Notre Dame Academy Pandas back in state softball tournament for third time in five years

PARK HILLS, Ky. -- The Notre Dame Academy softball team does everything well on the field.

The Pandas can hit and they can pitch. They’re experienced with five starters back from the 2015 9th Region champs who were the last Notre Dame team at the state softball tournament.

But the Pandas really excel with the glove. They smother foes on defense with a .931 fielding percentage.

“We’re very strong defensively as a group,” Notre Dame coach Joe Stephenson said. “I don’t think we have any real weaknesses. I’ve got returning starters in the infield and returning starters in the outfield. I’ve got speed in the outfield.”

The Pandas (22-11) will take that solid defense to the Kentucky High School Athletic Association Fast-Pitch Softball State Tournament against 12th Region champion Boyle County (27-13) at 7:30 p.m. Thursday night at Jack C. Fisher Park in Owensboro.

It will be the third state tournament appearance in five years for the Pandas -- all under Stephenson -- and the fourth overall in program history. Notre Dame was 0-2 in 2015 in the two-and-out bracket.

This time, they expect a different outcome.

“In 2015 when we went, we were extremely young,” Stephenson said. “I think I had seven new starters because we had graduated six seniors and had a girl move. I think we had six sophomores and a freshman starting. Now they’re all back. They’ve been there and done that. I don’t think it’s going to be too big for them this time."

Notre Dame will carry an eight-game winning streak to state, largely behind that strong defense. But seven games into the season, Stephenson was not happy with his defense. So he shifted the infield around. Senior Kennedy Baugh, a four-year starter who has played varsity softball since sixth grade, shifted from catcher to third base.

“It’s been different,” said Baugh, who played for Simon Kenton before heading to Notre Dame as a freshman. “I’ve played third and catcher for most of my life, rotating between the two, so it wasn’t too big of a change. But it was the best decision for the team and our chemistry together. So, I was definitely OK with it.”

Junior Lindsey Meier moved from third to shortstop. Senior Cori Ladanyi moved to second base from shortstop and senior Angela Huston moved from second to first base. Finally, freshman Serena Paterno moved from first base to catcher.

“That really just shored up our defense,” Stephenson said.

The experience of five seniors and battle-tested underclassmen helped make a move like that work. Seniors Erica Huston and Annabelle Lee also add experience in the outfield.

“All five of us (seniors) are very good leaders for the team and we all have different things that we bring to it,” Baugh said. “We all have different hitting styles and play different positions, but we all bring something special to the table.”

Junior Lauren Durstock has gone 16-8 in 29 starts for the Pandas and she will get the start Thursday. This is the first year she’s been a starter on the varsity team.

“She got stronger as the year went on and got more control,” Stephenson said. “She ended up pitching really well the entire Ninth Region Tournament.”

Baugh leads the team with a .495 batting average, 13 doubles and five home runs to match Durstock. Baugh has added 17 walks and two triples.

“She is one of the best players in the state,” Stephenson said.

Meier has hit .408 this season and Ladanyi has hit .404 with 12 doubles, two triples and four home runs.

“We have to keep hitting like we have been and playing defense like we have been,” Baugh said. “Our defense has been lights-out all year. We’ve just started to peak in our hitting. If we keep it rolling, that’s really all we need.”

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