It's not often that a win in a league opener can be considered a landmark victory, but that's exactly what the Notre Dame softball team achieved Tuesday.
A young but promising Notre Dame team battled back in dramatic fashion over City League powerhouse Clay. Notre Dame came out on top after a roller coaster final inning and posted a 6-5 victory over the two-time defending champs.
Freshman Cassie Gillespie put a perfect bow on an outstanding debut in CL competition. With her team down to its last out and trailing 5-4, Gillespie drilled a double that plated two runners to end a spectacularly wild seventh inning and the ballgame at Notre Dame.
"I felt like I needed to pull through for my team," the young first baseman said. "It feels really good because Clay is one of our biggest competitors. They are a really good team. But our team really wanted to win. I just tried to focus and hit the ball."
Notre Dame took a precarious 2-1 lead into the top of the seventh. That's when the city champs erupted for four runs to take a 5-2 lead.
With three freshmen and three sophomores in the starting lineup, it figured Notre Dame might fold. Instead they came up with clutch hits and took advantage of Clay errors.
Notre Dame pulled within two runs on pitcher Jenna Inman's single and within one when Katie McKenty scored on a Clay throwing error. With runners on first and second with two outs, Gillespie ripped the double.
"Wow!" said Notre Dame coach Norm Kujawa as he exhaled deeply right after the game. "It was a good battle. We're a young team. So this is big for them. I don't know if they understand the magnitude of what they just did. Clay has dominated the league for a number of years now."
Kujawa said his team, which trailed 1-0 before taking the lead with two runs in the fourth, is in transition. His Eagles moved to 3-2 overall and 1-0 in the City.
"This is the last year of the City League," Kujawa said. "I think every team is shooting to be the last team to win it. It's a landmark win because of the stature of Clay. They're still my preseason pick to win it. But I think we showed we could be there."
Gillespie was 3 for 4 with three runs batted in. Kujawa said the very first pitch Gillespie faced as a varsity player this spring, she hit 230 feet for a home run. She has four home runs in five games and leads the team in RBIs.
"She is an extremely disciplined hitter," Kujawa said. "Hitting is her craft."
Inman, a sophomore starting pitcher, gave up 12 hits and survived the late comeback by getting the rally going in the seventh.
"She has come around. She gets better each game," Kujawa said. "She became our No. 1 pitcher last year as a freshman. She works at it."
Clay senior starter Cassi Laberdee suffered the loss after giving up seven hits. Her team committed six errors. Clay coach Brenda Radabaugh, whose team has won four of the last five City titles, refused to blame the cold conditions for causing the errors.
"It's the same temperature for both teams," Radabaugh said. "We just need to buckle down defensively."
Clay struck with a run in the first on Laberdee's RBI single. Notre Dame tied it in the fourth on Amanda Del Monte's RBI single. Gillespie then hit a sharp, ground single up the middle to score pinch runner Rachel Born for a 2-1 ND lead.
Laberdee tied it on a line shot that Del Monte, who made a diving attempt, could not hold. Clay took the lead on Brooke Thompson's RBI double over the center fielder's head. Laberdee then scored on a fielder's choice by beating the throw at home from first. Kim Scharff then doubled in Thompson to make it 5-2.
"I'm proud of the kids for the comeback," Radabaugh said. "That was big. They have confidence at the plate. Notre Dame is a good team. They have good players. But you can't make that many errors in one inning and expect to win. We have to take the blame for that also."
Gillespie and Kujawa said Clay's three seniors pumped the team up after it fell behind.
"We just tried to stay focused and never give up until it's over and that's what we did," Gillespie said.
Added Kujawa: "When we came in for the bottom of the seventh, it was the seniors who said we could do this and that we will show some heart."
Contact Mark Monroe at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6354.