Advancing deep into a state baseball tournament is nothing new for Notre Dame.
So when the Saints downed Tucson Sahuaro, 10-4, on Thursday afternoon in a Division II state tournament elimination game at Glendale’s Camelback Ranch, it shouldn't have been a surprise.
With that victory Notre Dame is within one game of another state championship appearance.
That’s where things have gotten a little rocky for the Saints, who have played in three consecutive title games, but are still looking for the school’s first state championship.
It is again within reach.
“Our guys believe they can beat anybody,” Notre Dame coach Brian Fischer said. “We will find ways to win some games.”
A win on Saturday against Tucson Ironwood Ridge (which lost to Phoenix Sunnyslope in the winner's bracket semifinal game Thursday) would put the No. 3-seeded Saints in the Division II final on Tuesday night against Sunnyslope.
Notre Dame (28-7) got some quality pitching out of ace Austin Schnabel and a big hit out of Duncan Morfitt to help get past the Cougars (27-6).
The Saints had to do it in come-from-behind fashion when Sahuaro took a 2-0 in the second inning. Justin Hammergren and Vinnie Tarantola opened the inning with back-to-back singles and both later came around to score.
It could have been worse, but Schnabel (9-2) got Phillip Hindes to ground into a double play to get out of the inning. Schnabel said he wasn’t as sharp as he normally is but was able to work through five innings to get the win.
“I just kept battling and trying to trust my pitches that they would work,” Schnabel said. “After the second inning I knew I didn’t have my best stuff.”
Schnabel and reliever Jimmy Halloran were good enough to induce a 0-for-4 day out of Alex Verdugo, the Sahuaro junior who came into the game hitting .506 with 40 RBIs. He was a non-factor in this game and was the final out when he lined to right field.
“He wasn’t great today, but he was good enough,” Fischer said of Schnabel.
Halloran went the final two innings and didn’t allow a base hit, although he hit two Sahuaro hitters.
Notre Dame played small ball and was helped by three Sahuaro errors to score five runs in the third inning. They did it despite only one hit, a single to left field by Devin Young.
The fourth inning was a little different for the Saints as they scored five more times, this time on five hits.
With Cooper Samples, Nick Affronti and Steven Cordovano on base, Morfitt drilled a Tarantola pitch into the gap between center and right field. All three easily scored. Two more Saints eventually crossed home plate in the inning as Notre Dame took a 10-2 lead after four innings.
On last year’s team, Morfitt played third base, but this year he has been mostly the designated hitter while recovering from a labrum injury. He moved to left field in the next-to-last game of the regular season because of another Notre Dame player’s injury.
But no matter where he has played this season he’s been one of the Saints’ best hitters.