Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
PORTSMOUTH — When Cassie Schaefer finds herself in trouble, in the pitcher’s circle and in life in general, she simply recites her favorite Bible verse.
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
“It’s my favorite ritual whenever I’m in a stressful situation,” Schaefer says. “I always recite it in my head and it calms me in whatever situation I find myself in, no matter how tough.”
It isn’t often, however, that Schaefer finds herself in danger while pitching. The junior flamethrower just finished a campaign where she went 16-3 in the circle alongside a 0.72 ERA and 158 strikeouts in 116 ⅓ innings of work.
In 25 games, she surrendered just 12 earned runs.
Those numbers helped Notre Dame post a 22-3 overall mark and claim conference, sectional and district championships. They also helped Schaefer claim SOSA’s Softball Player of the Year award.
“This year was probably my favorite of high school softball, so far. We were successful and we had so much fun,” Schafer said. “We won a share of the SOC I title and our first district title since 2014, which was our goal. My favorite moment would have to be when we beat Waterford, 4-1, in the district final game. Last year, we got knocked out in the district final game in extra innings. I was glad that we made it back to that game and came out of it with a gold medal.”
Schaefer’s coach, J.D. McKenzie, had a nickname for her all year long … “Bulldog.” That’s exactly what she was in the circle as her numbers suggest. But at the plate, she was just as much of a nuisance to opponents, hitting .424 with six home runs, 38 RBIs and 28 runs scored.
Because of her performance both in the circle and at the dish, Schaefer was adorned with first-team All-Ohio honors, a step up from her second-team all-state award as a sophomore.
She says simply improving her focus at both spots helped her raise her game to the next level.
“Clearing my mind before every pitch has really helped me be more consistent and has allowed me to concentrate on what I need to do in order to get the batter out,” Schaefer said. “I’ve also learned to not get so caught up in strikeouts. It’s OK to let the hitters hit and allow my defense to make the plays. At the plate, I’ve learned to realize that I’m not always going to get a good hit or home run. Like I do on the mound, I take it one pitch at a time and wait on my pitch to hit. Pop out, strike out, home run, whatever it is, I leave the box knowing I tried my hardest to help my team in the best way possible.”
You’d be hard-pressed to find another player who loves the game as much as Schaefer. That’s where her work ethic, her drive to be the best at what she does, and her competitiveness stem from.
Just like any other player competing in any other sport, the more Schaefer works at becoming the best player she can be, the game of softball reciprocates that effort with its own rewards.
“My favorite part of softball is how many life lessons it can teach you. The game may not be as fast-paced as basketball or volleyball, but at times, it can be just as intense,” she said. “It has made me tougher mentally and physically, while teaching me how to succeed and how to fail. It has taught me to never give up, even in some of the hardest times. I also love how many friendships the sport has brought to me. In the past 10 years of playing softball, whether it was little league, travel ball, or school ball, I have met so many new people and have made multiple friendships that can never be broken and memories that I will carry for the rest of my life.”
Notre Dame’s district title was the third this season for the school’s girls sports programs. The Titans swept Paint Valley in a Division IV district volleyball championship, topped Eastern Meigs by double digits in a D-IV district basketball final and, as Schaefer mentioned, beat Waterford by a 4-1 final back on May 18.
Schaefer played a role in all three of those wins, alongside many of the same teammates and coaches.
“I honestly don’t think I could put into words what my teammates and coaches mean to me. In all sports, especially softball, we have so much fun together,” Schaefer said. “At Notre Dame, we all play for each other in everything we do. I think that’s what makes us so successful. We know that every individual accomplishment stems from one of the team’s accomplishments. On the other hand, our coaches are awesome. They’re always doing whatever they can to give us the best chance to succeed. I’m super thankful to have coaches who invest so much of their time into making us better and helping us be so successful.”
And, if you’re wondering, the Titans aren’t going anywhere … in any sport.
Next season, Notre Dame brings back a platoon of talent during each season. And, in softball particularly, the Titans will boast of eight returning starters. Schaefer, of course, will be leading that pack into what she hopes to be uncharted territory.
“I am super excited for next year’s season. We have many returning talented players and should still be really good,” Schaefer said. “Next year, our expectations for the season should be even bigger than they were this year. Of course, we want to win the SOC and another district title. I think the thing we really want is to win our first-ever regional championship and make an appearance at Firestone Stadium in Akron. We have the potential and talent. We just need to put it together and improve on our mistakes that kept us from it this year.”