PICKERINGTON — Unfortunately for Notre Dame High School softball squad, history had its infamous — and even ominous — way of repeating itself on Friday.
That’s because the defending Division IV state champion Strasburg-Franklin Tigers, just as they did in the exact same inning of last year’s Region 15 championship tilt against these same Titans, tallied at least six runs.
Only this time, the Tigers roared for all eight of their points —seven of which were unearned —in that same fourth frame, as Strasburg-Franklin doubled up Notre Dame 8-4 in the regional rematch at a sunsplashed Pickerington Central High School.
That’s correct —same round, same venue, same foe, same Strasburg-Franklin pitcher, and unfortunately for the final 23-5 Titans of 2023, the same result.
The only major difference, aside from the 13-2 loss, from last season was that the now 28-2 Tigers needed only one inning to do their damage —and make it an 8-0 Notre Dame deficit entering the bottom of the fourth.
The eight-time state champion Tigers took full advantage of Titan mistakes —the most glaring of which were three fourth-inning errors, combined with four hits and two Gwen Sparks walks.
In fairness, one of those walks was intentional —but it wasn’t to Sparks’ pitching counterpart, Strasburg-Franklin’s Amelia Spidell.
Spidell, the Tigers’ leadoff batter, led off with a regular walk —as she was the first of the opening eight Tigers to bat in the fourth, AND to reach base.
Sparks’ fifth of seven runs allowed, of which only Spidell scoring was even earned, was the result of her lone wild pitch —as she had pitched a perfect game up until that fateful fourth.
That included her four strikeouts, as Hayley Reiger and Rylee Becker were the only Tigers with basehits off her.
Trailing 5-0, Kyndall Ford replaced Sparks in the circle —and eight-hole hitter Audrey Allensworth added two more Tiger runs on a single to right field.
Reiger returned to the plate as the 11th of 12 batters to the dish in the fourth —as she singled in Allensworth for the 8-0 advantage.
Softball, of course, is a seven-inning affair —agreed NDHS head coach Shad Ford.
And for six stanzas, the Titans’ toe-to-toe tangle with the highly-touted Tigers only gave Notre Dame confidence.
Then again, against a squad like Strasburg, mistakes must not be made at any juncture.
“That’s the speech I just gave them. We were the best team in Division IV this year, but for one inning, it cost us and we beat ourselves in that inning. They scored all eight in that inning, so credit to them and they put the pressure on us. The other six went our way, but it (victory) didn’t happen. Not much else to say other than we just didn’t get it done today,” said Coach Ford. “Credit to our team, we continued to hit, continued to do good things, and it ended up being 8-4 instead of 8-0. We didn’t quit, and that’s all we can ask for. I thought we had them scouted well, even going into the fourth it was still 0-0. We started off with a walk and made some errors, they get some runs and it just fell off for us there. The fourth inning was just a snowball rolling down the hill once it started. I thought our two pitchers did a good job and Kate (Entler) catching, but we just made a lot of mistakes as a team. You can’t make these mistakes in a regional final against a team like that.”
The Titans did in fact make it interesting in the fifth —for two unearned runs off the standout Spidell.
Lyndsey Schaefer and Maddie Entler reached on errors, and with one out an RBI-single by Bree Hicks to score Schaefer and an RBI-double by Ford to cross Hicks made it 8-2.
Ford was on third as the result of a throwing error on her double, but Spidell recorded a strikeout —ending the inning.
In the seventh, and with two outs, Maddie Entler singled followed by back-to-back doubles to right field from Hicks and Ford —as Ford’s two-bagger scored Entler and Hicks.
But like the fifth, a Spidell strikeout ended the threat with Ford left aboard in scoring position —and only this time her 12th and final strikeout ended the game.
“Proud of the way we played before the fourth, and proud of the way we responded from that,” said Coach Ford.
Entler, Hicks, Ford and freshman catcher Kate Entler —the first four batters for the Titans on Friday —all went 2-for-4, as Kate Entler amounted leadoff singles in the second and fourth.
Maddie Entler’s other hit was an infield job in the third, as she stole second but was left stranded there — part of six Titans left on base for the entire bout.
Spidell struck out a dozen Titans, including the side in their opening at-bat —and retired Notre Dame 1-2-3 in the sixth, while facing four Titans apiece in innings three and four.
Notre Dame didn’t score also when it had a golden opportunity in the second —as Maycee Ford’s sacrifice bunt moved Kate Entler’s courtesy runner, Katie Strickland, over to second.
Strickland raced to third on Spidell’s only wild pitch, and an Alayla Swords walk had runners on the corners with two outs —as Swords went to second on the Tigers’ defensive indifference.
But, for what turned out to be the second of four times in the contest, a Spidell strikeout stranded Titans in scoring position —and stopped ND dead in its tracks.
Last season, in pitching a complete-game five hitter against the Titans, Spidell struck out eight —of 29 batters she saw.
However, Friday’s story centered around one disastrous defensive fourth inning —and unfortunately it ended the career of Notre Dame’s sole senior.
That was regular left fielder Libby Kelly —who was often the designated player during these Titans’ tournament trail.
On the flip side, Notre Dame does return the remainder of its young yet talented roster —which won its fourth consecutive district championship merely a week ago, part of now nine in program history.
The Titans will also carry a 37-game Southern Ohio Conference Division I win streak into next season.
“Libby (Kelly) is a great kid and a great teammate. Did everything we asked of her and we’re going to miss her,” said the coach. “I think we started four freshmen and three sophomores today. This group will be back, I’m sure of it.”
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Strasburg-Franklin 000 800 —8 6 3
Notre Dame 000 020 2 —4 8 5
SFHS: Amelia Spidell 7IP, 4R, 2ER, 0HB, 1BB, 8H, 1WP, 12K, 31BF
NDHS: Gwen Sparks 3+IP, 7R, 1ER, 0HB, 1BB, 1IBB, 2H, 1WP, 4K, 16BF; Kyndall Ford 4IP, 1R, 0ER, 0HB, 0BB, 4H, 0WP, 3K, 18BF
W —Amelia Spidell; L —Gwen Sparks