Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
Southern Ohio Sports Authority is presented by OhioHealth.
PORTSMOUTH — From start to finish, Notre Dame was absolutely locked in on Wednesday.
Titans pitcher Gwen Sparks was impeccable in the circle while the team pounded out 12 base hits and blazed newfound trails on the base paths. That, as well as a side of pristine defense, overwhelmed Danville in a Division IV regional semifinal by a 10-0 final — marking the program’s second-ever trip to the Elite 8.
“It might be numbers one, three, seven and nine today and two, four, six and eight tomorrow,” Notre Dame coach Shad Ford said. “We’re just a hot team right now. We really don’t have a weak spot in the lineup and that’s a huge bonus. But just overall, I’m proud of this team.”
Tale of the tape
Notre Dame (19-1) wasted no time gracing the scoreboard, scoring twice in the opening frame.
After Annie Dettwiller drew a one-out walk, Kyndall Ford squared up an RBI double into the right-center field gap. Ford then scored on an RBI single from Libby Kelly to put the Titans ahead 2-0.
The Titans then played add-on in the second, courtesy of Dettwiller, Maddie Entler and Bree Hicks.
Entler sparked a two-out rally with a walk before stealing second base. She then scored on an RBI single from Hicks before Hicks stole second as well. That’s when Dettwiller singled to make it a 4-0 ballgame.
All the while, Sparks continued to do what she does best in the circle … sending hitters back to the dugout with nothing to show for. She gave way to Ford in the seventh inning, who eventually slammed the door shut.
“She can flat out dominate games,” Ford said. “She did that today. We put 10 runs up and I saw Strasburg-Franklin back there watching, so we put Kyndall in. That was the first time she’s been in the circle in a month. So to get her back in there was important, too. We may need her down the road. You never know. Gwen absolutely did her job and it was good to get Kyndall those reps. They’re just two studs.”
In the fourth, Notre Dame increased the lead to 6-0 with RBI singles from Dettwiller and Entler, scoring Hicks and Kaylyn Darden.
The Titans then scored three of their final four runs off long balls.
In the fifth, Libby Kelly slugged a no-doubt solo home run over the left field fence, before Ford made it 9-0 with a two-run bomb in the sixth. The team’s final run of the day came on a wild pitch in the seventh when Katie Strickland, who had singled, slid safely into home plate.
“We’re trying to build something special within this program with a bunch of freshmen and sophomores, and a good junior high group coming up,” Ford said. “I want to get [to the state tournament] so we can build on it. I want them to know the feel of big games. We want them used to that.”
Sparks tossed six innings of two-hit softball while striking out nine. Meanwhile, at the dish, Ford was 2-for-2 with a double, a home run, two walks and three RBIs. Kelly went 2-for-2 with a homer, two walks and two RBIs while Dettwiller was 2-for-3 with two runs and two RBIs. Entler also went 2-for-3 with an RBI, a run and a stolen base.
What’s on tap
Notre Dame will now play in a Division IV regional final at noon on Saturday at Pickerington Central.
There, the Titans will meet with Strasburg-Franklin, who beat South Webster on Wednesday by a 13-2 final. In that victory, the Tigers hit the ball well in spurts, scoring four in the first, six in the fourth and three in the seventh.
“Strasburg has played at this level a lot,” Ford said. “They’ve got a program that plays at the regional level a good bit. But we’ll scout them and see what they do. We’re going to be prepared and ready. Anybody that we play is going to be hard-pressed to beat us, too.”