SOUTHPORT – Even with seven starters back from last season and three convincing victories to start the spring, there were some nerves for the Elmira Notre Dame softball team heading into Wednesday afternoon’s game.
The color of the apprehension was blue and orange. Notre Dame’s opponent, Thomas A. Edison, beat the Crusaders three times last season and ended up winning the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class C title.
By the time Wednesday’s meeting was over, Notre Dame had reason to be a more confident bunch. After falling behind 2-0 in the first inning, the Crusaders scored the next seven runs and held on for a 7-5 Interscholastic Athletic Conference victory.
“We were nervous coming in. I could see that,” Notre Dame head coach Steve Weber said. “But when you’re playing a team that beat you three times last year, that’s to be expected. These kids don’t always know who’s left and who’s come a lot of times. They see Edison on the jersey and they’re ready for a heck of a game.”
Notre Dame sent 10 batters to the plate and scored four runs in the second inning, then put together a three-run fourth inning that included four hits. The Crusaders finished with 12 hits against Spartans junior right-hander Mckenzie Slaven, a first-team all-state pick last year.
Crusaders junior pitcher Alivia Clark smacked a two-run triple in the second inning and added a double and a run in the fourth. Izzy Milazzo had three hits and two RBIs, while Mackenzie Mahajan and Morgan Cox contributed two hits each.
“Both teams had some outstanding defensive plays, both teams can swing the bats really well, both pitchers battled out of problems at different times,” Weber said. “It was an excellent game. This early in the year, seeing two times like that, it was a lot of fun.”
Said Edison head coach Becky Cooper: “It could have went either way. Obviously, we were preparing for a battle. You always prepare for a battle with Notre Dame.”
Edison scored 39 runs in its three wins over Notre Dame last season, including 15 in the Section 4 Class C final. Although a lot of key players from that team graduated, the Spartans had their familiar swagger in the first inning, putting up two runs on four hits. The big blow was a two-run double from Laura Tryon, who waited on a change-up and lined it down the right-field line.
“I think we learned that you really have to pay attention to each batter and play each batter like she’s going to hit it over the fence, just like any batter in the lineup for Edison can do,” Clark said. “I don’t think we were quite ready for that in the first inning, but as the game went on we tightened it up and gained some confidence with the runs.”
Clark, who was on the mound for the three losses to Edison last season, settled down to hold the Spartans to three runs on six hits over the final six innings. Two of those runs came on a long homer from Slaven (3-for-4) in the fifth inning that closed the gap to 7-4. Edison added a run in the sixth.
The Spartans put two runners on with one out in the seventh, but Clark got the final outs on a liner to left field and a grounder to second.
Edison, which moved up to Class B this season, dropped to 1-1. Given the Spartans’ troubles getting in games or being able to practice outside because of the rain, Cooper is encouraged by what she has seen.
“If you look at my lineup, basically we have a whole new team out there,” she said. “I could not be prouder of these young girls to step in and take on this game.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do in certain positions and we’re going to work really hard. I think some of those balls could have been caught if we had a little bit more experience out there in the outfield. It’s a work in progress.”
Weber said last year’s team was one of the best-hitting teams he has had in his long career as Notre Dame’s coach. The lineup is much the same, but he said a big difference is he believes the Crusaders are better defensively at every position.
“I think everybody has gained a lot of confidence in themselves,” Clark said. “Everybody has grown as a player. We had a lot of first-year varsity people last year, so I definitely think they gained confidence.”
The game was originally scheduled to be played at Edison but was moved to Notre Dame because of wet field conditions.
On Twitter: @SGAndrewLegare