QUINCY -- A sign of an improved defense is the ability to make a game-saving play, not just the routine play.
The Quincy Notre Dame softball team made a pair of those at a critical juncture Friday night.
On back-to-back plays in the in the top of the third inning against Payson Seymour, QND eliminated a runner at third base instead of choosing to take the routine forceout at first. It allowed the Raiders to preserve the shutout and pick up a 3-0 victory at the Backyard.
It's the progress QND coach Eric Orne is pleased to see, but wants to see more.
"We're close," Orne said. "It's not there yet, but it's certainly a lot closer."
QND led 1-0 in the third when Payson's Kylie Simmons led off with a triple to right field. Natalie Howell followed with a grounder back to pitcher Eryn Cornwell, who caught Simmons in a rundown and the runner was tagged out at the plate as Howell moved to second on the play.
On the next at-bat, Livia Perry bunted to try to advance Howell, but the ball rolled to QND third baseman Kailey Wall, who threw to third base where shortstop Catherine Steinkamp was covering and she tagged out Howell.
Both times, the routine play was to go to first. The smarter play was getting the lead runner.
"It's why we have 20 wins and not 20 losses this year," Orne said. "We've really turned the corner on defense this year."
Those plays gave Cornwell more confidence in the circle.
"That took a lot of pressure off me," Cornwell said. "I didn't have runners close to home, and I didn't have that pressure if I made an error."
Cornwell took advantage as she tossed a four-hit shutout and struck out seven across seven innings. She didn't pitch with more than a one-run lead until the seventh.
"I just had to throw where it was needed to be located," Cornwell said. "I knew I had my defense behind me because they made a lot of heads-up plays."
Payson pitcher Tori Schieferdecker was just as effective. She allowed an RBI groundout to Cornwell in the bottom of the first, but came back to throw four straight scoreless innings.
Schieferdecker allowed just five hits with four strikeouts and just one walk.
Lindsey Fischer gave QND (23-7) some insurance with a two-out, two-run single in the sixth one play after Payson committed a throwing error to first.
"We couldn't have those free bases like that," Schieferdecker said. "We came out really strong. I know QND is really good, and I think this showed us what we could do."
Payson (14-4) may have ended up on the other end of the outcome had QND not made those defensive plays in the third inning.
"It was poor base running on our part, but I'll never be mad at the girls for being aggressive," Payson coach Lisa Schwartz said. "I'll take that aggressive base running every day."
Quincy Notre Dame 3, Payson Seymour 0
Payson 000 000 0--0 4 2
QND 100 002 x--3 5 0
Schieferdecker and K. Burgess; Cornwell and Fischer. WP--Cornwell. LP--Schieferdecker. 3B--Payson 1 (Simmons).