When a group of individuals are willing to bond together as a team, work together to achieve common goals, and show the confidence that is necessary to close out said goals, the results, more often than not, take care of themselves.
And when that group is as athletically gifted as the members of the Notre Dame Titans’ softball program are, the result usually spells trouble for the opponents that await.
On Friday evening, J.D. McKenzie’s student-athletes continued to show off their special abilities as Notre Dame, behind another pitching gem from Cassie Schaefer, a 3-for-3 day at the plate from Taylor Schmidt, and five RBI combined from Schaefer, Claire Dettwiller, and Isabel Cassidy, obtained a 13-3 victory in five innings over the Green Bobcats’ softball program on Friday evening in Portsmouth.
For McKenzie, the ability of Notre Dame to jump out early and take a decisive advantage was a pleasing sign for the head coaching hand, who watched the Lady Titans collect 13 hits for the affair — including seven hits over the first two innings of action.
“We hit and ran the bases very well (on Friday),” McKenzie said. “We got off to a great start, and that’s really key because that’s something that we haven’t been doing early. In our past games so far this year, we haven’t got a lot of runs on the board early and have been relying on the middle to late innings for most of our run support. Over the last two games, Cassie’s pitched lights-out and hasn’t given the defense much to do out there, which has helped set the tone. However, with the offense really waking up since our tough 3-2 loss to Symmes Valley, that just adds to what we can do. We’ve got a young team that continues to keep getting better. They keep getting timely hits with people on base, and we put some new stuff in baserunning-wise that the girls really executed well at (on Friday).”
Even though his unit suffered a second consecutive setback in as many days with the 13-3 loss in five innings to Notre Dame, second-year head coach Shane Jenkins also saw signs that shows that his young unit may be shaking off of the rust after only playing in its third contest over a two-week span.
“You look at Cassie throwing out here (on Friday), and I felt like we hit her just as good as, or even better than, New Boston (on Thursday),” Jenkins said. “That’s not taking anything away from Taylen (Hickman), that’s just more of a testament to the experience of getting more games in and getting to where we were. When we were playing in our scrimmages, we were scoring 10 to 12 runs a game against the same type of quality pitchers. Then, we went a week-and-a-half or so with only one game. You could see the rust. Even in a loss, we saw that rust shake off a little bit more.”
From the outset, Notre Dame took control of the lead and didn’t look back with the point as Schmidt and Schaefer both singled, with the former ultimately coming around to score on an outfield error that allowed Schmidt to score and Schaefer to advance all the way to third base. Dettwiller’s 4-3 groundout ultimately put Notre Dame up by a 2-0 tally after an inning of play.
The second inning, however, was where the Lady Titans really got the ball rolling.
After a one-out single by Baylee Webb to kick things off, Payten Collins ultimately followed with a double that put herself and Webb on second and third base, respectively, with an infield error allowing Webb to come home.
When a single by Schmidt to left moved everybody up a base, Schaefer drew a walk to score Collins, and Dettwiller collected a two-out double to score Schmidt and Molly Hoover. Another outfield error then allowed Schaefer and Dettwiller to come across as the six-run inning put Notre Dame up by an 8-0 tally.
That quick start, again, was led by a strong performance at the top of the order. Notre Dame’s one-through-five hitters, in all, scored 11 of the Lady Titans’ 13 runs on the evening, with Hoover and Schmidt scoring five times on their own. Schaefer, Dettwiller, and Isabel Cassidy complimented the efforts of Notre Dame’s leadoff and No. 2 hole hitters by going 7-for-12 at the dish with a double, a walk, a steal, five RBI, and six runs scored on their own.
However, as McKenzie is quick to mention, it isn’t just one part of the lineup that is perfoming.
“We’ve been playing around with the lineup a little bit, and looking at different things such as getting more speed at the top of the lineup,” McKenzie said. “We moved Taylor to the two-hole, and she had been down in the five or six area. We talked about moving Isabel up and putting Mo (Molly Hoover), Taylor, and Isabel as our 1-2-3 to have a lot of speed at the top. But we ran this lineup the last two games, and we’ve really gotten a lot of production out of a lot of spots. We’re getting good production out of every hole right now. Our six (Lauren Delabar), seven (Webb), eight (Collins), and nine (Francis Rogers) hole hitters are getting on base and accumulating timely hits, and things are going well. We’re really clicking. It’s fun to watch when everybody’s doing well.”
While Notre Dame continued to keep the pressure on as far as the basepaths were concerned, Schaefer did more than her fair share from the circle as well. Throughout the course of the contest, Schaefer kept Green off-balance for much of the affair as the sophomore struck out 10 batters and allowed just three hits over four innings of work to move her record — and the Lady Titans’ — to 5-1 overall.
“Cassie is the real deal,” Jenkins said. “She can come out here and throw it. I’ve seen her pitch over the years, and she just continues to get better and make steps and strides. We knew, coming in, that Cassie was going to go and that we were going to have to face her and be ready for her. She’s lived up to the hype. She came in, she threw well, and she mowed down our hitters. We started to come through there and get a little more contact as the innings went on, so I am happy with how we progressed there. The underclassmen really were the ones making contact against her. The seeds are there, it’s just a matter of believing that we can compete with anybody that we go up against.”
As Schaefer continued to run through the Lady ‘Cats’ lineup, Notre Dame added to its lead.
In the fourth frame, the Lady Titans continued to pounce. Dettwiller led off the inning with an infield single, and Cassidy legged out a bunt single to move Dettwiller over and put runners on first and second with nobody out. Lauren Delabar then quickly took advantage of the situation by driving Dettwiller in with her single back up the middle of the diamond, and after a double steal by Cassidy and Delabar, Webb and Collins used productive RBI groundouts to increase the Notre Dame lead to 11-0.
“We’ve got a bunch of athletic girls, and that always helps,” McKenzie said. “When you have that, they can pick up things quickly and do the things that we’re asking them to do without going too deep into repetitions. We’ve had minimal practice time. A lot of these girls have played a lot of travel ball, and they know the game well. That helps out. We’ve basically hit the ground running because even though the girls are young, they’re experienced and they have played a lot of games together. Still, even with that, the girls have listened well and are very coachable, just like they were in basketball and volleyball. There’s a lot of great kids out here, and they want to compete and win. It’s a lot of fun.”
And Jenkins, ultimately, wants his girls to develop the same type of confidence — so that Green, too, can develop into a program that challenges Notre Dame and Clay for SOC I Championships on a yearly basis.
“A lot of times, when they come in and face a team like Notre Dame, they’re used to getting beat by them so many times over the years that they don’t see the difference in themselves,” Jenkins said. “It’s just a matter of performing out on the field the same way that they do in the cage. These girls get so down on themselves that they don’t realize the progress that they have made, and that things have changed for them. I tell them, ‘If I have the confidence to put you in that position, then I believe you can absolutely make that play.’ They have to develop confidence in themselves.”
In the top half of the fifth inning, however, Green showed life as the Lady ‘Cats fought valiantly, and successfully, to prevent a mercy from occurring.
After Schaefer — who collected 10 strikeouts and allowed just two hits in four innings of work — was replaced by Cassidy in the circle, the Lady ‘Cats showed discipline and worked Cassidy into a pair of walks as Charli Blevins and Hailey Hammonds drew walks to set the table for Ava Jenkins, who brought Blevins in with an RBI base knock. A four-unassisted RBI groundout by Mac Carver and an error ultimately allowed Hammonds and Jenkins to score as Green cut the Notre Dame lead to 11-3.
Jenkins, who ultimately finished the day by going 2-for-3 at the plate with a double, an RBI, and a run scored, was joined by fellow freshman Kame Sweeney (2-for-3, double) in the multi-hit column. Both figure to be vital pieces for Green going forward as the Lady ‘Cats look to develop into a regular contender.
“Kame and Ava are a good combo to have there,” Jenkins said. “They’re both only freshmen and are making those plays for us. Ava’s a softball player. She puts her nose down and wants to go to work. She wants to make those plays and she expects to make those plays. Kame’s an athlete. She’s an All-SOC and All-District basketball player that’s coming out here and showing that she can play softball, too. I’m proud of those two. They are really coming through when we need them.”
Ultimately, however, the Notre Dame attack proved to be too much. After an infield single by Hoover to lead off the inning, the senior advanced to second on a throwing error, then stole third and home in one fell swoop to bring Notre Dame within 12-3. Schmidt, who walked, advanced to second on a defensive indifference, and stole third, then scored as Cassidy legged out a two-out infield single to put the mercy rule into effect via the 13-3 tally.
“We’re super-happy with the start,” McKenzie said. “We lost the heartbreaker to Symmes Valley, and that was a tough one, but we still competed in that game, and if a couple of things go our way here or there, we win it. Still, I don’t think anybody expected us to be 5-1 right now besides the girls that are wearing these uniforms, and that says a lot for them because their expectations are high, and they expect to win. They’ve had a lot of success in other sports, and I believe that’s carrying over to the softball side. The expectations are what they are, and we want to win games.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT