Notre Dame softball: Blunder becomes a boon for Irish

CURT RALLO South Bend Tribune
ND Insider

SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame softball coach Deanna Gumpf put her hands on her cap, turned away from the field and started walking toward the dugout in wonderment after what started out as a base-running blunder turned into the winning run in the bottom of the seventh inning.

Notre Dame stunned No. 9 Louisville, 5-4, in the first game of a doubleheader between Big East Conference co-leaders on Saturday afternoon.

Louisville made sure there would be no drama in the second game, belting Irish pitching for 12 runs in the fifth inning, and scoring an five-inning, eight-run rule 15-1 victory to gain the split.

The loss was close to Notre Dame’s worst in program history, a 16-0 defeat by Arizona in 1999.

Notre Dame (40-12 overall, 18-3 Big East) and Louisville (45-9, 18-3) meet in the regular-season finale on Sunday at 1 p.m. at Melissa Cook Stadium for the Big East regular-season crown and the No. 1 seed in the league tournament, which starts Thursday in Tampa, Fla.

Emilee Koerner started the Irish seventh inning by drawing a walk. She advanced to second when former Penn High School star Jenna Simon beat out an infield single. A sacrifice by Amy Buntin sent Koerner to third and Simon to second, setting up a sacrifice fly by Katey Haus that scored Koerner.

Koerner started toward home plate as soon as the ball was hit, then scampered back after it was caught by Louisville right fielder Hannah Kiyohara. She then stunned the Cardinals and Gumpf by breaking for home and beating Kiyohara’s throw.

“It was bad baserunning,” Gumpf said. “(Koerner) thought it was down. She was going on the pitch. Then, she saw it get caught and luckily got back.

“I think we caught the right fielder off guard as much as we caught ourselves off guard. Thank God, and we were able to score.

“I couldn’t believe she didn’t go back to the bag the second it was in the air. You’re supposed to go back to the bag. It’s a good thing she’s quick.”

Notre Dame starting pitcher Laura Winter survived four Louisville homers in the first game.

Koerner and Haus hit homers for the Irish, who owned leads of 3-0 and 4-3 in the opener before the Cardinals tied it at 4-4.

Notre Dame left fielder Lauren Stuhr made what turned out to be a huge play for the Irish in the second inning. Stuhr fielded a single by Whitney Arion and threw out Katie Keller at the plate to prevent a Cardinal run.

“I told Lauren, that play at the plate changed the game,” Gumpf said. “It was a great throw, and a great catch by our catcher, Amy Buntin. Our catcher stuck it. I think that was the game.”

Louisville jumped to a 3-0 lead in the third inning of the nightcap, thanks to a three-run double by Alicja Wolny.

Winter homered in the bottom of the fourth inning, giving her 17 homers for the season, tying her with Christine Lux (2010) and Heather Johnson (2010) for the Irish record for most homers in a season.

“I love that Laura earned that this year, because the first two years, she didn’t hit for us,” Gumpf said. “For her to come in her junior year and do that, I’m really proud of her. She’s a threat every time she comes to the plate.”

Winter’s homer cut the Louisville lead to 3-1, but the Cardinals exploded for 12 runs in the fifth inning to put a lock on a split.

Louisville pitcher Rachel LeCoq gave up only two hits in the five-inning game.

While Notre Dame’s first-game victory against the No. 9 Cards boosts their chances for an NCAA Tournament bid, Gumpf wouldn’t say that a tourney bid is a lock for the Irish.

“It would have done a lot more if we wouldn’t have played so poorly in the second game, but a win is a win, and a loss is a loss in the big picture,” Gumpf said. “There’s always a little doubt with the NCAA. You don’t want to leave it up to somebody else.”

NOTRE DAME 5-1, LOUISVILLE 4-15

Louisville0110200 — 4 7 1
Notre Dame3001001 — 5 7 1

Caralisa Connell, Rachel LeCoq (1); Laura Winter.

W — Winter (26-9). L — LeCoq (19-5).

HR — Katey Haus (ND), Emilee Koerner (ND), Jordan Trimble (L), Alicja Wolny (L), Maggie Ruckenbrod (L), Whitney Arion (L).

T _ 1:58.

Second game

Louisville0030(12) — 15 13 1
Notre Dame00010þþ — þ1 þ2 1

Rachel LeCoq; Brittany O’Donnell, Allie Rhodes (5).

W — LeCoq (20-5). L — O’Donnell (12-3).

2B — Alicja Wolny (L), Katie Keller (L), Kayla Soles (L).

3B — Katelyn Mann (L) 2.

HR — Laura Winter (ND), Jordan Trimble (L), Katie Keller (L).

T — 1:30. A — 782.

Notre Dame catcher Amy Buntin tags out Katie Keller of Louisville.
Notre Dame teammates (above) prepare to mob Emilee Koerner after her home run against Louisville Saturday.
South Bend Tribune/ROBERT FRANKLIN