Notre Dame softball falls in NCAA opener to Ball State

Lewis Bagley
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND -- If Notre Dame is going to win its first-ever NCAA softball regional title, it will have to do it the hard way.

Ball State's Selena Reyna blasted the third pitch of the game over the left field fence and the Cardinals powered their way to a 6-3 win over the Irish at Melissa Cook Stadium Friday.

The loss drops the Irish (40-14) into the elimination round where coach Deanna Gumpf's team will meet Northwestern at 3 p.m. Saturday at Cook Stadium.

Ball State will take on Kentucky at noon Saturday. The Wildcats outlasted Northwestern, 5-4, in Friday's first game.

A win by the Irish over the Wildcats would move them into a 6 p.m. Saturday elimination game against the Kentucky-Ball State loser. A loss in either game would end Notre Dame's season.

"You have to play your best ball of the year at this time, and we didn't do that today," Gumpf lamented. "They out-pitched, out-hit, and out-played us."

That was evident from the opening at-bat as Reyna sent a 2-0 pitch from Rachel Naslund (16-8) well over the left-field fence.

"It was a normal at-bat for me," Reyna said of her 11th round-tripper of the season. "I was looking for my pitch. We don't want to be passive, but aggressive, and have quality at-bats."

The Irish did tie the game in the bottom of the first on an RBI-single by Nicole Arizmendi, but Ball State hurler Nicole Steinbach (19-13) largely stayed out of trouble the rest of the way.

The last two ND runs, one in the fifth inning and one in the sixth, both scored on sacrifice flies.

"We gave them tons of momentum," Gumpf said, "but when we scored in the first inning, I thought 'Here we go.' But, we did nothing with that momentum."

The Cardinals (34-23) added a two-run homer by Sammi Conger in the fourth. They scored the eventual winning runs in the fifth. Ball State's Emily Dabkowski drove in two runs with a triple that landed just inside the right field line only a few feet in front of the fence. Dabkowski later scored on a fielder's choice.

Ball State coach Tyra Perry said her team came into the tournament confident.

"We've always worked, from day one, as an NCAA contender," she said. "This is only one victory toward our goal."

Gumpf realizes the task ahead for her team, which is hosting a regional for only the second time and is seeded (16th) for the first time in program history.

"It's a lot tougher to have to have two wins in a day, than one," she said. "We have a chance to show what kind of team we are (Saturday). We didn't do that (Friday)."

Ball State’s Emily Dabkowski (4) reaches for the plate as Notre Dame catcher Cassidy Whidden (51) tries to tag her Friday, May 15, 2015, during the NCAA regional softball game between Ball State and Notre Dame. Dabkowski was safe and the Cardinals won 6-3. SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ