Notre Dame softball returns to Class 3 final four with win over Union
The softball quarterfinal had ended less than 30 minutes ago, and Notre Dame senior Ellie Retz said she had already cried three times.
The starting pitcher wasn't sad or disappointed, though. They were tears of joy.
Nearly a year after Notre Dame lost in the championship game, the Bulldogs punched a return ticket to the Class 3 final four thanks to a 7-2 win over Union on Saturday at Notre Dame Regional High School.
Retz, who was feeling under the weather, allowed one earned run and picked up the win, while left fielder Abby Rollet hit a two-run single in the fifth to drive in the go-ahead run, part of a four-run inning.
Notre Dame will face Sullivan in a state semifinal at 1 p.m. Friday in Springfield, Missouri.
"From day one, we wanted another opportunity for a state championship, but I told them there's no fast-forward button you can hit at the beginning of the season. You've got to earn everything and take it one game at a time," Bulldogs coach Jeff Graviett said. "We're one semifinal game from getting back in that spot."
Retz and Rollet were two of the eight Bulldogs seniors who started Friday. The hosts' other two starters were both juniors. That wealth of experience, including players who saw time in last year's title game, was in stark contrast to Union's lineup. The visitors started four underclassmen, including freshman pitcher Lauren Boyd, who's already committed to play at Northwestern.
After Notre Dame's sectional win Wednesday, Graviett called Boyd "one of the better pitchers in the state." She entered with a 0.23 ERA and held the Bulldogs scoreless through the first three innings. Union (19-2) took advantage, jumping out to a 2-0 lead.
Boyd drove in both runs. She produced a sacrifice fly in the opening frame and then a bloop single down the left-field line in the third inning.
While the Bulldogs produced one hit and two base runners through three innings, Graviett encouraged his players to focus on the positives.
"Not necessarily get too caught up in the outcome of the at-bat," Graviett said. "If you're putting the ball on the bat, take that to the next at-bat with you.
"Even if you strikeout if you had a couple good bats on it carry that over to the next one."
Notre Dame (23-5) took that message to heart and got on the scoreboard in the fourth. Shortstop Madison Landeros reached on an error and scored on a single by junior Abba Estes. Then in the fifth, the Bulldogs broke open the game. Trailing 2-1, Notre Dame plated four runs in the frame.
Catcher Morgan Duschell, who finished 2-for-4, started the rally with a one-out single. After back-to-back hits, Rollet stepped to the plate with the bases loaded. The senior tied the single-season home run record (9) in the sectional win Wednesday but had struck out in her first two at-bats on Saturday.
During a brief break in the action, assistant coach Ray Reinagel helped calmed Rollet. She responded with a single through the left side of the infield, plating Duschell and second baseman Payton Friga. Rollet took second on the throw home.
"That was awesome," Rollet said. "That was the most amazing feeling in the world. People tell me congratulations about my home runs all the time, but really nothing feels better than that, than driving my friends in, and honestly I've wanted a base hit for so long."
The next batter, third baseman Lily Dohogne, laid down a suicide squeeze bunt. Boyd went home, but Landeros beat the tag at the plate. Then, when Dohogne forced a throw to second, Rollet scampered home and punctuated the run with an emphatic jump on the plate.
"The more we faced her, we kind of just settled in, and we got the hits we needed to start getting," Dohogne said. "We all started to get a better feeling of the game."
The Bulldogs tacked on two insurance runs in the sixth, as both Duschell and Landeros drove in a run. Landeros went 2-for-4 with a triple, and senior Holly Reinagel had a multi-hit game, too. She was 2-for-3. Those three players provided six of the Bulldogs' 10 hits.
That five-run lead proved to be more than enough for Retz, who wasn't sure what sickness she had. After the third inning, she allowed just two hits. The hurler scattered two runs (one earned) on seven hits and had two strikeouts and one walk.
"You could argue she could have pitched a shutout today," Graviett said. "She threw tremendously well. They earned the two runs, but we could have made those plays. We're capable of making those plays.
"I gave her the game ball after the game. She really battled, especially going down 2-0 because we couldn't give up any more -- especially with that person on the mound. We had to keep it at that, and she did a good job of keeping us in there."
For Retz, this year's run is different. After all, she's a senior and, at most, has two games left in her high school career. Retz wasn't the starting pitcher in last year's title game, but if the Bulldogs get back there, she will almost certainly toe the rubber.
She said she'll make sure to appreciate the moment.
"I don't think I realized how big a deal it was until we got back, and then in the weeks after I was like 'Oh my god, we were there,'" Retz said. "Then going into this season thinking about it again, just like how special it was that we were there. I'm so excited."
WP -- Ellie Retz. LP -- Lauren Boyd. 2B -- Kori Fiedler (U). 3B -- Madison Landeros (ND). Multiple hits -- Union: Fiedler 2-3; Notre Dame: Holly Reinagel 2-3, Landeros 2-4, Morgan Duschell 2-4.