Kutz shines as Notre Dame secures sectional softball win over Hillsboro
When the final out was recorded, when the one-hitter was finalized, Hailey Kutz's teammates swarmed her. Next to the Notre Dame softball dugout, the Bulldogs jumped up and down in celebration.
The freshman pitcher had allowed just two base runners against a lineup featuring two future Division-I players, propelling Notre Dame to a 2-0 win Wednesday over Hillsboro in a Class 3 sectional at Notre Dame Regional High School.
The win advances the Bulldogs to the state quarterfinals for the third year in a row.
"Tremendous job for a freshman," Notre Dame coach Jeff Graviett said. "She keeps coming out and going above expectations. That's a great team over there, great offensive team. Two Division-I hitters in the lineup, so kudos to what she did today, and we got her just enough runs to get it done."
Kutz struck out 12 batters and retired the first 17 batters she faced, giving up just one hit and one walk.
"First pitch, first batter, I knew she was in her groove," Notre Dame senior Madison Landeros said. "It stayed with her the whole game, and she did great."
Notre Dame (25-3) scored a run in the first to give Kutz an early lead and added another one in the sixth after she escaped her only jam of the day. Kutz then struck out the side in the seventh to secure the win.
"I couldn't be any more proud of her," Landeros said. "I knew she was going to do great for us. She's young, but she's confident up there. She knows what she needs to do."
In three games this postseason, Kutz hasn't allowed a run in 17 innings.
Hillsboro (26-4) was the most potent offense Kutz had faced in those three games, though. The Hawks' leadoff hitter, Carlie Sanders, broke the single-season state home run record on Sept. 18. She finished the season with 21 homers, five more than the previous record.
Sanders also entered sectionals batting .566, one of two Hawks with an average above .530, according to STLhighschoolsports.com. Emma Nichols brought a .537 average into Wednesday, and Kelsey Boyd had 15 homers.
Sanders, a senior, will play at Boston College, while the junior Nichols is committed to Iowa and bats second behind Sanders.
"Their top two hitters are phenomenal," Graviett said.
Kutz limited that duo, plus Boyd, to 0-for-8 hitting with a walk.
It wasn't just the Hawks' offense. With Nichols on the mound, the Hawks ended the regular season No. 5 in the STLhighschoolsports.com large school rankings.
"I was kind of nervous about the game," Kutz said. "I mean, they're a pretty good team, so just a little nervous."
The freshman didn't show those butterflies once the game began, and the Bulldogs gave her an early lead with a run in the bottom of the first.
Riley Burger was hit by a pitch and then stole second before eventually advancing to third on a groundout. With two outs, Grace Lemons singled through the right side of the infield to drive in Burger.
Hillsboro's sole threat came in the sixth. With two outs and just two Bulldogs in the outfield, Skye Batchelor doubled.
"[Kutz] may be able to blame that on her dummy coaches," Graviett said. "We wanted to take the bunt away from the 9-hole hitter with her tremendous speed, a great bunter. We wanted to make her do something she couldn't do. So that's why we put that quirky defense on, and she made us pay a little bit."
A walk to Sanders followed before Kutz induced a pop out to end the threat.
In the bottom of the frame, Notre Dame doubled its lead, as Burger led off with an infield single. Following a stolen base and a passed ball, Burger scored on Landeros' RBI single.
Hillsboro didn't mount a threat in the seventh, and Notre Dame is back in the quarterfinals.
"From everything we've been through as a school, and a lot of these girls are dealing with a lot of stuff individually, I just told them I've never been more proud of a group," Graviett said. "A couple of them had grandparents battling illnesses, and a couple of them have been sick themselves. Just tremendously proud of these girls for the focus they had today."
The last two seasons, the Bulldogs have advanced to the Class 3 final four but have fallen just short of a state championship. This year's team only has two starters remaining from last year -- Landeros and right fielder Aba Estes.
That doesn't mean the Bulldogs aren't dreaming big, though.
"It's surreal," Landeros said, "It feels great, and I just hope this year we can go all the way."
WP -- Hailey Kutz. LP -- Emma Nichols. 2B -- Skye Batchelor (H).