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Late rally sends ND into title game
COLUMBIA, Mo. -- The Notre Dame softball team was down to its final four outs Friday in the Class 3 state semifinal game, needing some magic to stave off a second consecutive semifinal loss.
The Bulldogs got it. An intentional walk in the sixth inning was followed by a bloop double that -- thanks to an outield collision -- scored two runs and lifted Notre Dame to a 3-2 victory against Wentzville, Mo., Timberland.
The Bulldogs (29-2) advanced to the state championship game for the first time. They will play at 11:30 a.m. today against Kearney (24-4), a 2-1 winner against defending state champion Webb City in the other semifinal.
"Right now we're doing the little things, and that's what it takes," Notre Dame coach Jeff Graviett said.
The little things Friday included Miranda Schlosser scoring from first base for the winning run on Bailey Reutzel's hit into shallow center field.
With one on and two out in the sixth, Timberland chose to walk junior cleanup hitter Schlosser -- who already was 2-for-2 with an RBI. In stepped Reutzel, who was 0-for-2 with a strikeout in her first two at-bats. When Reutzel placed her hit into shallow center, Timberland's charging center fielder and the charging left fielder collided, allowing both runners to score.
"Miranda's one of the slowest [runners] on the team, and she had a bad limb," Graviett said. "Obviously, for her to run that out just shows what kind of competitor she is."
Schlosser said she couldn't remember coming around from first to score many times.
"I was out of breath after I was done," she said.
For the second straight game, the Bulldogs were able to shake off a sluggish hitting performance to grind out a win. Notre Dame had scored two runs on just one bunt hit to squeak by Sullivan in the quarterfinal game.
After a nearly five-hour postponement due to rain from Thursday, Notre Dame's first three batters struck out against Timberland sophomore Bailey Dockery, who set down seven of the Bulldogs' first nine batters by strikeout. Schlosser was the only Bulldog to reach through three innings on a sharp single.
"She hit her spots well," Graviett said of Dockery. "You have to give her credit. She was in and out all day long, and the ump was consistent on the corners."
While the Bulldogs were finding it hard just to make contact, Timberland was stinging the ball. The Wolves had a single in each of the first three innings, but Notre Dame's defense quashed any early Timberland chances.
Notre Dame scored the game's first run in the fourth inning. Kristain Burger roped an opposite-field double with one out, and Schlosser followed with a solid single.
"I wasn't nervous at all," Schlosser said. "I just watched her hand to see what she was throwing."
Notre Dame's unbeaten starter, Beth Schnurbusch, began to have some control problems in the bottom of the fifth. Facing the bottom of the Timberland order, Schnurbusch put the Nos. 8 and 9 hitters on with a walk and hit batsmen. Leadoff hitter Latosha Evans put down a perfect sacrifice to move the runners to second and third with one out. Dana Romans and Jessica Long followed with run-scoring singles to give Timberland a 2-1 lead heading into the sixth.
Dockery started the sixth by retiring Notre Dame leadoff hitter Paris Burger, but walked Erika Reinagel to put the tying run on first with one out. Kristain Burger hit into a fielder's choice to set up the intentional walk and then Reutzel's game-winning double.
Graviett said Reutzel's ability to shake off a failed sacrifice attempt early in the game showed the junior's resiliency.
"She knew how important it was to get that down, and for her to get in that spot, any time you cash in on an intentional walk is huge," he said.
Added Reutzel: "I just wanted to hit it anywhere. I was ready for it if it was down the middle."
With the lead back on her side, Schnurbusch pitched around a hit in the sixth and went through the top of the order in the seventh to nail down the win. Schnurbusch struck out one, allowed six hits, walked one and hit two to improve to 20-0.
Schnurbusch made her first appearance on the mound in a semifinal game. Schlosser pitched for the Bulldogs in last year's 2-1 loss to Webb City in the semifinals.
"Beth battled today," Graviett said. "It was another huge step for her. Their No. 1 through No. 4 hitters just hit the ball well off her today. I had Miranda loose, but Beth battled and went 1-2-3 in the last inning. She rises to the occasion when we get her a lead. If she was a baseball player, she'd be a closer."
Dockery allowed five hits, walked two and struck out 10 in the loss. Long finished with two hits for Timberland.
Schlosser had two of Notre Dame's five hits, and Burger scored twice.
Kearney, which lost to Webb City in last year's Class 3 championship game, scored a run in the second and one in the bottom of the sixth to get past Webb City on Friday.
Brittany Johnson scattered six hits and struck out three in the win. Kristen Hessel had three of Kearney's four hits.
Graviett said it really didn't matter which team the Bulldogs face in the finals.
"You know you're going to see a good one either way," he said.
Kearney has a pair of second-place softball trophies to its credit but is looking for its first state championship.
The Bulldogs also will try to bring home their first softball state title in just their second trip to the state final four after finishing third last season.
Graviett knew the sigificance.
"A first state title [for softball] and second for any girls program at Notre Dame," Graviett said. "It would be my first one. The girls talked about going with just the one senior and wanting to do it for Eden [Ellison], but you don't want to take anything for granted."
Added Reutzel: "We'll either get first or second, so it's a step ahead from last year."