RIO GRANDE — In a close game on the diamond, one-third of one inning can make all the difference.
For the Notre Dame Lady Titans (23-0) softball team, scoring each of their four runs with two outs in the third inning in their 4-1 win over South Webster helped keep them undefeated and win the program’s second consecutive Division IV district championship.
A one-out double by ND leadoff Claire Dettwiller got the ball rolling in the third, just before consecutive RBI hits by Isabel Cassidy, Kaylor Pickelsimer, Annie Dettwiller, and Maddy Suter gave the Lady Titans a 4-1 lead in what would ultimately be the game’s final score.
Both Notre Dame coach J.D. McKenzie and South Webster coach Andy Messer agreed that in the tightly-contested game, ND’s timely hits in the third made quite the impact.
“Really proud of our girls not getting too frustrated or anxious after getting down early,” McKenzie said. “We had that big third inning where we hit the ball really well. (Gwen) Messer threw great, her changeup kept us off balance. It’s harder to throw that when you’ve got people on base, and that inning we got some girls on base and got them moving.”
“We knew it was going to be a good game, Notre Dame’s a good team and we knew it was going to be good either low-scoring or high-scoring,” Messer said. “Two outs in the fourth, we just couldn’t complete the inning. They score all four runs with two outs and that’s the end result. We scored one early but we couldn’t connect with the ball late.”
South Webster (19-8) took the game’s initial lead when junior leadoff hitter Bri Claxon reached on a fielded bunt-attempt turned error.
Claxon stole second and third base and was scored when senior catcher Emma Bailey put a ball in play and also reached via error, scoring Claxon from third to make it 1-0 in the first with one out.
After that leadoff score, ND held Claxon off the base path where she can be quite dangerous.
The Lady Jeeps didn’t manage a hit until the fifth inning when junior Rylee McGraw singled to right field. In between Claxon scoring with one out in the first and McGraw’s hit in the fifth, ND freshman pitcher Gwen Sparks and the Lady Titans’ defense retired 12-straight SW hitters.
SW put two runners on in both the sixth and seventh innings, but a mound meeting in the final frame by McKenzie helped remind his team what they needed in order to come away with a win.
“We had a late mound meeting and told the girls, ‘They need three runs and we need three outs’. We made the plays we needed to and Gwen had a strikeout in there,” McKenzie said. “Isabel Cassidy with a great play to end the game and get Bri Claxon out. If there’s someone faster than her (Claxon), I’d love to find them because that’s the fastest girl I’ve ever seen in my life. We wanted to keep her off base because of her speed — a single is a triple for her. We were able to do that after the first inning.”
“We started good, loved to jump out to a lead in the first. But we just let our foot off the gas and that allowed them to play right with us and ahead of us,” Messer said. “You get to the sixth and seventh innings, you can’t wait that long to score your runs. Gwen Sparks is a good pitcher and they’re a good team. We put the bat on the ball some, but can’t wait that long to try and get some back.”
In her first district championship appearance on the mound, Sparks’ final stat line was a complete game win allowing only three hits, walking two, and punching out 11 Lady Jeep hitters.
Both coaches agreed it was a game that featured two regional-caliber teams with several players from both sides’ playing against the opposing team for the first time in their careers.
Of course, the two met two years ago in the Division IV district semis on the same field at the University of Rio Grande.
McKenzie said he anticipates they’ll be seeing the likes of South Webster in future postseasons as both are two of the top Division IV programs in the Southeast District, regardless of this year’s district seeding.
“Gwen (Sparks) pitched a great game, we made some great plays defensively. They’ve got a great team — this should have been a regional game, it’s a shame that it wasn’t,” McKenzie said. “They’re a great team and will be for a long time, so I’m sure we’ll run into them next year. Girls have been focused all week, been hitting the ball well in the cage and came with the right mindset today.”
The Lady Jeeps graduate two seniors in pitcher Gwen Messer and catcher Emma Bailey — Kentucky Christian University and Cedarville University signees, respectively.
Although they’ll be continuing the game at the next level, Messer said their helping build the South Webster program has helped them reach new heights — both this season and in future seasons.
“Couldn’t be more proud of my seniors. They’re the ones that have built this program. I started coaching this team during their freshman year and they’ve put us where we are today. Two great kids and it’s great to have a good pitcher and catcher duo like that as your seniors — I’d put them up against anybody,” Messer said. “Gwen stayed strong today and she has all year long. Kept other teams off balance and kept wanting to battle today.”
Aside from Messer and Bailey’s graduating, South Webster returns each of their seven other position players from this year’s SOC II runner-up and district runner-up campaign.
“The talent’s going to be there — the pond is stocked full,” Messer said. “Now we’ve just got to find a pitcher and catcher. Go into next season and find out who that’s going to be, and we bring all of our other position players back. Hopefully we learn from today to make ourselves better and stronger.”
Notre Dame will continue their season in a Division IV regional semifinal this Wednesday, May 26 versus fellow Southeast District champ Peebles.
The teams are quite different, but the Lady Indians were responsible for knocking off Notre Dame in the 2019 Division IV regional semis by a score of 2-0. Peebles had a state semifinal appearance that season before falling to eventual state champion Antwerp.
The Lady Titans will be looking to return the favor on Wednesday and continue their season with a push at the school’s first regional softball championship.
“Don’t know much about Peebles and faced Symmes Valley twice in the early part of the season. Obviously if you get to the district finals you’re a pretty good team. If Gwen’s pitching well and our bats travel, we like our chances in any game. We’ve got to play clean, error-free softball and if we do that, we’ve got a chance to win every game with the dangerous hitting lineup we have.”
Peebles and Notre Dame will play in a Division IV regional semi at Pickerington Central HS on Wednesday, May 26 at 5:00 p.m.
South Webster: 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 — 1 3 2
Notre Dame: 0 0 4 0 0 0 X — 4 6 2
W: Gwen Sparks (ND), L: Gwen Messer (SW)
South Webster hitting
Bri Claxon 0-4, R
Emma Bailey 0-2, BB
Bella Claxon 1-3
Ashlee Spence 1-3
Rylee McGraw 1-2, BB
Notre Dame hitting
Claire Dettwiller 1-3, R
Isabel Cassidy 2-2, R, RBI, BB
Kaylor Pickelsimer 1-3, R
Annie Dettwiller 1-3, R, RBI
Maddy Suter 1-2, RBI, BB
Gwen Sparks 0-2, BB
Madison Brown 0-2, BB
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at email@example.com, or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved