1 ace is enough for Notre Dame Academy

1 ace is enough for Notre Dame Academy


1 ace is enough for Notre Dame Academy


Ashley Meeks pitches for Holy Cross against Notre Dame in a softball game, Tuesday, March 31, 2015.

The Notre Dame Academy softball team’s vaunted 1-2 pitching tandem is down to one ace following the sudden departure of Slippery Rock University recruit Abby Jones, whose family moved out of state after the start of the season.

But that didn’t stop the Pandas from producing a near-perfect pitching performance Tuesday, fueling a 13-0 five-inning mercy-rule win over Holy Cross in a 35th District seeding game at Cappel Sports Complex in Covington.

They merely turned to their other power pitcher, senior Haylee Smith, the ultimate ace in the hole.

“We were expecting to have No. 1 and 1A with Smith and Jones. It’s a big blow too because of Abby’s bat after we lost six seniors,” Notre Dame coach Joe Stephenson said. “Now, it’s just No. 1, but it’s a pretty good No. 1.”

Smith, a University of Southern Indiana recruit, one-hit the Indians with a mix of fastballs, risers, drop balls and off-speed pitches.

“We’re young, with a lot of eighth-graders, but it just seems like Haylee gets stronger as the game goes along,” Indians coach Lee Meeks said. “She’s awesome, and we had a little trouble with her.”

Smith, the area’s most experienced big-game pitcher now in her seventh high school season, struck out 13 for the 2013 Ninth Region champion. She was not victimized by Notre Dame fielding errors because nobody else for the Indians was able to reach base.

“I think we can tell it’s the beginning of the season,” Smith said. “But we’re going to be alright. We have a bunch of hard workers, and I think our young girls are going to step up and help get us back to the state tournament.”

The lone hit Smith allowed was a lead-off single in the bottom of the first by Holy Cross eighth-grader Kaitlin Turner. After that, just four Indians reached base, three on Notre Dame errors.

Smith, by herself, outhit Holy Cross. She went 2-for-3 with a double and two RBI. Junior Mackenzie Sullivan, one of five sisters to play softball at Notre Dame, went 2-for-2 with a double and three RBI. Freshman Lindsey Meier drove in a pair of runs for the Pandas, ranked third in The Enquirer coaches’ poll.

In a rematch of last season’s district tournament championship game won by Notre Dame, the Indians (0-5) hung with the Pandas (2-1-1) for three innings until a four-run Notre Dame fourth broke it open. Smith’s bases-loaded liner to left field made it 5-0. Rylee Stephenson’s bases-loaded walk made it 10-0 Pandas during an eight-run fifth.

Smith, 18-2 last season with a 0.92 ERA, dominated the Indians with her mother sitting in a lawn chair in a customary spot outside the fence down the left-field line. She’s been watching her daughter flummox batters since Smith was a sixth-grader pitching for Ryle, where she played through her freshman season.

Jones’ parents have found new jobs in the Indianapolis area, forcing Jones, 12-4 with a 0.74 ERA last season as a sophomore, to leave Notre Dame. That puts the pitching load almost entirely on Smith, who made her fifth career opening-day start this season at a tournament in Tennessee.

“We have another girl who can pitch,” Stephenson said. “The big thing right now is we haven’t played in a week and a half after rain outs. We’re trying to knock off some rust and get on our feet.”


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