The Notre Dame Eagles never considered themselves the underdogs against top-seeded Springfield and instead used dogged determination to stun the Blue Devils in a thrilling Division I district semifinal on Tuesday.
The Eagles, who had lost 15-5 earlier in the season to the Blue Devils, came from behind with two runs in the seventh inning to top Springfield 6-5.
Notre Dame (18-8) advances to the district championship game for the second straight season with the surprise win over No. 5 ranked Springfield (24-4) at Rolf Park.
“I guess you can call it an upset, but we think we are a pretty good team,” ND coach Norm Kujawa said. “My approach is to always to stay on an even keel. I think it rubs off. We know Springfield's talent level. But we felt we were every bit their equal.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Click here to view Southview versus Clay
PHOTO GALLERY: Click here to view NDA versus Springfield
The Eagles, the No. 4 seed, will take on Three Rivers Athletic Conference foe Clay in the final on Friday. Clay blanked Southview 2-0 in Monday's other semifinal in Maumee.
Notre Dame was down to its last two outs before rallying.
Mary Armbruster started the comeback with a lead-off walk. Junior Amanda Del Monte then doubled to the gap in left-center. The relay throw from center field to shortstop created a close play at the plate but Armbruster slid in safely.
“It felt really good,” Del Monte said. “I knew I had to come through for my team because that's my job.”
After Springfield intentionally walked the bases loaded, Rachel Born grounded to first. First baseman Kierra Hague tagged the base and then threw home. But Del Monte beat the throw to give ND a 6-5 lead.
Starting pitcher Cassie Gillespie then coaxed three ground outs in the seventh to complete the upset.
“We had done this kind of thing and I am confident in our kids,” said Kujawa, whose team reached the regional final last year.
Clay (24-3), the No. 2 seed, entered the semifinal against Southview (18-10) ranked No. 9 in the coaches poll.
Junior center fielder Honnah Susor served as the catalyst for the shutout as the lead-off batter scored both runs. Susor went 2 for 3 with a double.
Junior pitcher Brooke Gallaher pitched the complete game, striking out three and allowing five hits.
“These tight games are always stressful, but fun,” Clay coach Brenda Radabaugh said. “They give me heart palpitations. All of these gray hairs are because of them.”
Clay took a 1-0 lead in the first inning thanks to great speed by Susor, who led off with an infield single on a slap bunt attempt. She then aggressively took third base on Lindsay Schiavone's sac bunt. Susor, who never stopped running and beat the throw from first, then scored on an error.
“Getting the first run in the first inning was a big step,” Susor said. “Everyone contributes. Every little step we take it boosts our confidence.”
Susor later scored on Gallaher's single up the middle for a 2-0 lead.
“It felt awesome because it gave us a cushion,” Gallaher said.
Southview pitcher Sarah Klepzig, a lefthander who averages nearly a strikeout per inning, stranded six runners.
The Cougars left two runners on base in the first after Bri Michel and Klepzig walked. But Gallaher got a strikeout and a fielder's choice to get out of it.
Clay has defeated Notre Dame twice this season. The district final is at 5 p.m. on Friday at Rolf Park.
“It will be another big hill to climb,” Kujawa said. “But anytime you beat the No. 1 seed, it gives you confidence.”
Contact Mark Monroe at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6354, or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.