ROME – In a nip-and-tuck Tri Valley League softball game, the bottom half of Notre Dame’s lineup proved to be the difference.
With such a fine line between victory and defeat, the Jugglers were able to turn over their lineup one more time than Rome Free Academy to eke out a 4-3 road victory at Kost Field. Gabby Ellixson, Lexi Candido and freshman Jackie Roberts, making her first start, had three hits apiece to account for all but one of Notre Dame’s hits.
Courtney Morse earned the victory in the circle with tremendous control to allow her solid defense, led by shortstop Deana Rosato, to make plays in support. Morse struck out just one batter, but Rosato and company came up with the big defensive plays when the Jugglers (3-4, 4-5) needed them.
“I felt like we made the first out,” Notre Dame head coach Olivia Tooley said of getting the leadoff batter out in every inning. “That is a key. Courtney really hit her spots, and when she didn’t, it wasn’t in a crucial situation. Our defense played well and made some big plays. It was just an all-around good defensive performance.”
Leading 4-3 in the bottom of the seventh, Rosato made all three putouts, including a game-ending running stab in shallow left to save the tying run from possibly scoring. Rosato also had three other assists on the day.
Rosato’s catch also kept hot-hitting Olivia Guy from coming up to the plate with the winning run on base. Guy laced three singles in her three at-bats and accounted for all three RBIs for the Black Knights (2-3, 3-5).
A huge key in the game was the effectiveness of the bottom half of Notre Dame’s lineup. The final five batters in the Jugglers’ lineup reached base a total of 13 times, while RFA’s bottom five managed to reach twice. That allowed the top of Notre Dame’s lineup to bat four or five times, while Guy, one of the best hitters in the TVL, batted just three times.
“At the end I was hoping I’d get up and have a chance, but I didn’t,” Guy said.
RFA pitcher Sierra Jarosz was also impressive in the circle, scattering 10 hits and striking out six. However, she issued five walks, including an inning-opening free pass to Sofia Gardinier in the top of the sixth that accounted for the eventual winning run.
“A few walks hurt us and in the beginning we had as error and then they had a two RBI singles,” RFA head coach Mike Deraway said. “That was big. This game was even. Both teams played good defense most of the game and it was going to come down to which team was going to make the big error.”
With Gardinier on first with one out, Ellixson slapped her second double of the game to left-center to move Gardinier to third. Sam Fluty followed by bouncing one back to Jarosz who threw low to home in what would’ve been a close play at the plate. Gardinier slid in safely to give the Jugglers the advantage before Morse and the Notre Dame defense locked down the victory.
With two out in the bottom of the seventh, RFA leadoff Madisynn Reilley, who doubled and scored in the fifth, was pitched around and drew the only walk Morse would issue. With the dangerous Guy on deck it was crucial Morse handled No. 2 hitter Kaylei Wood. With two strikes Reilley stole second to move into scoring position, but on the next pitch Wood popped a soft liner over the head of third basemen Hannah Jacobs, but Rosato got a great jump off contact and caught it on the dead run to secure the win.
“Overall we played really good softball,” Roberts said. “At the plate, pitching and in the field. Our defense was very good and Deanna Rosato made some great plays at shortstop.”
Jarosz and Morse were on their games early, putting up zeros. In the bottom of the third, the Black Knights took the lead as No. 9 hitter Syerra Vedder singled to center with one out. After Reilley reached on an error, Wood’s bunt moved Vedder and Reilly up 60 feet. Guy responded by ripping a liner to center field. Ellixson charged in and made a nice diving attempt but the ball glanced off her glove for a two-run single.
RFA catcher Brianna Kelley followed with a single up the middle and Guy ran through the stop sign at third and was tagged out at home by Candido to keep it 2-0.
The Jugglers answered in the top of the fourth with two runs of their own. Candido opened things with a one-out liner to left for a single. Rosato then reached on an error that moved Candido to third. Roberts quickly made it 2-1 with a single to right before Kennedy McCoy knotted things with a one-out fielder’s choice grounder.
The freshman struck again in the fifth as Fluty came around to score on Roberts’ clutch two-out single to center to give the Jugglers a 3-2 lead.
“This is her first game starting and she makes freshman mistakes, which is fine,” Tooley said of Roberts. “She played extremely well today. She made some good stretches at first and had big-time hits in big-time situations for us.”
Going 3 for 4 and helping her team to a nice victory was a memorable debut for Roberts.
“I just had to do my job, get the run in and not leave anyone on base,” Roberts said. “I’m trying to do my part and I think I was successful.”
The Black Knights quickly tied the game in the bottom of the inning as Reilley doubled and scored on Guy’s RBI single to center, but Morse minimized the damage, allowing the Jugglers to notch the decisive run in the sixth.
Candido, a third-year senior was proud of how her team bounced back.
“We had kind of a rough loss yesterday,” Candido said of the Jugglers’ 10-6 defeat at Proctor. “We knew RFA was pretty competitive so it’s nice to come back with a win. Like coach said, we played textbook softball today.”
The inexperienced Black Knights are a work in progress, but they’ve made strides in the past few games. Guy has taken on a leadership role in helping the younger players develop.
“I don’t get frustrated with them,” Guy said. “I just try to teach them because we have to learn to play together better. We played good defense today and it was even competition.”
Deraway likes the progress his team has shown since the beginning of the season, but also has goals for the remainder of the season.
“We just need to improve and compete every day,” Deraway said. “We have to compete and try to win our home games and try to get to .500 by the end of the season.”
Notre Dame 4, RFA 3
ND 000 211 0—4 10 2
RFA 002 001 0—3 7 2
Pitching: ND, Courtney Morse (W). RFA, Sierra Jarosz (L). 2B: ND, Gabby Ellixson 2; RFA, Madisynn Reilley; 3B: RFA, Sierra Jarosz.
Records: Notre Dame (3-4, 4-5); RFA (2-3, 3-5).