RIO GRANDE — When a unit has as effective of a pitcher as the Notre Dame Titans’ softball program has in Cassie Schaefer, it doesn’t take many runs to make said pitcher, or said team, feel comfortable about their chances of winning a do-or-die softball affair.
However, when that said unit adds four early runs in the very first inning, it certainly helps the cause quite a bit.
Behind a four-run first inning from the Notre Dame lineup and a one-hit gem from their standout sophomore ace, JD McKenzie’s program was able to collect a 6-0 victory over the Racine Southern Tornadoes’ softball program on Friday evening in an abbreviated contest that was finished up on Friday evening on the University of Rio Grande campus.
For McKenzie, the contest went exactly how he hoped it would go from the outset.
“We got off to a really good start, and as a coaching staff, we just talked about how big it would be if we could get a couple of runs early,” McKenzie said. “We’ve been talking about having that one good inning where we put a crooked number on the board, and then adding a run or two across here or there, because if Cassie’s pitching like she’s capable of, we feel like we’re in every game. I mean, she’s pitched two games so far this postseason and has only given up one hit.”
From the outset, Notre Dame — who had three of its nine starters (Isabel Cassidy, Claire Dettwiller, and Taylor Schmidt) playing in their first-ever district tournament contest — showed the poise that would mistake it for a veteran group as the Lady Titans immediately struck with the difference-making runs in the bottom of the first frame.
Molly Hoover, who has held a strong bat all season long as the Lady Titans’ leadoff hitter, got on via a single to center field and advanced to second base when the ball was misplayed. Then, when Cassidy laid down a sacrifice bunt, Southern committed an infield error, which allowed Hoover to come around for the game’s first tally.
A two-out single from Schmidt, which scored Cassidy, along with an RBI double from Baylee Webb and an RBI single from Lauren Delabar in the same scenario quickly allowed Notre Dame to take a 4-0 cushion into the second inning of action.
“We’re always expecting things out of our top four, five, and six hitters, and when you get production toward the bottom of the lineup, that’s always a bonus,” McKenzie said. “We’ve been working on Lauren’s swing all year, and right now, she seems to be in a good place where she’s comfortable and she’s making really good, solid contact. She hit three balls hard (on Friday). Baylee stepped up and has done a nice job, too. When you look at our lineup and see that six girls are batting .400 or more, it’s got to be frustrating for a team to stop that because there’s no easy outs there. We’re stringing together hits when we need them, we’re getting timely hits when we need them, and we’re stringing some hits together to get runs across.”
From there, Schaefer proved to be virtually untouchable.
The sophomore, who went the distance once again from the circle, struck out eight and only walked two en route to recording a four-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio, with her only walks coming with one out apiece in the first and fifth innings of action, as the impressive two-way player, who even added a solo home run in the bottom of the third inning to help her own cause, was a double away from her second no-hitter in as many contests to start the postseason.
And if it were to make the outing even more impressive, the pitch that Schaefer threw en route to giving up the hit was one that McKenzie took the blame for.
“That one hit was my fault,” McKenzie said. “I called the wrong pitch number, and as soon as the ball was hit, I looked at Cassie and told her that the result was on me. If it hadn’t been for that, she would’ve probably had two no-hitters to start the postseason. She pitched great and our defense fielded the ball very well. That first inning was big for us, and from there, Cassie was cruising and in control. She had (the Racine Southern hitters) off balance pretty much all night. It seems like Cassie’s getting stronger from a pitching standpoint, and her pop is even more present than before. As young as she is, her upside’s huge. She’s only going to get better, which is a scary thing.”
Notre Dame, who scored the final run of the contest on a wild pitch that Cassidy easily scored on, will play Valley in the Division IV, Rio Grande II District Finals on Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m., weather permitting.
“Valley’s got a good pitcher in Faith (Brown), and they’ve got some really solid bats in their lineup,” McKenzie said. “Of course, we watched them play 15 innings (on Thursday), so we took a lot of notes. One of the things that we talked about with our girls is the fact that they remind us a lot of us. We’re very similar teams. Their matter in scratching runs across is similar to ours. I’m expecting a tightly-contested ballgame that will come down to who makes the least amount of mistakes in the field, who can execute in situational hitting, and who can get the ball down in the field to move runners over. What’s really cool about it is the fact that we’ve got three Division IV teams, who play in the SOC, that are fighting for a chance to play at regionals, and I believe that’s a great testament to the type of softball that’s being played in our area.”