PICKERINGTON — Unfortunately for the Notre Dame High School softball squad, what a difference a mere 72 hours made.
That’s because, following Wednesday’s near-perfect 10-0 shutout over Danville in the Division IV Region 15 semifinals, Saturday’s return to Pickerington Central High School’s “Quad” was quite the opposite.
The Titans trailed from start to finish, falling behind by as much as a dozen runs before their final at-bat of the season —as Notre Dame fell 13-2 to Region 15 stronghold Strasburg-Franklin, for the regional championship tilt at Pickerington Central.
Notre Dame, with only two seniors in Mia McPheters and four-year player and catcher Madison Brown, ends its incredible year at 19-2 —having won its third consecutive Southeast District championship, with Saturday’s regional championship game its third all-time attempt at a state tournament berth.
The others are in the past decade —in 2012 and 2015.
The Tigers, on other other hand, are a regional regular —and a multi-time Division IV state champion in the sport.
On Saturday, Strasburg surely showed why.
The Tigers scored 13 times on 11 hits —only seven runs of which were earned on two critical Titan errors.
Of those 11 hits, four went for home runs, including a three-run floodgates-opening Sydney Sibilia shot in the fourth to make it 8-1.
Following five innings, the Tigers chased Notre Dame sophomore standout Gwen Sparks from the pitcher’s circle —after Sparks allowed seven hits and three walks with one intentional bases on balls and nine strikeouts.
Sparks faced 28 Tigers, yielding to Kyndall Ford for the final two innings —who saw 11 batters and allowed five earned runs.
In the sixth, and with one out, the Tigers’ tandem of Emma Gilkerson and Maggie Richards smacked back-to-back solo home runs to left field and center field respectively.
Hayley Reiger, in the seventh, smashed a two-run home run for the 13-1 advantage —as Amelia Spidell pitched all seven stanzas in Strasburg’s win.
Spidell did walk four —Annie Dettwiller in the first and third and Sparks and Kaylyn Darden in the second —but the only Titan tallies were a pair of solo homers.
Maddie Enter led off the Titan third with one to left, while Katie Strickland did the same in the seventh for the 13-2 final.
Enter actually reduced Notre Dame’s deficit to 2-1, but the Tigers roared in the top of the fourth —for six runs on three hits while batting around and hitting off Sparks.
Simply put, per NDHS head coach Shad Ford, while the sun was shining with some cloud cover over Pickerington on Saturday, when it rained it poured upon the Titans.
Needless to say, but it was in stark contrast from Wednesday’s semifinal rout of Danville.
“It was just a bad day for us. From having a great day on Wednesday to coming back up today, they get a call here and there, but they (Tigers) are a good team. Hats off to them,” said Ford. “They have some big sticks in that lineup and they have a good circle (Spidell). I would be surprised if they don’t win it (state championship). We were on her early at 2-1 in the third, then it got out of hand and one thing led to another like dominoes.”
It all started in the top of the third, when Sparks struck Strasburg nine-hole hitter Rylee Becker out —but the pitch itself was high, and Brown was unable to bag it into her mitt.
The third strike which went awry allowed Becker to take first, then steal second —before Spidell helped her cause with a beautifully-placed bunt down the third-base line for a single.
Reiger then walked to load the bases, as Becker scored on a Gilkerson sacrifice fly to left —before Richardson singled to right and plated Spidell.
Entler answered with her home run, but the Titans —as Dettwiller was caught stealing second for the second out in the first followed by Sparks and Darden left stranded in the second —struck out against Spidell in the third.
More importantly, Dettwiller following her second walk and Ford following her single to right were left aboard in a 2-1 ballgame.
In the fourth, the Tigers batted around —as they made it 3-1 with two outs when Spidell drove in another run, this one on a double down the left-field line.
Sparks then walked Reiger, after a wild pitch put Spidell at third —and set up arguably the play of the game.
Gilkerson skied a pop-up in Dettwiller’s direction at second base, as the junior defender was forced to backpedal into the outfield grass in shallow right field for the catch.
At first, it appeared Dettwiller made the grab —but the ball fell out of her glove, and the base umpire ruled that Dettwiller didn’t have possession with the ball hitting the turf.
The Tigers on the corners raced around, and eventually their sudden 5-1 lead held up.
“I asked Annie if she caught it and she said she did. But that was a big play there that they get that call,” said the coach. “There were two outs, and if we get out of that, it’s still a 3-1 game. They get two more with that play, and it got out of hand after that. I told the girls that it’s a funny game. A bloop hit, a wild pitch, a passed ball, an overthrow, a bad call, and it’s a game of momentum. Unfortunately we were on the bad side of it today.”
With Spidell on first, and Richards intentionally walked by Sparks, Sibilia broke it completely open with her three-run blast —the first of four Tiger dingers on the day.
Meanwhile — from that point on — Darden with a one-out single and stolen base in the fourth, followed by Sparks’ one-out single and advancing on a passed ball in the sixth were Notre Dame’s only other baserunners prior to Strickland’s solo.
Spidell struck out eight Titans —all from the third inning on.
Indeed, the Titans trailing 2-1 turned on a dime, as they were outscored 11-1 over the final four frames.
Before Saturday’s season-ender, Notre Dame dropped only a 1-0 decision at Division I Marysville —in April.
“I hate this today for this team, and it’s definitely not the way we wanted to end this great season, but we’re trying to think about the positives,” said Ford.
Of which there are plenty, including another perfect dozen-games campaign in the Southern Ohio Conference Division I —of which the Titans’ league win streak stands at 26.
Coach Ford thanked McPheters for her senior-year contributions, as well as Brown behind the plate and her three years —with their sophomore seasons canceled because of the coronavirus threat.
“Mia (McPheters) did everything we asked of her this year. Always came in when we needed her, and is a great-attitude kid. Loved having her on the team. And Maddie Brown, we joke about her being a princess (Brown was 2021 Miss Notre Dame River Days), but we stuck her back there at catcher and she played big for us in 21 games. Couldn’t be more proud of her,” he said. “We’ll miss having those girls around, but they’ll always be part of a team hanging another banner in the gym.”
And, a club that is already eyeing a return to Pickerington —perhaps even Akron and the Division IV state tournament — in 2023.
“We want the girls to remember this feeling today, and want that championship mindset even more next year. We’re young, we’ve got a good eighth-grade group coming up and with the pitchers we have and the team of hitters we have, we’ll be back,” said Ford. “We’re just very proud of this team, and today was just a bad day for us. But the future is bright, Notre Dame is knocking at this door, and we’re going to kick it in one day real soon.”
* * *
Strasburg-Franklin 002 602 3 —13 11 0
Notre Dame 001 000 1 —2 5 2
SFHS: Amelia Spidell 7IP, 2R, 2ER, 5H, 0HB, 4BB, 0IBB, 8K, 29BF
NDHS: Gwen Sparks 5+IP, 8R, 2ER, 7H, 0HB, 3BB, 1IBB, 9K, 28BF; Kyndall Ford 2IP, 5R, 5ER, 4H, 0HB, 1BB, 0IBB, 0K, 11BF
W —Amelia Spidell; L —Gwen Sparks
Notre Dame hitting: Annie Dettwiller 2BB, Kyndall Ford S, Gwen Sparks S BB, Kaylyn Darden S BB SB, Katie Strickland HR RS RBI, Maddie Entler HR RS RBI
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