Last fall, the Notre Dame softball team was officially bumped up to Class 5 due to MSHSAA’s success factor that was first installed in 2020. However, this didn’t impact the Bulldogs as they finished one run shy of reaching the final four and recorded their best winning percentage since 2011 at 25-3 overall (89.3%).
On top of that, Notre Dame won a second-straight district championship and also repeated as SEMO Conference Champions. The Bulldogs rightfully had two players named Class 5 All-State in 2020 graduate Caroline Lochmann and junior Hailey Burnett.
“We knew locally we could compete with Jackson and those types of teams, but we didn’t know where we fit in with some of the bigger schools,” Notre Dame head coach Jeff Graviett said. “By the end of the year I think we showed we can play [with the big schools]. It takes good softball to win at the top levels, so we know what it takes and that we’re always going to have our hands full.”
The Bulldogs have added the defending Class 5 State Champions Rock Bridge to their regular-season schedule as well as Eureka, Fox, Helias and Jefferson City.
Burnett and Lochmann were two of the five Bulldogs in the starting lineup who batted above .400 as Hailey led the team with a .494 average. Burnett tied for first in home runs with fellow junior Ainsley Burnett as they each hit eight balls out of the park.
Ainsley Burnett, who garnered Class 3 All-State honors as a freshman and returns as the Bulldogs third baseman, finished her sophomore campaign with a .447 batting average (third on the team) and 40 runs batted in (second).
Another power hitter coming back for the Bulldogs this season will be junior shortstop Kadi Dohogne. Like fellow juniors Ainsley and Hailey Burnett, she also had a batting average above .400 (.407) along with 46 RBIs (first on team), 11 doubles (first), three home runs (fourth) and 37 hits (tied for fourth).
“[Dohogne] is the type of girl who could be one of the better offensive players in the area,” Coach Graviett said. “She’s had two consistent years but was overshadowed a little bit with what Ainsley did as a freshman and Hailey did as a sophomore. They are three of the better hitters in Southeast Missouri.”
Replacing Lochmann in center field will be senior Ashley Carrow, who was Notre Dame’s starter in left field last season. Carrow sent two balls out of the park as she batted .383 with 31 hits, nine doubles (second on the team) and 21 RBIs, while she scored a total of 28 runs (third).
“We’ll have girls probably one through seven that can take you out of the ball park,” Graviett said. “It will be a totally different thing than what we’ve been used to with the power part of it. I’d be shocked if we don’t crush a lot of our home run records this year.”
Hailey Burnett finished second on the team in hits with 40 behind Lochmann’s total of 42, and Caroline had four homers in her own right. Lochmann also scored the second-most runs for Notre Dame with 37 and was the only Bulldog with double-digit steals at 22 while being third in home runs with four.
Defensively, Hailey Burnett didn’t record a single error as Notre Dame’s first baseman as Lochmann only recorded one in center field.
Another key player from last year’s 25-win team graduated in right fielder Halle Heuring, who had a .463 batting average (second on team) while scoring 41 runs (first) and having 37 hits (t-fourth).
Lochmann and Heuring are not the only Bulldogs MHSFCA Hall of Famer Coach Graviett is tasked with replacing this season. Notre Dame also graduated one of the best Bulldogs to ever grace the rubber: current Fontbonne Griffin Hailey Kutz.
Kutz finished with a high school pitching record of 71-12 overall and struck out a total of 468 batters during time at Notre Dame. In her senior year, Kutz finished 19-1 and struck out 116 batters while recording a 1.59 earned run average.
Coach Graviett knows that it will be a difficult task to replace the type of production Kutz had with only one person, so he will be relying on a few arms this fall. One will be Hailey Burnett, who went 2-2 with 16 strikeouts and a 2.21 ERA through 19 innings last year.
The other Bulldog who hopes to become Notre Dame’s ace is junior Halle Ressel as she went undefeated last season at 4-0 and struck out 20 batters through 34.1 innings pitched.
“Kutz is somebody who could go out there and give you seven innings, finish the game and strike out high numbers,” Graviett said. “These two pitchers we have are two different spectrums. Burnett probably throws a little bit harder, while Ressel relies on her changeup. They’re tremendously competitive girls and complement each other.”