Even though Notre Dame softball was without the tutelage of its former hall of fame head coach Jeff Graviett this fall, the Bulldogs still managed to win their fourth district championship in the last five seasons.
Notre Dame even did so as underdogs, being seeded fourth overall in this year’s Class 4 District 1 Tournament after winning it last fall. For the district title, the Bulldogs upset No. 2 seed Farmington 10-4 as junior Jacie Smith hit a 2-run home run in the bottom of the seventh inning to help secure the win.
“I just felt like we were the underdogs, and we didn’t expect this outcome that we had,” Smith said. “It’s a great win — it feels nice to win because it’s what we’ve worked for all year.”
The Bulldogs added three more runs after Smith’s homer as players like sophomores Charleigh DeShaney and Cierra Landewee and freshman Ava Miller scored off hits by Landewee, sophomore Heidi LeGrand and a bunt by freshman Eloiza Marquez.
Earlier in the fourth inning, Marquez scored off an error of a sacrifice bunt, as did LeGrand after she singled to get on base. Notre Dame freshman Lauren Estes also drove a runner home in the first inning off a fly ball for freshman Kynna Johnson to reach home plate.
Smith was a starter in last year’s senior-heavy lineup that had multiple players go on to play collegiately, won 26 games and finished five runs shy of making the Class 4 Final Four.
Another key player returning from last year that proved the Bulldogs wouldn’t have won districts without her was junior pitcher Taylor Kutz. She recorded three strikeouts and remained calm under pressure to force outs and strand eight runners while allowing no more than one run an inning with three being shutouts.
In the bottom of the fifth inning with two outs, Kutz walked a batter to load the bases when Notre Dame only held a 5-3 lead over the Knights. However, Taylor forced a pop up for an out to senior Avery Wagoner. Kutz also picked off a runner at first base earlier in the game.
“I just knew my team was going to back me up, and I knew we were going to get hits,” Kutz said. “I don’t know — there just wasn’t a lot of pressure because I knew we could do it.”
Notre Dame’s season came to an end in the state quarter-finals on Saturday, though, as it fell to 10-0 to Washington, which won a state championship in 2021 and took third place at state last year.
To reach the district championship game, Kutz struck out seven batters in the Bulldogs 3-1 win over No. 1 seed Hillsboro, which beat Jackson earlier this season.
“We had a lot of confidence going through districts and there was no pressure on us since we were the No. 4 seed,” Kutz said. “We were just going to go in, have fun and see what happened.
Taylor finished with 115 strikeouts and an earned run average of 1.84 along with 16 wins this fall. Kutz is the younger sister of former Bulldog ace pitcher Haley Kutz, who is currently a starting pitcher at Fontbonne.
“I worked really hard, and nobody really thought we were going to do that great this year,” Taylor said. “I really wanted to prove to them and show what we could do. It’s really fun to have everyone know my older sister, and there’s definitely a little bit more pressure. … I’ve really gotten better at hitting my spots.”