed runners to reach first and second but got out of the inning with two straight groundouts to Rochford at third base.
Beriont closed Western Michigan out in the seventh and final inning as the Broncos went three-up, three-down, sealing the 6-3 victory for the Irish.
The Irish will be in action again Wednesday at 6 p.m. when they face Valparaiso at Melissa Cook Stadium.
“I just want to play really good ball,” Gumpf said. “If there’s one thing to improve on from [Tuesday] it’s really minimize the one inning. Things are going to happen, we just need to do a great job of slowing it down.”