The Cape Notre Dame softball team advanced all the way to the championship game of this weekend’s Sullivan Tournament. The Bulldogs faced Camdenton in the title game, and defeated Windsor, Owensville, Jackson and Eureka to get there.
Notre Dame would fall to Camdenton 10-5 in Saturday’s championship as junior Ali Lynch was on the mound for the Bulldogs. Lynch pitched all seven innings, but allowed 15 hits for 10 while only striking out one batter in the process.
Lynch started the first game of the season for Notre Dame against Windsor and is now 1-1 overall. She pitched a shutout through four innings as she allowed four hits, but also had three strikeouts.
Coming in to pitch for Lynch was Hailey Kutz, who threw three strike outs and only allowed one batter on base via walk. Kutz started the Bulldogs next game against Owensville, earning her first win of the season by pitching four innings where she struck out seven and only allowed one run.
Kutz came in relief against Jackson where she had three innings of work, and struck out a season-high eight batters leading the Bulldogs to victory in a 5-4 contest.
Notre Dame had a plethora of offense on its own with 10 hits as sophomore second baseman Macy Landeros led the team with two. Landeros currently leads the team in batting average [.667], hits  and is tied with sophomore catcher Kristen Barwick for most runners batted in with five.
The Bulldogs are currently 4-1 overall following the tournament, and head coach Jeff Graviett thinks a tournament of this caliber is just what his team needed to start the 2017 season.
Two years removed from its Class 3 State Championship game appearance, Notre Dame enters its 13th season with Coach Graviett. Graviett is also the head baseball coach at Notre Dame, and last winter he accepted the position of athletic director.
In the 13 seasons with Graviett at the helm for Notre Dame softball, the Bulldogs have won a total of 10 district championships with eight final four appearances.
Just like in 2015, Notre Dame has only finished as high as second in the state, never coming away with a state title. Graviett’s baseball team advanced to the state championship two years ago as well, and they came away with the title.
Falling short of last year’s state championship game by losing to second place Sullivan 6-5 has been the motivating factor for this year’s team with the hopes of getting to the title game in 2017.
“The hardest thing with the program right now is getting them to realize they can’t play in that final four tomorrow,” Graviett said. “They’ve got to do the little things to build up to it. We’ve got to start out competing first in the Sullivan Tournament, and slowly working our way to that postseason. Right now, that’s our goal. To get back to that final four and to win a state championship.”
Notre Dame graduated nine seniors last year, including outfielder Abby Rollet, who held a batting average of .426, hit a program-record 10 home runs and 43 runners batted in last season.
The Bulldogs catcher, Morgan Duschell, also graduated, and Coach Graviett said she was one of the best catchers to ever go through his program.
Both players are moving on to play collegiately with Rollet signing with Jefferson Community College and Duschell Auburn University at Montgomery, which took fourth place in the 2016 NAIA College World Series.
“We’re going to have to replace those two, but that’s the thing we seem to do is go with the next [player] up attitude, and we’re excited we’ve got a little bit of youth with some sophomores that’ll be in the lineup this year,” Coach Graviett said. “We are bringing back the Southeast Missourian Player of the Year in Madison Landeros, so we’ll have an anchor at shortstop in the middle of our order. Then we have Riley Burger, who was a state champion in the triple jump, doing some slap hitting for us in the top of our lineup.”
Landeros hit a team-high .521 batting average scoring 33 runs as well as batting in 42 RBIs. She also broke the program’s triples record with six and additionally hit 14 doubles. Madison currently is batting .429 with six runs, tying for second on Notre Dame with Macy Landeros, and the same number of hits. She only has two RBIs as of now.
Replacing Duschell at catcher is Kristen Barwick, who has only had one defensive errors in her five starts thus far.
In the last two seasons, Notre Dame has only lost a combined 10 games. Coach Graviett credits that success to how his program continuously reloads with pitchers.
“You talk about a team in the area in softball that goes through a pretty good stretch, they’re usually relying on the same girl for a few years,” Coach Graviett said. “We’re going to run some new girls on the mound this year, and it says a lot about the program.”
Coach Graviett says he builds his program for the long haul and not the short-term success. According to Graviett, it starts with how coaches approach younger players to get them in the mindset of playing a vital role for the team and eventually becoming a starter.
Coach Graviett says he has four pitchers who are playing “tremendously well” before the start of the season. He continued saying it will be a “pick your poison” type approach to see who comes out as the team’s starting pitcher for 2017.
Heading into the season for his team to improve game-by-game to eventually achieve the ultimate goal of returning to the final four and winning a state title, Coach Graviett has his players set personal goals.
“We can’t hit a fast-forward button, but probably the big game they are looking forward to is Union, which was our quarterfinal matchup last year,” Coach Graviett said. “They have a freshman pitcher who has already verbally committed to a Division-I school, which you can’t look past anybody. We’ve won the districts the last two years, but you still can’t look past those teams.
“We’re fortunate enough this year we’re going to start at the tournament up in Sullivan,” Coach Graviett said. “Sullivan beat us in the semifinals last year, and it will be a quality test for us early on, moving into our schedule.”
Notre Dame plays in a total of four regular-season tournaments, and their goal is to win the final three with the next one being the Notre Dame Softballfest and the Jackson Invite to follow.
“Every time we play somebody, it’s going to be the biggest game on their schedule for the year,” Coach Graviett said. “I’m a big believer in visualization and pressure situations, and we tell them every day, ‘If you treat every at bat like the state championship game in the bottom of the seventh, then if you get to that point you’ll be prepared for it.’ Putting that type of pressure on yourself at every at bat, you’re going to come out ready to play every single day.”
Notre Dame now starts a two-game road stretch until its tournament on Aug. 31.