by Brett Klein
The softball team dropped two of three games at the hands of Big East rival Notre Dame on April 6 and 7 at Melissa Cook Stadium in South Bend, Ind.
The two teams split a doubleheader on the first day of the series with the Wildcats losing the first game of the day by a 4-1 score but rallying with a remarkable 1-0 victory in the second game.
The ’Cats lost the series finale by a 9-3 margin, which dropped their overall season record to 13-19 and 1-8 in the Big East.
Freshman pitcher Kate Poppe toed the rubber in the first game for Villanova, pitching two innings and giving up four runs on six hits.
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish did all of their damage for the game in the bottom of the second inning off of Poppe, who struck out four batters in her two innings of work.
Poppe was relieved by freshman pitcher Taylor Secemski who proceeded to throw four scoreless innings for the Wildcats.
Junior outfielder Lauren Stuhr belted a two-run home run and sophomore outfielder Emilee Koerner ripped a two-run double for Notre Dame in the bottom of the second inning to provide all of the support their pitchers would need.
Junior pitcher Laura Winter started for the Fighting Irish, tossed four scoreless innings and retired the first eight Wildcats that she faced.
Senior catcher Amanda Marquez stood out on the offensive side for the Wildcats, as she tallied two hits and a run scored in the game.
The ’Cats only run came in the top of the sixth inning when Marquez led off with a single and eventually scored on a sacrifice fly by sophomore designated player Beth Smetana.
Villanova, however, failed to generate any more offense in the first game of the doubleheader.
The Wildcats rebounded in the second game, though, sparked by an incredible pitching performance by Poppe, who bounced back to throw a six-hit shutout in the Wildcats 1-0 win.
The victory snapped Notre Dame’s 17-game regular season Big East winning streak and gave the ’Cats their first conference win of the season.
For Poppe, it was her 11th complete game and second shutout of the season.
Winter also pitched a complete game for the Fighting Irish, giving up just one run on six hits, but was saddled with the loss regardless.
The only Villanova offense necessary behind Poppe’s stellar pitching was provided by junior shortstop Ali Lowe, who went 2-3 in the game including her first career home run in the top of the fourth inning.
Lowe led off the inning and drilled the first pitch of the at-bat over the left field fence, breaking the 0-0 tie.
The home run was Lowe’s second hit of the game; she had singled in the top of the first inning as well.
Poppe’s dominance was challenged in the bottom of the first inning when the Fighting Irish loaded the bases with just one out.
Poppe responded by striking out the final two batters of the inning to escape the jam and was unhittable for the rest of the game. Poppe finished with seven strikeouts and only two walks.
The rubber match did not go as smoothly for the Wildcats as the bats of the Fighting Irish came alive to produce nine runs and win the final game 9-3.
Notre Dame kicked off the game’s scoring in the bottom of the second inning and the ’Cats quickly found themselves facing a 2-0 deficit. The Wildcats responded in the top of the fourth inning with three runs of their own to turn the deficit into a one-run advantage.
Senior first baseman Valerie Ortega and Smetana singled to open up the frame and were moved over to second and third on a groundout by freshman right fielder Sierra McConnell.
Next, sophomore third baseman Briana Fujii strode up to the plate and crushed a three-run home run to dead-center field. For Fujii, it was her first home run of the season, and an important one, as it gave the ’Cats the lead.
The lead was short-lived, however, as Notre Dame tied the score in the bottom half of the fourth on an RBI single. The game remained tied until the bottom of the sixth inning when the Fighting Irish’s offense exploded for six runs on seven hits.
Notre Dame sophomore catcher Cassidy Whidden was hit by a pitch to open the bottom of the sixth, which proved to be a bad omen for the Wildcats. Sophomore Katy Haus followed with a two-run home run that gave Notre Dame a lead that they would extend and never relinquish.
Notre Dame would tack on four more runs in the inning, bat around and win the game 9-3.