SULPHUR — John Curtis’ bid for a fourth straight title got off to a rocky start Friday.
A dozen or so illegal pitches on starter Peyton Pigniolo. An ejection. An early one-run deficit and another one-run deficit late.
But Curtis overcame it all, breaking the game open in the sixth and pulling away for a 7-3 victory over Notre Dame in the Class 3A quarterfinals at Frasch Park.
The Patriots (24-3) moved one step closer to their fourth consecutive state championship and advance to Saturday’s 1 p.m. semifinal game to play North Vermilion.
“There are really no words,” Curtis coach Jerry Godfrey said. “I have never had a group to overcome that much adversity, and it was the first time I’ve ever had a player tossed.”
Trailing 3-2 in the sixth, Curtis scored five runs to pull away.
Logan Melancon’s RBI single drove in a run and another run scored on an error to put the Patriots ahead to stay.
“I hadn’t hit the ball well, but I knew it wasn’t about me,” Melancon said. “I knew I needed to come through for my team.”
Payton Adams added a two-run single in the inning to pad the lead and then Lydia Lunden drove in another run to give Curtis a comfortable cushion.
“I knew they would swing the bats and get the big hits, and they got them at the right time,” Pioneers coach Ashley Ray of Curtis.
It was Curtis’ second victory of the season over Notre Dame after posting a 5-4 win during the regular season. Early on, it looked like the Pioneers (16-6), who also lost to Curtis in last year’s semifinals, might get their revenge.
Pigniolo, the Curtis starter, was called for 10 illegal pitches in the first two innings, including two that led to the Pioneers’ first run in the second. The umpire explained that Pigniolo’s foot was not maintaining contact with the rubber throughout her delivery.
Notre Dame’s Brittney Nolan drew a walk and stole second. She advanced to third and then scored on a pair of illegal pitches.
It was a bit of déjà vu for Curtis, which had numerous illegal pitches called on former pitcher Katie Brignac last season in Sulphur.
Godfrey decided to change pitchers after the illegal pitches that led to the run.
Pigniolo was ejected from the game as she was heading to play in the outfield.
“I had never had a player tossed,” Godfrey said. “The other girls, to their credit, just hung in and believed.”
Junior shortstop Toni Hebert replaced Pigniolo. She got a strikeout to get out of the inning and went the rest of the way, scattering three hits.
“Toni knows that she is always one pitch way,” Godfrey said. “If there is an injury or what happened today, she’s got to go do it. That’s what competitors do and what good players do.”
It wasn’t unchartered territory for Hebert. She played in Sulphur last season as a sophomore when she played at Riverside.
Hebert got a strikeout to end the inning and finished the game with five strikeouts.
“We got off to a rough start, but this will be a good experience for the younger girls to let them know that you have to keep playing,” Hebert said. “I just knew we had to finish strong.”
Godfrey also credited Jenna Bordelon and Briana Neal, the No. 7 and No. 9 hitters in his lineup. They had two hits each. A throwing error on a bunt single by Bordelon gave Curtis its first two runs of the game in the third.
“My two left-handers were the difference,” Godfrey said of Bordelon and Neal.
Curtis also got a spectacular diving catch from right fielder Payton Claverie.
The Patriots now are two wins away from their ninth overall title.
They face a North Vermilion team they defeated 11-2 earlier in the season.