PORTSMOUTH — Cassie Schaefer has been a name known around softball circles for quite some time now.
Notre Dame’s flamethrowing pitcher has built a reputation around silencing opponents’ bats, letting her defense work behind her and staying calm in pressure-filled situations.
Last season, her sophomore year, Schaefer earned a second-team All-Ohio nod after leading the Titans to a Division IV district final appearance. And, just when you thought she was at the top of her game, she’s seems to have only gotten better over a lengthy offseason.
Schaefer has started her junior year with a 0.19 ERA in 36 innings pitched. Her 6-0 record in the circle comes with 47 strikeouts, compared to just 20 hits allowed — 10 of which came in one outing.
Behind their star hurler, the Titans sit at 8-0 overall with a 4-0 record in the SOC I. So far, with the engine running smoothly, Schaefer and Notre Dame have been nothing short of spectacular.
“This year has started out really well. We have been solid defensively and have been getting hits and runs across when we need them,” Schaefer said. “In the circle, I’ve been focusing more on hitting my spots and keeping hitters off-balance. I think it’s worked out great so far in the games I’ve pitched.”
If you’re tallying a total, the Titans have outscored their opponents 77-11 this spring. Four of Schaefer’s six outings have resulted in shutouts — 15-0, 15-0, 1-0 and 12-0.
But if you’d ask Schaefer, that hasn’t come about because of her talents only. It’s her defense, and friends, behind her in the field who have made that happen.
“I think this year, our team chemistry is one of the best we’ve had. Going to a small school, most of us have played multiple sports together since we were little, and in each season of every sport, we become closer,” Schaefer said. “It’s not only a special thing to play your favorite sport with your best friends, but it’s also special to have them support and encourage you along the way. I know that when i’m not doing my best, they’ll pick me up and get the hits to back me up and make me feel more comfortable in the circle.”
Still, to toss four shutouts in your first six outings and to beat teams like Symmes Valley, Circleville and Ironton over that time, is no easy ask. Schaefer says the key to those victories, and really, every victory, has been a clear mindset.
“When I step into the circle, the first thing I do is clear my mind and focus only on the batter,” she said. “ I know my job is to find the easiest way to make an out for my team no matter who is batting, whether it be through a strikeout, pop out, or ground out. Sometimes I focus more on throwing junk in order to get hitters to reach for balls and keep them off-balance. Other times, I think to myself ‘Just let them hit it,’ because I know that I have an outstanding defense behind me to back me up and make the outs we need.”
And distractions? She’s never heard of them. Her laser focus allows her to put on blinders.
“Pitching is definitely a mental game. As a pitcher, you control the pace or the game. All defense and hitting centers around you,” she said. “When I’m not doing my best, I step off the mound, clear my mind, take a deep breath, and move on. I try not to let anything else, such as my hitting performance or any other distractions around me take my focus. I know that I’m there to pitch, and to do what it takes to lead my team to victory.”
Notre Dame has beaten Symmes Valley and Eastern Pike twice to start their conference slate. Those wins are nice to have under their belts, but the Titans are certainly keeping an eye out for Clay — a team that also sits at 8-0 with impressive wins on its resume.
The Titans and Panthers square off on April 11 and April 22.
“In our conference, Clay, Symmes Valley and us have always seemed to be at the top. And all the other teams seem to be improving. So we obviously can’t take anyone lightly,” Schaefer said. “Clay is a really good and experienced team, so we will have to bring it in order to beat them. I need to make sure I’m hitting my spots and that our defense is sharp. We also need to get timely hits and bunts down in order to advance runners across the plate. They will be really good games and will probably be dogfights, but beating them is very possible if we show up.”
Putting Clay aside, Notre Dame has goals it wants to accomplish this season. Schaefer is at the center of that movement.
The ceiling for this year’s team is the sky. But it can only focus on the task at hand.
One step at a time. Slow and steady wins the race.
“I think we can go even further than last year’s district final. Our first goal, however, is to win our first conference title since 2014,” she said. “After that, we will focus on the tournament and get through districts. Right now, when we are all on, we are pretty good and seem to be getting better each day. I think if we play like we all know how to play and stay tough, we can have a shot at playing in Pickerington and maybe even at Firestone Stadium in Akron.”