The University of Notre Dame softball team used clutch hitting and a sensational pitching performance from Laura Winter keyed a 3-1 win Sunday over No. 9 Louisville on a beautiful afternoon at Melissa Cook Stadium. The victory secured a two games to one series triumph and the BIG EAST regular season championship for the Irish.
Notre Dame claimed 14 BIG EAST regular season championships in 18 seasons as a conference member. Head coach Deanna Gumpf led the Irish to seven regular season titles in the last 12 seasons. Notre Dame also clinched the number one overall seed in next week’s BIG EAST Championship.
The Irish (41-12, 19-3 BIG EAST) struck quickly in the bottom of the first inning, plating a run off Louisville starter Rachel LeCoq (20-6). Emilee Koerner led off the Notre Dame half with a sharp single through the right side, and moved into scoring position on an Amy Buntin ground ball to shortstop. Winter roped an RBI single to left field that scored Koerner from second to put Notre Dame in front 1-0.
Winter (27-9) escaped a two-on, one-out situation in the top of the second, striking out Kayla Soles swinging and forcing Whitney Arion to ground into a fielder’s choice that put Hannah Kiyohara out at third base.
Notre Dame retired the Cardinals (45-10, 18-4 BIG EAST) in order in the top of the fourth inning, as Winter induced Maggie Ruckenbrod to ground out to shortstop and Katie Keller and Kiyohara to fly out to Lauren Stuhr in left field.
Winter allowed one earned run in seven innings, walking none and striking out five Louisville hitters.
Cassidy Whidden made the most of a bases loaded opportunity in the bottom of the fifth, sending a scorching double to the gap in left center, scoring Jenna Simon and Winter to extend the Irish cushion to 3-0. A nice throw from Louisville left fielder Katelyn Mann put out Katey Haus at the plate to prevent a third Notre Dame run from coming across on the play.
Louisville got on the scoreboard in the top of the seventh inning, as Keller grooved a 2-2 pitch over the center field wall to bring the Cardinals within two runs at 3-1. A one-out double by Kiyohara kept the Louisville rally alive. Back-to-back stellar plays by Haus at third base, including a snag of an Arion line drive for the final out, clinched the conference regular season championship for the Irish.
Notre Dame will begin play at the BIG EAST Championship May 9 in Tampa, Fla. The opponent and time for the first round matchup have yet to be determined.