By the sixth inning of Friday's District I district final, the Notre Dame softball team was cruising. The Eagles had a comfortable lead in hand and may have even been thinking about their postgame Friday night plans.
Southview, however, had other ideas. In particular, the thought of finishing Friday's game at Rolf Park. The Cougars rallied from a five-run deficit to tie the game in the bottom of the sixth and appeared to carry that momentum into the final inning.
But timely hitting — namely Jenna Inman, who drove in two runs in the top of the seventh — helped Notre Dame to an 8-6 win over the Cougars.
"It's just a no-brainer for me," Inman said. "I knew I had to come through and do it."
Still, the district title game didn't end without a controversial moment. The Eagles appeared to finish off the win when shortstop Amanda Del Monte threw out Southview's Molly Gast at first base, but there was confusion as to whether or not Gast was out on the play. Notre Dame's immediate celebration was premature, as the umpiring crew conferred on the play before ruling Gast out to end the game.
Southview coach Jim Zoltowski declined to comment on the final play or on the umpire's ruling.
"When you have two teams that come out here and battle their hearts out, it's difficult when it ends that way," Zoltowski said. "I'm real proud of the way they fought the whole way. We're tough, hard-nosed kids, and they're not going to back down."
But, Eagles pitcher Cassie Gillespie acknowledged, strange things have happened to her team during the playoffs.
"We were all a little bit on our toes right there," said Gillespie, who allowed seven hits and struck out four. "I'm just happy we pulled through. Our games seem to be staying interesting lately, so I'm really happy we came through."
Notre Dame (16-9) will face North Royalton at 5 p.m. Wednesday at Clyde High School in a regional semifinal.
Three days after being held to three hits in a 2-0 win over Central Catholic, the Eagles erupted for 13 hits against Southview pitcher Ali Howard, breaking open the game by tagging Howard for six runs on six hits in the fifth and sixth innings, including Katie Mc-Kenty's three-RBI double in the top of the sixth.
But the Eagles began to stagger after taking a 6-1 lead. Southview loaded the bases in the bottom of the sixth and proceeded to erase Notre Dame's seemingly comfortable lead. With her team down 6-4 and a runner on base, Julia Mouch sent Gillespie's first pitch over the left field fence to tie the game at 6 for Southview (15-10).
"I definitely felt like I was in a little bit of a slump there," said Gillespie, who allowed four hits and walked two in the sixth. "I went back in [the dugout] and collected myself, and I had to remind myself that the defense is behind you for a reason."
With Gillespie and Del Monte on base, Inman completed a 4-for-4 day by driving in both runs to give the lead back to the Eagles.
"As soon as we scored our first three runs, we knew things were going to fall into place," Inman said. "We knew it was going to be a fight, but we pulled through."
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.