Having failed to live up to their preseason expectations in the Three Rivers Athletic Conference softball title chase, Notre Dame is on a mission.
"We've got a point to prove," said coach Norm Kujawa, whose Eagles (17-12) will face North Royalton in a Division I regional semifinal today at 5 p.m. at Clyde.
"We're proud to represent the area because there's some outstanding teams from the TRAC and the Northern Lakes League."
Notre Dame, which returned most of its starting lineup from a 2011 City League championship team, was picked in a preseason coaches poll to win the TRAC.
The Eagles had a 10-4 record in TRAC play and entered the conference playoffs as the No. 3 seed. They were upset by rival St. Ursula in the first round of the eight-team playoff, and ultimately placed sixth in the tourney.
They knocked off TRAC members Whitmer (12-8), Clay (4-0), and eventual conference champion Central Catholic (2-0) in Division I tourney play en route to beating Southview 8-6 in last Friday's district final at Maumee's Rolf Park.
Notre Dame has been led by sophomore pitcher Cassie Gillespie, who is 9-4 with a 2.26 earned run average and 68 strikeouts in 77 innings. At the plate, Gillespie leads the Eagles with a .416 average, eight home runs, and 24 RBIs.
Junior second baseman Rachel Born is hitting .325 with 15 RBIs, and sophomore shortstop Amanda DelMonte is hitting .322 with 17 RBIs.
The Eagles have only two seniors in their starting lineup -- right fielder/leadoff hitter Katie McKenty (.298) and designated player Rachael Dzierzak.
The other starters are juniors Nikki Wilkins (1B) and Jenna Inman (LF), sophomores Molly Walters (CF) and Emily Lehmkuhl (C), and freshman Mary Armbruster (3B).
The next point Notre Dame will have to prove is that they can compete with North Royalton, a team that pounded the Eagles 10-1 in a weekend invitational at Wellington, Ohio, in late April.
"Our mind set is what it needs to be," Kujawa said, "because we have something to prove. We played inconsistent most of the season. We had high expectations based on what we did last year, and it's fair to say that we have underachieved.
"But, we have put it together in the big tournament when it counts the most. It's safe to say that we will be the underdog against North Royalton, but we're not intimidated at all. We feel we're up to the challenge."
Perrysburg's tough task against Elyria
Perrysburg coach Ryan DeMars believes his team can knock off No. 3 ranked Elyria in a Division I regional semifinal at 5 p.m. Thursday, but he said it will take the perfect game.
The Yellow Jackets (19-8) will square off against the perennially powerful Pioneers (24-2) at Clyde.
"Elyria is a softball power in the state," DeMars said. "You have to credit the coaches there. For us to win it will take us playing our best softball game.
"And at times, the pitching, the defense, and hitting have all been there for us."
The Yellow Jackets had all three phases working when they earned a district title on Saturday with a 4-0 shutout of Ashland. Pitcher Felicia Eisenbrandt scattered five hits and walked one while striking out six.
The top of the batting order went 9 of 17, producing all four runs and all four RBIs. Katie Dunphy, Ty Wilson, Kimmy Granata, and Cammy Messenger each had two hits.
The Yellow Jackets beat Bowling Green (6-4), Fremont Ross (11-0), and Ashland to reach the regional semifinals. Elyria has outscored its opponents 25-4 in the postseason.
Perrysburg last won a district title in 2005 and won a state title in 1991 but has not been back to the state final four since.
Elyria has captured two state titles (2009 and 2002) and finished runner-up three times among eight appearances in the state semifinals overall.
The Yellow Jackets are in third place (7-6) in the strong Northern Lakes League.
"We take a lot of pride in being part of the NLL. It really is such a great softball league," DeMars said.
"We talked about how when Springfield made a run to the state final four [in 2010] they finished third in the league. We hope to be playing our best at the end."
Archbold, Evergreen ready for showdown
Northwest Ohio Athletic League champion Archbold will face league rival Evergreen in a Division III regional semifinal at 5 p.m. today at Liberty Center.
The No. 2-seed Blue Streaks (22-7, 8-0 NWOAL) have outscored their three tournament opponents 39-4. Archbold has eight players with batting averages of .329 or better.
Cassidy Wyse leads the way with a .495 average. She's driven in a team-leading 36 RBIs. Becca Gerig and Chelsea Goebel have also been clutch at the plate. Gerig has a .417 batting average with 33 RBIs, while Goebel is batting .409 with 16 RBIs.
Hanna Allison and Hannah Kern have handled the pitching chores for the Blue Streaks. Allison has fanned 68 batters while allowing only 14 walks. Kern has struck out 29 and walked eight.
Evergreen (20-2, 7-1 NWOAL) suffered one of its defeats at the hands of Archbold to finish a game shy of claiming the league title.
Taylor Monahan leads the Vikings with a .578 batting average, including 20 RBIs and 23 stolen bases. Lesley Ducat owns a .457 batting average, including a team-high four home runs and 25 RBIs. Kenya Keller is batting .411 with three homers and 14 RBIs.
Ducat (11-2) owns a 1.49 ERA with 118 strikeouts.
The Archbold-Evergreen winner is scheduled to face the Martins Ferry-Milan Edison winner in a regional final at noon Saturday in Ashland.