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Notre Dame softball one game away from final four after winning district title

The Notre Dame softball team poses with the Class 4 District 1 Championship after defeating Farmington 8-5 for the title on Friday. Photo by Nick McNeal

After falling to Farmington not once but twice during the regular season, the Notre Dame softball team took down the Knights when it mattered most.

The Bulldogs (26-4) finally took down Farmington (28-11) in the Class 4 District 1 Championship game by three runs after being down 4-1 following the first two innings of play.

“Farmington is a good team, but we felt like the first two times we played them we didn’t play our best offensively,” Notre Dame head coach Jeff Graviett said. “We left a lot of runners on base, so I thought we played really well today.

“We thought it would be more of a 3-2 game, but the way they swung the bats and the way we did, we’re lucky to come out on top. These girls have been down their whole careers whether it’s been in the fall or summer — they don’t get scared.”

Without a doubt being the game changer for Notre Dame was senior third baseman Ainsley Burnett as she had two, multiple-run home runs in back-to-back innings.

Burnett’s first homer was a two-run bomb to center field that sent fellow senior shortstop Kadi Dohogne home to narrow the deficit to 4-3 in the top of the third.

“Honestly during both at bats, I just wanted to get on base for my team and do whatever I could to get there so we could score and win,” Ainsley Burnett said. “I wanted my team to win so much. I felt so honored for our team, and I’m so proud of us because we all came together to win.”

Tying the game in the same inning was senior left fielder Emma Steimle as she drove in sophomore center fielder Jacie Smith on a line-drive single to center field. To get in scoring position, Smith hit a pop fly that was right near the foul line for a double.

“We got the game back even there — that’s the thing you’re back even and feel like you can win,” Coach Graviett said. “Erasing that deficit gave us momentum, which we carried on and never gave up even when they scored again.”

Notre Dame senior pitcher Halle Ressel only allowed one hit in the inning to follow for the tie to hold, which allowed the Bulldogs to take a 7-4 lead in the fourth.

With two runners on base and two outs in the top of the fourth inning, Burnett went yard for the final time of the game to score three runs and ultimately win Notre Dame its first district championship in two seasons.

“Ainsley has been there before, but it’s been awhile,” Graviett said. “Her freshman year, she was a big home-run threat during our postseason run. Ice in the veins — the moment isn’t too big for her. She’s as strong as anybody and always has a chance.”

Another key performance by a senior Bulldog was from first baseman/pitcher Hailey Burnett, who is verbally committed to continue her career at Southeast Missouri State. Burnett came in relief for Ressel in the fourth inning as the future Redhawk only allowed one run while striking out four batters.

“I couldn’t brag enough about my two pitchers because I told them it was going to take both of them to win today,” Coach Graviett said. “If you asked me who our best pitcher is, I’d tell you, ‘I don’t know.’ You try to go with your gut feeling. Hailey Burnett was ready for her moment.”

Farmington’s fifth and final run of the game came in the fourth as Farmington sophomore pitcher Elly Robbins hit a one-run double with two outs.

The fifth inning was scoreless for both teams, though, as Hailey Burnett came up with a big double play to strand a Knights runner. Burnett only allowed two more hits in the final two innings.

“I talked with Halle a lot about seeing what [Farming-ton] they could and couldn’t hit,” Hailey Burnett said. “I tried to keep my energy up — stay hyped — and it worked.”

Hailey Burnett didn’t finish with one hit, but she drove in Notre Dame’s first run of the game off a sacrifice groundout to send Dohogne home. Along with her three runs, Dohogne recorded four hits and had a one-run double in the sixth inning to make the final score 8-5.

“Hailey Burnett struggled today, and she’ll be the first one to tell you that,” Coach Graviett said. “We don’t rely on one player, though. Kadi Dohogne is very close to breaking the school record in hits doing what she does.

“Ainsley Burnett has been struggling a little bit, especially with the long ball — she hit two big ones today. They’re three tremendous hitters, and I wouldn’t want to have to face them.”

The Bulldogs will now face off against reigning Class 4 State Champions Washington (32-3) this afternoon at home. Last fall, the Blue Jays outscored their two final-four opponents by a combined total of 21-0 for Washington to win its first state title in program history.

Despite winning two district championships, this Notre Dame senior class has yet to make a final four. Coach Graviett and his players set the goal of making the Class 4 Final Four in his senior’s final year prior to this season.

“They’ve gone through the bump up to Class 5, COVID and all these other things, and these girls haven’t gotten to experience a final four yet,” Graviett said. “When you take a team to the final four, it’s in those player’s minds, and they’re easy to motivate. It’s been a challenge to get this group there, but I think they’re hungry for it. We’ll come out and give whoever all they want on Wednesday.”

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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