Notre Dame sophomore pitcher Cassie Gillespie right celebrates with Nikki Wilkins after the Eagles defeated North Royalton. Gillespie went the distance and struck out four, while hitting a home run and two doubles.
CLYDE, Ohio -- With its season on the line at several key moments in a Division I softball regional semifinal Wednesday, the Notre Dame softball team simply refused to lose.
Displaying remarkable resiliency and incredible heart, the Eagles were down to their last out before rallying to win in extra innings.
In a terrific battle with North Royalton, Notre Dame trailed 4-0 before tying the game with two outs in the seventh inning. The Eagles then plated the two winning runs in the 10th inning to take a 6-4 victory at Joe Wilson Field.
"They never quit," Notre Dame coach Norm Kujawa said. "You can't ask for anything more than that. We told them to leave it all on the field. It's been a never-say-die attitude this whole tournament."
Notre Dame pitcher Cassie Gillespie helped her cause as the sophomore went 3-for-3 and drove in two runs. Gillespie smacked a 230-foot solo home run to go along with two doubles.
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Junior first baseman Nikki Wilkins led off the 10th inning with a double and later scored the decisive run on a fielder's choice. Left fielder Jenna Inman then made it 6-4 on Molly Walters' infield single.
"Our team never dies," said Gillespie, who scattered nine hits and had four strikeouts. "We have a never-quit attitude. In a lot of games we've been in a hole and we come out of it. I'm so confident in our offense and defense. We can do anything if we put our minds to it."
Notre Dame catcher Emily Dzierzak tags out North Royalton's Laura Weible on a throw from center fielder Molly Walters to end the eighth inning in a Division I semifinal.
Walters made a great running catch in center to record the final out. Walters also threw out the potential winning run at the plate to end the eighth inning.
"It was huge," Walters said. "It felt so good to keep our team in it and give us a chance to win. We do have a lot of heart. We never want to give up."
Notre Dame (18-12) advances to its first regional title game. The Eagles play at noon Saturday against the winner of Thursday's semifinal between Perrysburg and Elyria.
North Royalton (24-6) scored single runs in the third and fifth innings and two in the fourth. The Bears, who were ranked ninth in Ohio, had defeated the Eagles 10-1 in late April.
"I got this gray [beard] from a lot of tight games," Kujawa said. "I'm just glad they play with so much passion and heart. This was by far the most special. It's a lot of fun."
The game was scoreless until the third when North Royalton's Nikki Newman came up with a two-out RBI double to make it 1-0.
Notre Dame then had a great chance to break it open with the bases loaded and no outs in the fourth. But starter Carly Gurka struck out two of the next three batters and coaxed a pop out.
The Bears then tacked on two runs on two singles in the fourth, while also taking advantage of two wild pitches.
Gillespie then got the Eagles going when she launched a homer off of a change-up that sailed over the scoreboard.
Notre Dame's Jenna Inman scores on an infield single by Molly Walters to give the Eagles a 6-4 lead as North Royalton catcher Lauren Oster watches in the 10th inning in Thursday's Division I regional semifinal.
"I went up there with a clear head and tried to get things started," said Gillespie, who hit her ninth home run of the season.
Notre Dame then capitalized on two North Royalton errors to make it 4-2.
Walters then led off the seventh with a bunt single. However, Gurka then got two outs on a strikeout and a flyout. But Gillespie then doubled in Walters to make it 4-3. Sophomore shortstop Amanda DelMonte then tied it with an RBI single up the middle.
"We never gave up," Gillespie said. "It's a huge accomplishment."
North Royalton had a chance to win it in the eighth on a bloop single to short center field. But Walters gunned down Laura Weible with a perfect throw to the plate.
Among 10 hits, the Eagles had four doubles and a home run.
DelMonte went 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI. Wilkins scored two runs. Walters added to her stellar defense with two singles and she scored a run.
"You can go right down the list and point to every kid," Kujawa said. "They all contributed something big and that's what it takes to win these things.
"We were the sixth seed at district so that makes it even more special," he said. "But I knew we had it in us to get on a roll like this. We have a point to prove that we can compete with any team. We are showing it now."
Contact Mark Monroe at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.
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