Notre Dame sophomore Lauren Reinagel was doing some dancing out on the mound while she warmed up for the third inning of the Class 3 third-place consolation game against Platte County on Friday.
And she was even smiling from ear to ear while she faced some batters.
The sophomore appeared more relaxed than she had all season long just two hours after she experienced her first taste of defeat as a high school pitcher.
Reinagel, who entered the state final four with a 27-0 record, lost 3-0 in a semifinal game to Webb City on Friday afternoon. Notre Dame then had to turn around and play in the third-place game against Platte County on Friday evening. The Bulldogs won 2-1.
"I had talks with pretty much everyone on my team," Reinagel said about refocusing after the first loss she and her team experienced. "And we just decided we were going to have fun this game no matter what had happened."
It appeared at times this year Reinagel felt as though she had the weight of the world, or the weight of her team, riding on her shoulders as the Bulldogs' ace, trying to help deliver the first state softball title to Notre Dame.
And she did admit that she did pitch nervous at times throughout the season and that the nerves did sort of get to her against Webb City. She said the most important lesson she learned from the trip to Columbia was she needs to be more relaxed on the mound next year.
"I'm going to really focus more," she said. "Last game I didn't. I had butterflies everywhere. I was focusing, but I wasn't focusing enough because I was too nervous."
Experience is a key
Like Reinagel, others from the Notre Dame and Kelly softball teams were experiencing their first taste of the state competition, and with that came some nerves.
Kelly lost its Class 2 semifinal 7-0 to Palmyra, then beat Marion C. Early 4-1 in the third place consolation game.
Both Kelly pitchers, juniors Jessica Riley and Heather Beggs, pitched in the state final four for the first time. Riley struggled with control, surrendering four walks before Kelly coach Rhonda Ratledge replaced her with Beggs to begin the third. Beggs did not pitch much better, allowing six runs, five of which were earned in her five innings.
"Next year I don't think we'll be as nervous as were today," Riley said.
While a lack of experience might be one main reason both Notre Dame and Kelly failed to win championships this year, youth might be what propels them in the playoffs next fall. Both teams should return several players. Kelly only has one senior on this year's team, Sarah Ruff.
Notre Dame will lose four seniors: catcher Lauren Bond, first baseman Whitney Eftink, third baseman Allison Peters and shortstop Heather Menz.
The Bulldogs, for example, were hitting at .389 as a team entering their final game. But the girls only scored five runs in their last four games from sectionals to the third-place consolation game. They only had two hits against Webb City pitcher Nicole Hudson, who struck out 15 Bulldogs in a complete game shutout.
"That's held true since I've been here: it gets tougher to score runs come postseason," Notre Dame coach Jeff Graviett said. "Pitchers get better and defenses get better. Every pitcher we saw the last four games has done a tremendous job of shutting [the offense] down, and that's our bread and butter."
Graviett said the offense should improve in the postseason next year because of the return of all-state leadoff hitter, Paris Burger, who was forced to sit out her junior season due to a torn ACL.
The other big way to improve the offense is to play tougher competition during the regular season, Graviett said. He said he spoke with Affton the other day about meeting in the regular season. Affton is a team that the Bulldogs beat 2-1 in the quarterfinals.
Graviett said a couple fathers of the girls on the team who are in local leagues or who played softball in the past threw some batting practice this year to try to make up for the lack of quality pitchers that the team faced.
"There are some good pitchers in the area [Southeast Missouri]," Graviett said. "Cape Central had a tremendous one [Amanda Nichols] who threw a phenomenal game against us. But it's just not on a consistent basis. I think that will get better. Southeast Missouri is known for its softball. It just did not have the upper-tier pitchers it normally has."
While Kelly failed to score a single run in its semifinal game against Palmyra, it did score 15 runs over the final four games of the season. Maybe that is because Kelly did face some of tough pitching during the regular season, even matching up against Reinagel twice.
Ratledge said her team did struggle on offense more in the playoffs than during the regular season, but the Hawks were able to push some needed runs across the plate by bunting more. Even her cleanup hitter, Casey Kern, laid down bunts to plate the winning run in two playoff games.
TOP: Pat Moore, center, and Devin Heuring cheered on the Kelly softball team during its Class 2 semifinal loss to Palmyra on Friday in Columbia, Mo.
LEFT: Kelly catcher Brittany Brantley caught a pop up in the semifinals. RIGHT: Kelly coach Rhonda Ratledge watched her team lose to Palmyra in a windy semifinal game.
RIGHT LOWER: Notre Dame shortstop Jane Morrill threw out a Webb City batter during Friday's Class 3 semifinal loss.
BOTTOM: Notre Dame players lined up to receive their third-place medals after defeating Platte County 2-1.
Ratledge said the playoff run can help her team's offense next season. She said summer ball is another important way of improving offense.
"I just hope during the summer they play this type of caliber of softball and improve on the batting," Ratledge said. "Sometimes when you're young and you're telling them what they're doing wrong, it is hard for them to feel it and correct it. Hopefully, they'll be able to do that over the summer and be ready to go next fall."
Correction on Bond
In contrast to an incorrect report in Saturday's game story, Notre Dame catcher Lauren Bond does plan on playing in college. She said Reinagel helped her prepare.
"The last three of four years I have been catching with her," Bond said. "It feels really good to catch her because she's a really good pitcher and it prepares me for catching in college. She has a lot of fire."
Conquerors win titles
Webb City and Palmyra both went on to win state championships Saturday.
Webb City defeated Westran 1-0 in the Class 3 final, while Webb City beat North Calloway 2-1 in the Class 2 final.