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Notre Dame baseball hopes to build off last year’s district runner-up finish

Senior Cole Lemons returns as a two-year starter for Notre Dame after batting in the top of the Bulldogs lineup last spring. Photo by Jay Forness

Last spring, the Notre Dame baseball team advanced to the Class 4 District 1 Championship Game for the 10th-straight season. The Bulldogs came up short of winning their first district title since 2018, though.

Throughout the last decade, Notre Dame has won five district championships and brought home the program’s fifth state title back in 2015. Since the coronavirus pandemic forced MSHSAA to cancel the 2020 season, the Bulldogs have had a record around .500 for the past two seasons (53.8% in 2022; 46.2% in 2021).

Missouri High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame member and longtime Bulldogs head coach Jeff Graviett is tasked with replacing several starters from last season due to graduation. Coach Graviett is excited about the few returnees he has coming back as well as this year’s pitching staff.

“We have a lot of new faces but some familiar ones, and I’m really bringing three pitchers back that threw a lot for us last year,” Coach Graviett said. “We’ve got Will Morgan, Cole Lemons and Jack Evans, and Will Dodson is also returning this year after running track last year.

“We’ve got five seniors and four juniors, so we’re going to play a lot of young kids throughout the year. There are a bunch who are competing for a lot of spots — a lot of opportunity for guys who can play multiple positions. It’s going to take us a while to figure it out, but I think by the end we’ll be a pretty competitive team.”

Lemons, Morgan and Evans threw a combined 74.3 of Notre Dame’s 167 innings (44.4%) as Cole and Will pitched the most at 21.1 and 20.2 innings, respectively. Morgan finished with the better record, though, at 3-0 overall with one save while striking out 22 batters and recording an earned run average of 1.69.

“I’m really excited for him after the way he was able to contribute to the boys basketball team,” Coach Graviett said. “He’s going to bring that competitiveness and leadership over to us. Last year, he struggled early with an injury trying to get his arm healthy. Once we did towards the end of the season, we got good innings out of him and he threw huge innings for us. Will Morgan is a big, tall guy kind of the old-school heavy ball that hits the ball hard with the angle he comes from. His bat is going to be a plus — he’ll find a way into our lineup this year also for sure.”

Lemons, who will also serve as Notre Dame’s catcher, went 0-3 but is the team’s returning leader in strikeouts after producing 26 Ks last spring, which was third on the team behind 2022 graduates Noah Gadberry (76 Ks) and Grant James (62).

At the plate, Lemons finished with a .209 batting average while producing 14 hits, six doubles, one triple, 16 runs batted in, scored 22 runs and stole 22 bases. Cole’s six doubles was tied for first on Notre Dame, while his 22 stolen bases and 16 RBIs were the most any Bulldog had last spring.

“Cole is a two-way player, and he’s really come a long way on the mound,” Coach Graviett said. “He’s been a stable guy behind the plate for us — COVID took his freshman year away, and he was a kid who I think would’ve found his way in the varsity lineup as a freshman. He’ll be in the middle of our order and is the guy with the most experience, so we’ll rely on him heavily.”

Through 12 innings pitched while primarily coming out of the bullpen, Evans picked up one win and two saves as a sophomore. Jack struck out 12 batters and finished with an ERA of 1.65.

Back when Dodson played two seasons ago, he recorded 12 strikeouts through 13 innings but had an ERA of 5.38.

“They are all a litte bit different — Cole is a kid who’s going to run up their velocity wise in the mid 80s,” Graviett said. “Will Morgan doesn’t have quite the same velocity, but he’s going to throw a ton of strikes. He’ll come right at you and make our defense work. Jack Evans has about four different pitches, and he’ll throw him at any time any count.

“He gave a lot of people fits last year and makes his fastball look a lot harder. He’s a guy we relied on at the end of games last year to get us through. Will Dodson is just a competitive kid, so he’s going to come in there, come right at you and compete with you. They’re all strike throwers, which is a thing we struggled with last year. We’re looking to get back into that because it’s the key to the game — keeping people off base and throwing strikes.”

Another key for Notre Dame this season will be sophomore second baseman Logan Landewee, who batted .250 last year with six hits, five RBIs and four runs scored through nine games played. He’ll be in the top of the lineup with Dodson as Coach Graviett said those two can cause plenty of havoc with their base running.

Another sophomore standout will be center fielder Brett Dohogne, who only played in eight games last season with four at bats but finished with a .250 average.

“I don’t think of them much as sophomores because they now have two years of playing a lot of varsity basketball,” Graviett said. “You think of them as older kids because of that and both Landewee and Dohogne bring in that competitiveness. They’ve already been through the grind of the SEMO Conference in basketball, so mentally and physically they’re going to be ready to play.”

Bulldogs senior first baseman Nathan Landewee is another Bulldog who will factor into the top of the lineup with Morgan and Lemons.

“I thought our hitting would be behind, but we had a couple of scrimmages and swung it pretty well,” Coach Graviett said. “I’m either over hyping my pitchers or under appreciating our hitters, so we’ll see where we go with that.”

Notre Dame also has two freshman who could see varsity time this season: second baseman TJ Bolen and right fielder Houston Crawford. “TJ Bolen’s grandfather is the legendary Jess Bolen — TJ is a hard-nosed and very coachable kid that will play multiple positions for us,” Graviett said. “Crawford looks really good in the outfield right now and has a huge upside.”

Nick McNeal covers high school sports, college sports and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Cape Girardeau County for the past five years. He can be reached at cbjsports@socket. net.

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