Notre Dame’s Kathryn Rex led the game off with a single to center and would score later in the first inning after Caitlyn Kowalski doubled to right. THE BLADE/LORI KING
Notre Dame might have been picked to finish third in the Three Rivers Athletic Conference softball race this season, but the Eagles appear to have an alternate plan in mind.
Having already beaten preseason favorite and four-time defending TRAC champion Clay 13-2 on Thursday, the Eagles won a first-place showdown on the road Monday at Whitmer, blanking the Panthers 6-0.
IN PICTURES: Notre Dame Academy 6, Whitmer 0
Notre Dame (10-2, 5-0 TRAC) got a superb two-way effort from freshman pitcher Caitlyn Kowalski, who struck out 12 batters in her complete-game, four-hit shutout, and helped her own cause offensively with two doubles and an RBI.
“She was fantastic all the way around, offensively and obviously in the circle,” Notre Dame coach Norm Kujawa said of the 14-year-old Kowalski. “She was just dominant.
“With a freshman, you kind of wonder what you’re going to get once you start to play important games, and she showed well against Clay, and came in in relief against St. Ursula. She earned this start, and she showed up big time today.”
In taking sole possession of first place in the TRAC, the Eagles had 10 hits, including five for extra bases, against the Panthers (8-3, 3-1) and senior pitcher Amanda Combs (6-2).
“I just stick to my game plan, and I know that my defense is behind me,” said Kowalski, who threw 65 of her 87 pitches for strikes in raising her season record to 7-0. “I throw a fastball, change-up, curve, screwball, riseball and a drop-curve. I used them all today. The curveballs and screwballs worked the best.
“I try to get ahead in the count and take the batters out.”
Notre Dame scored the only run it would need first in the first inning, but a baserunning miscue cost the Eagles a run and snuffed out potential further damage.
After ND’s Kathryn Rex led the game off with a single to center and moved to third on consecutive ground outs, Combs walked Hannah Rubel to put runners at first and third.
Both scored on Kowalski’s double to right field, but the Panthers appealed the play, and Rubel was ruled out for not touching second base on her way around to keep the score at 1-0.
Rubel would make up for that error to lead off the fourth inning when she slammed a 3-1 pitch from Combs over the left-field fence for a 2-0 Notre Dame lead.
The Eagles would touch Combs for two more runs in the fourth.
Kowalski followed Rubel’s homer with a double to right, Lauren Sasala singled to right, and Erin Bollin’s ground out left runners at second and third. Melanie Faltys then came through with a two-run single to right to put Notre Dame up 4-0.
Has Notre Dame been motivated by being picked to finish third in the TRAC?
“We don’t seem to get many votes when it comes to these things, but that’s OK,” Kujawa said. “We don’t mind. We come out, practice hard, play hard, and do what we believe in.
“Luckily, the girls buy into what we teach and go 100 percent all the time. That’s all we can ask. So far, so good. But we’ve got a long way to go.”
The Eagles added two runs on three hits for insurance in the seventh.
Rex ripped a one-out double to left, Mycala Duhart followed with an RBI single to center, and Meghan Miller added an RBI single to left for the final margin.
“Obviously [Kowalski] dominated us, but I think we sat there and looked at a lot of strikes,” Whitmer coach Duane Lanham said. “All of a sudden the character of this team is look at strikes instead of swing at them. Until you make that adjustment, you can’t win many ball games leaving the bat on your shoulders.
“I’m not sure if we lost confidence [after falling behind 4-0], or it was a competitive thing. But we need to rise to the occasion. If you’re going to talk the talk, you got to walk the walk. We’re not doing that yet. But, there’s a lot of season left, and they’re just going to have to figure this out.”
Notre Dame freshman Caity Kowalski struck out 12 batters in her complete-game, four-hit shutout, plus helped her own cause offensively with two doubles and an RBI. THE BLADE/LORI KING
Whitmer’s Amanda Combs tries to lay down a bunt against Notre Dame. THE BLADE/LORI KING