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Defense sharp, offense on in Notre Dame win
COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Forget 1-2-3.
For the Notre Dame baseball team, a third-place finish during the Class 2A state baseball tournament at Taylor Stadium was as easy as 6-4-3.
Three groundball double plays in each of the first three innings by Notre Dame -- all involving shortstop Lee Essner, second baseman Shane Kistner and first baseman Timmy Wencewicz -- contributed to the demise of Springfield Catholic in a 12-3 Bulldogs victory Thursday.
"They hit the ball on the nose a couple times," Notre Dame coach Jeff Graviett said. "To make those big plays was huge."
Wencewicz was also a key offensive contributor, going 3-for-4 with a double, triple and single in his first three at-bats to help Notre Dame (19-6) lead 6-1 after five innings.
With the margin continuing to grow in the later innings, the only drama left in the contest was to find out if Wencewicz could connect for his eighth home run of the season in his final two at-bats to complete the cycle.
Wencewicz, walked in the top of the sixth as the Bulldogs scored three more runs to build a 9-1 lead. With runners on first and third and no outs in the top of the seventh, Wencewicz had one more opportunity to test the cavernous dimensions of Simmons Field.
"I told him the last time he came up, 'Here's your chance, big boy. Turn it loose and see what you can do,' " Graviett said. "He kind of got a little antsy on the last at-bat. He's hit some bombs this year, though, so that was definitely a possibility."
Wencewicz ended up hitting an RBI groundball back to the pitcher to bring home Notre Dame's 10th run of the game.
"I went for an outside pitch and nubbed it off the end of the bat," Wencewicz said, smiling. "I was looking for it, I just didn't get it."
Neither did sophomore designated hitter Matt Wulfer, who was 3-for-4 with three RBIs and also came one home run short of a cycle. Wulfers drove home Wencewicz with a single in the first, tripled Wencewicz home in the fifth and his double in the sixth again scored Wencewicz.
Scott Wittenborn was 2-for-4 to join nine different Bulldogs who collected Notre Dame's 14 hits. One of those players was junior catcher Matt Smith, who was 1-for-1 with three walks and an RBI single in his first varsity start of the season in place of injured junior Kyle Diveley.
"My goal for this game was just to work as hard as I could and give it my all," Wencewicz said. "I did that and everybody else did that. When you do that, you win and you have fun."
Junior right-hander Wayne Essner (5-0) scattered eight hits to go the distance on the mound. Essner, coming off a rough outing in his previous start, grew more confident with the strong play of his double-play defense at the start of the game.
"I just had to throw strikes," Essner said. "That's all I had to do."
Springfield Catholic coach Jamie Sheetz started to substitute freely by the fifth inning, getting all of his players in the game and allowing the Bulldogs to run away with third-place medals. The Irish ended the season 15-11.
"It was so much fun," Wencewicz said. "Sure we wanted to play for first place, but you know what? We had so much fun playing here. We got to take the last one home."