RUBYVILLE — Simply put, the youth within Notre Dame High School’s softball program has served the athletically-talented Titans all too well.
It’s done so again, at least so far for the Southern Ohio Conference Division I race, in 2022.
That’s because the Titans’ 10-1 triumph at Clay on Thursday officially clinched their outright SOC I championship —as Notre Dame scored single runs in innings two, four and finally seven against the Panthers, which averted the shutout with their own run in the bottom half of the seventh stanza.
Notre Dame, which cranked out 11 hits and took full advantage of four Panther errors, dialed up three runs in the third for a 4-0 lead —and later tacked on four in the fifth for a 9-0 balloon-build, with the 10-run mercy rule right around the corner.
The Titans didn’t get their 10th run until the seventh, and didn’t get the desired shutout, but both situations were deemed immaterial — once the final out was recorded at Carol Vice Memorial Field in Rubyville.
With the win, Notre Dame —for those into counting —extended their SOC I win streak to 25, which of course dates back to the end of the 2019 campaign, considering there was no 2020 season because of the coronavirus threat.
The undefeated for the small-school division Titans took their league mark to 11-0, now part of 14-1 —their only loss occurring last Saturday at New Albany, and a 1-0 non-league defeat against Division I power Marysville.
And, that lone run was scored by Marysville in the bottom of the sixth inning.
But back to Thursday’s clincher, Notre Dame —despite only two seniors and three significant graduation losses (Claire Dettwiller, Isabella Cassidy and Ava Hassel) from last season’s Division IV district championship squad —did its job in rolling through the SOC I once again.
The Titans actually still have one league game remaining —a makeup against visiting Symmes Valley on Tuesday — following their prom from Friday night and obviously an idle Saturday.
The Vikings are 7-2 in the SOC I with Clay (10-6), but both have three conference clashes left —and now no way of catching the Titans.
Shad Ford, the first-year NDHS head coach who took over for the successful mentor J.D. McKenzie although McKenzie has remained on staff, said that these younger Titans have won the SOC I —amid early-season and current injuries and some shuffling among defensive positions.
“Anytime you win the league, it’s always big because you’re now a new piece of history at Notre Dame. You’re putting the year number up on the banner in the gymnasium, and you’re always coming back to see it. Just super proud of these girls, given how young we were when we started and we’ve had some bumps in the road,” said Ford. “We’ve had some injuries with Annie (Dettwiller) hurt early and Kyndall (Ford) hurt now, and even Gwen (Sparks) is a little bit banged up right now with her back.”
But, you would never know that — with the way Gwen Sparks pitched on Thursday.
With Ford out, Sparks shouldered the circle workload by herself —but struck out 13 against only one walk to her pitching counterpart Preslee and three hits.
Sparks saw 24 Panthers, needed 94 pitches for the complete-game win, and only threw one wild pitch as Clay’s run was earned.
Lutz, Shea Edgington and Sarah Cassidy collected Clay’s three basehits —all singles.
While the Panthers plated a run on three hits and a walk late, Notre Dame did its offensive damage early and often.
Katie Strickland scored Libby Kelly in the second, who reached on an error, for the only run the Titans truly needed for the runaway win.
Of Notre Dame’s 11 hits, freshmen Maddie Entler and Bree Hicks had three apiece —as Hicks had a home run shy of the cycle, and three runs batted in.
Kelly and senior catcher Maddie Brown both had two hits, including a double by Kelly, as Gracie Ashley added the only other baseknock on a single.
Kelly and Brown bagged a pair of RBI apiece, as Sparks —who drew a pair of Lutz’s four walks — secured one, as Strickland and Annie Dettwiller drew one walk each.
Kelly, Entler and courtesy runner Annabelle Ball scored two runs apiece —with the other four coming courtesy of Mia McPheters, Dettwiller, Strickland and Hicks.
“We wanted to get a good start here, and put the pressure on them early, which we did. Anytime we get up on a team early, we feel we’re really tough to beat with our pitching as good as it is,” said Coach Ford. “Gwen went the whole distance and pitched excellent and was in her zone, which makes her really tough to hit against. Just super proud of her and our defense when the ball was hit.”
Which wasn’t often —as Edgington scored the Panthers’ only run.
For Lutz, only five of the Titans’ runs were even earned — as she struck out a dozen and fired a hefty 136 total pitches.
Notre Dame defeated the Panthers 4-1 in their first meeting, as Clay didn’t make the mistakes they made on Thursday in that outing —but the Titans put the ball in play and got on the bases.
“We wanted to get on the basepaths and create a little bit of havoc. We played some small ball, had timely hits when we had runners in scoring position, and that just equals runs,” said Ford. “Pretty proud of everybody down the line.”
That line of Titans, truth be told, is well-served youth in the SOC I —of which is another outright championship.
McPheters and Brown are the two seniors, Dettwiller and Kelly the two juniors, with the remainder of the roster consisting of sophomores and freshmen.
Now Notre Dame, with the official release on Sunday of the Ohio High School Athletic Association Division IV Southeast District tournament pairings, is projected to be the top-seeded club of the entire Division IV district tournament.
“We’re looking to make a deep tournament run with a good young team,” said Ford.
* * *
Notre Dame 013 140 1 — 10 11 0
Clay 000 000 1 —1 3 4
NDHS: Gwen Sparks 7IP, 1R, 1ER, 3H, 0HB, 1BB, 13K, 24BF
CHS: Preslee Lutz 7IP, 10R, 5ER, 11H, 0HB, 4BB, 12K, 40BF
W —Gwen Sparks; L —Preslee Lutz
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2022 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved