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Central, Notre Dame to play in title game of SEMO Conference tournament
Notre Dame senior Blake Gaddis has looked comfortable batting leadoff for the Bulldogs the last three games after spending the first 13 games as the No. 9 hitter.
"It's basically the same thing," Gaddis said, comparing the two spots in the order. "If you're at the bottom or the top of the lineup, you [get on to] get the big bats going. But I like hitting at the top more. You get more at-bats."
Gaddis remained on fire offensively against Jackson on Saturday in the semifinals of the SEMO Conference tournament. He went 2-for-4 with a double, single, suicide squeeze, stolen base and three RBIs to help the No. 2 Bulldogs beat the No. 3 Indians 9-5.
Both of Gaddis' hits and two of his RBIs came in Notre Dame's seven-run third inning, which helped the Bulldogs gain momentum they never lost.
Notre Dame (13-5) advanced to play in-town rival Central in Monday's 7:30 p.m. SEMO Conference tournament title game at Capaha Field.
"It's real big," Gaddis said about the championship pairing. "Like coach said, it's almost like a district championship game or playing in the postseason. It's a real big game. Night game at Capaha. There should be lots of people there. It should be a fun atmosphere to play in."
In three games as the leadoff hitter, Gaddis is 7-for-12. He has raised his season average to 386. He also went 2-for-4, including a triple, in the Bulldogs' 3-2 first-round win over Poplar Bluff, a game that was finished Saturday after a rain postponement Friday.
"He's been tremendously hot swinging the bat like we felt he was capable of all year," Notre Dame coach Jeff Graviett said. "He's really coming around, and he's been a huge spark since we moved him up in that spot."
Gaddis said baseball is his favorite sport, although he was also a member of the Bulldogs basketball team that won the Class 4 state title this past winter. He didn't play much but provided one of the memorable playoff moments by dunking late in the fourth quarter in a 28-point quarterfinal victory over St. Clair.
"That was my first one in a game," Gaddis said. "We tried one out earlier, an oop in the Christmas Tournament from Trenton [Vance] but it didn't work out."
Jackson (7-10) took an early lead against the Bulldogs, going ahead 2-0 by drawing two bases-loaded walks -- one in the second and another in the third -- off Notre Dame starter Dylan Drury, who struggled with his command throughout but battled to improve his pitching record to 4-1.
Notre Dame's seven-run third inning was sparked by Gaddis, who began it by singling sharply to center.
Gaddis' hit was the first of five straight hits to begin the inning for the Bulldogs. Notre Dame had seven hits during the rally and sent 11 batters to the plate.
Gaddis, who had come around to score the first run, smashed a two-run double with two outs in his second trip to give Notre Dame a 7-2 advantage.
"[Gaddis] has been real hot lately," Drury said. "When he puts the ball in play he hits it hard."
Jackson coach Rob French added: "Bottom line, [Notre Dame] hit the ball well. We made some errors. We had four errors today and they hit the ball well and when you have a combination like that, you're giving up a lot of runs."
Notre Dame will play the Tigers for the title on Monday after No 4 Central (8-13) upset No. 1 Dexter 9-4 earlier in the day.
Central hurler Zach Wilson earned the victory. He went seven innings and gave up four runs, all earned, on seven hits while striking out two and walking five.
"He made some big pitches when he needed him to and our defense, we turned two double plays," Central coach Steve Williams said. "We played so well in the field and we battled. We got behind, and we got the lead again."
The Tigers scored four in the sixth inning to take a commanding lead. The rally included a pinch-hit RBI single by NIck Allen to make it 6-4.
"Our kids deserve it," Williams said. "They've continued to battle with all the close losses we've had."
Notre Dame 9, Jackson 5
WP -- Dylan Drury (4-1) LP -- Caleb Hosey. 2B -- Blake Reiminger (J), Blake Gaddis (ND). Multiple hits -- Notre Dame, Gaddis 2-4, Dylan Drury 2-3, Austin Greer 2-3. Jackson: Reiminger 2-3, Matt Crader 2-4. Records -- Notre Dame 13-5, Jackson 7-10.
Central 9, Dexter 4
WP -- Zach Wilson 2-5. LP -- Cody Stause. 2B -- Caleb Miller (D). Multiple hits -- Central, Brooks Osburn 2-4; Garrett Stevens 2-4. Records -- Central 8-13, Dexter 11-4.