PORTSMOUTH — Just after his team won its first Division IV district softball title since 2014, Notre Dame coach JD McKenzie referenced stepping up in key situations as a reason why.
Wednesday afternoon, when his Titans (22-2) travel to Pickerington Central High School, they’ll have to do more of the same.
The Titans have a date with Peebles (22-2) in a Division IV regional semifinal with first pitch scheduled for 2 p.m. A win would pit Notre Dame against either Danville or Strasburg-Franklin with a trip to Akron’s Firestone Stadium going to the winner.
But beating the Indians is easier said than done.
“Peebles is a very well-rounded team with a very talented pitcher,” McKenzie said. “Solid hitters and a solid defense. I believe both teams are very similar.”
The Indians, who beat Eastern Meigs 9-0 in their district championship win. That victory came after a 10-0 win over Valley to get there.
Peebles is led by senior pitcher Madison Pierce, who is no stranger to throwing gems.
This season, Pierce is 21-1 in the circle alongside 214 strikeouts in 134 innings pitched. She owns a 1.20 ERA while opponents are hitting .133 against her.
The Indians’ offense is also led by Pierce, who’s hitting .528 with 48 RBIs. She’s joined by Kylie Sims, who’s hitting a team-high .549 alongside 36 RBIs, while Marisa Moore (.500, 24 RBIs) and Brycelyn Short (.451, 23 RBIs) follow close behind.
But that’s an offense that hasn’t faced Notre Dame hurler Cassie Schaefer, which it’ll have to do Wednesday afternoon. During the Titans’ tournament run, and throughout the regular season, Schaefer has been nothing short of dominant.
In Notre Dame’s tournament wins — 11-0, 6-0 and 4-1 finals over Whiteoak, South Webster and Waterford — Schaefer has tossed 19 innings, struck out 32 hitters and allowed the one run.
“Cassie has been unreal this season. She has improved most on her control and limiting free base via the walk,” McKenzie said. “With only nine walks all season, she’s really worked ahead in the count and forced batters to hit her pitch. She believed in her defense and knows she doesn’t have to strike everyone out. She just needs to throw a pitch that’s difficult for the batter to do a lot with.”
Schaefer’s teammates, as well as the all-Ohio pitcher herself, have been consistent all year at the plate. It’s a group that’s led by Claire Dettwiller, Taylor Schmidt, Isabel Cassidy, Ava Hassel, and Maddy Suter, among others.
McKenzie says he’ll be looking for a mixture of patience and discipline to get the job done.
“The key to our offense is getting girls on base and being able to move them around in a variety of ways,” McKenzie said. “Then, it’s getting that timely hit to bring them in. We have to have good plate approaches and good situational hitting to try and apply some pressure. We need to make the pitcher work by not chasing and staying disciplined.”
The last time the Titans were in a regional semifinal, they advanced into the Elite Eight with a 9-1 win over Fairbanks. They’ll be looking for a similar result Wednesday afternoon.
“I look for a very close game that will come down to which team plays the cleanest defensively,” McKenzie said.
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