PICKERINGTON — Notre Dame was faced with a decision on Wednesday.
Facing an early 3-0 deficit against Newark Catholic, the Titans could lay down and watch their season come to a close, or they could battle it out like they had all season long.
Put simply, it wasn’t a hard decision to make.
Scoring seven runs after the game’s opening frame, Notre Dame (23-3) fought from behind and earned a 7-3 victory against the Green Wave in a Division IV regional semifinal.
“Any time you’re in the regional final, it’s a good day,” Notre Dame coach Shad Ford said. “I give credit to our defense. Our defense didn’t have an error. I told our team if you don’t make errors, don’t walk people, and get strikeouts, you’re going to have a good day. Overall, I’m proud of this team.”
In the bottom of the first, Newark Catholic (20-10) got the bats going with an RBI single from Maris Knowlton. Knowlton later came around to score on a passed ball before Veronica Bailey’s RBI single stretched the lead to 3-0 after the opening frame.
Notre Dame wasn’t about to wave the white flag, though, especially that early in the game.
“After being down 3-0, we could’ve decided to just put our stuff up and say we’ve had a great season,” Notre Dame’s Kyndall Ford said. “But instead, we came out and we kept fighting.”
One step at a time, the Titans chipped away at the deficit.
With two on and nobody out, Alaya Soard laid down a sacrifice bunt to move both runners into scoring position. Lyndsey Schaefer’s RBI groundout on the next at-bat drove in the Titans’ first run of the game, cutting Newark Catholic’s advantage to 3-1.
The two teams would stalemate in the third, but the fourth is where momentum shifted into Notre Dame’s favor.
Gwen Sparks and Bree Hicks started the inning by getting on base, each standing on the corners with one out. Following a Newark Catholic pitching change, Sparks scored from third on a passed ball, advancing Hicks all the way to third. This proved crucial for Notre Dame as Soard laid down her second sacrifice bunt of the day to bring the tying run home, evening the score at 3-3.
“Those sacrifice bunts really put us ahead,” Kyndall Ford said. “If [Soard] didn’t put those bunts down, we’re probably in a different position.”
Kyndall Ford then took over on the mound and did what she was brought in to do — get outs.
“Some people think we may not use her in certain games, but in reality she’s about as good as anyone else we have,” coach Ford said of Kyndall. “She came in today and did her job and kept them off-balance with that change-up. Credit to her for coming in during a tough spot and shutting them down.”
After shutting down NC in the fourth, Notre Dame’s bats got going once again in the fifth. Maddie Entler got on base with a one-out single and went on to steal second. From there, Maycee Ford broke the tie with an RBI double to give the Titans their first lead of the day — a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
“I think [Maycee] created a little spark in our dugout,” Shad Ford said. “She gave us that double to put us up, and when you get up, momentum changes. It’s always good to have momentum on your side.”
After, Kyndall Ford reached on error to score her sister as the Titans took a 5-3 lead.
After Ford sat down the Green Wave in the fifth, Notre Dame’s offense did more damage in the sixth. Soard’s RBI fielder’s choice added another run and extended the Titans’ lead to a 6-3 margin.
Kyndall Ford finished off the Green Wave in the seventh with an RBI single before getting the final three outs in the circle to send the Titans back to the Elite 8.
Maycee Ford finished 1-for-3 with a double and an RBI, while Soard had two RBIs and Schaefer added an RBI. In the circle, Kyndall Ford picked up the win in four innings, allowing just one hit and striking out three batters. She also went 1-for-4 at the plate with two RBIs.
Notre Dame advances to a Division IV regional final at 5 p.m. on Friday at Pickerington Central against Strasburg-Franklin, who defeated Manchester by a 21-0 final to advance.
There’s no lack of motivation for the Titans with a trip to state on the line, but there’s also a revenge factor. It was the Tigers who ended the Titans’ season last spring in a regional final before winning the state championship.
“The mindset all year has been to go to state. That’s the goal, and now we’re here,” Shad Ford said. “Now it’s about whether we deliver or not. They all know it, and it was preached to everyone on the team from day one.”