Notre Dame softball bounces back after semifinal loss, takes third place over Smithville
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- A couple of hours earlier, Notre Dame softball coach Jeff Graviett had seen his team's state championship hopes disappear in gut-wrenching fashion as the Bulldogs lost on a walk-off single.
Heading into the third-place game, Graviett didn't think his team could overcome that disappointment and pull out a win to end the season on a high note. His players proved him wrong.
Notre Dame scored three runs in the fifth and the cruised to a 4-1 win over Smithville in the MSHSAA Class 3 third-place game at the Killian Softball Complex in Springfield, Missouri.
After the game, all nine Bulldogs seniors accepted the third-place plaque as a group.
"I didn't think they would do it," Graviett said. "To be honest with you, I really thought we would be really flat, which we were the first two innings. But I've been here with other teams in similar situations, and it's one of the toughest things in the world of sports that I've ever done -- to bounce back in a few hours after you had your sights set on a state championship and get it taken away from you and then come back and play a third place game. Very proud of how they bounced back and how they got the win today."
The third-place finish follows last year's title game defeat to Warrenton. Before last year, Notre Dame hadn't reached the final four in five years.
Left fielder Abby Rollet led the Bulldogs, going 2-for-3 with two doubles. Senior second baseman Payton Friga also went 2-for-3 and had a double.
In the 6-5 semifinal loss to Sullivan, Rollet broke the school single-season home run record with her 10th of the season. The senior was a combined 5-for-7 on Friday. And she was an encouraging voice after the deflating loss in the semis.
"There was actually some butting heads on the field because I wanted to say positive things, 'Oh my gosh, we have one more game,'" Rollet recalled. "Other teams didn't get the chance to go out with a win. We do. We have to take advantage of this."
Smithville was the team that drew first blood. Sophomore Gracey Long led off the second inning with a double and came around to score on a single from third baseman Lauren Johnson.
Two innings later, Rollet knotted the game at 1. With two outs, she drove a ball to center-field that went under Danielle White's glove. She ended up scoring on the play as White later fumbled the ball. Rollet was credited with a double.
In the fifth, the Bulldogs took advantage of the Warriors miscues and scored three runs to take the lead for good. Junior Abba Estes led off the frame with a single before Lindsey Elfrink beat out a bunt. A couple of key errors followed. Estes scored when Smithville shortstop Lexie Duncan booted the ball, and Elfrink came home when a throw down to second on a steal attempt went into center field.
Morgan Duschell, who reached on the error, scored from second on an infield hit by Friga.
For Graviett and the Bulldogs, something clicked that inning. They put the ball in play and put pressure on Smithville's defense.
"We finally realized we need to win this," senior Holly Reinagel said.
Just like in the semifinal, Notre Dame was out-hit. Smithville's won that battle 10-7. It didn't matter.
Bulldogs starter Ellie Retz worked around the trouble and relied on her defense, which turned three double plays. The final one, a line out to shortstop Madison Landeros, and then a force out at third base ended the game.
"It was huge for them after the loss against Sullivan," said assistant coach Ray Reinagel. "They really had high goals set for this year and to come back and finish on a winning note I think was great."
All nine seniors got to play on the day, with Adrianna Landewee -- the only senior not a regular starter -- playing the final two innings against Smithville. She replaced Estes in right field and got one final at-bat.
"She deserved to play," Graviett said. "She deserved to get an opportunity to go out there and end it with her friends, the girls she grew up with. She's been a big part of our team, whether she's been a cheerleader or whatever she's done."
After the game, the Bulldogs got third-place medals and then the seniors accepted the plaque together, like the 12th graders did last year following the loss in the state championship.
Even when the Bulldogs were forced from the field due to an upcoming game, they didn't want to leave. The players and families hung around as they snapped photos with the plaque, medals and each other.
For Rollet, who transferred to Notre Dame from St. Vincent her junior year, this was the end. She was glad she could savor a win with the teammates who accepted her with open arms. It was much better than commiserating after a loss.
"It's not the first-place [result] that we thought we were going to have -- that we really wanted," Rollet said. "But it feels a lot better than getting second right now."
WP -- Ellie Retz. LP -- Karington Kadel. 2B -- Payton Friga (ND), Abby Rollet 2 (ND), Kathryn Bear (S), Gracey Long (S). Multiple hits -- Notre Dame: Rollet 2-3, Payton Friga 2-3; Smithville: Bear 3-4.
- Walk-off single by Sullivan sinks Notre Dame softball in state semifinal (10/21/16)
- Photos from state (10/22/16)