Bunte, Raiders sidestep postseason nemesis to win Class 2A regional championship


The Quincy Notre Dame softball players celebrate as Brooke Boden holds the Class 2A regional championship plaque following Saturday's 3-1 victory over Buffalo Tri-City in Buffalo, Ill. | Addi Zanger photo

BUFFALO, Ill. — Even the most seasoned competitor can feel the pressure when a postseason nemesis stares you in the face.

So Quincy Notre Dame softball coach Eric Orne reminded junior ace Caitlin Bunte to just breathe as the Raiders headed into Saturday’s Class 2A regional championship game against Buffalo Tri-City.

“I was telling Coach Orne earlier that I was pretty stressed about the game, you know just nerves,” Bunte said. “And he was texting me, telling me to breathe and visualize everything. Throughout the whole game, Coach Orne was so supportive and he was just helping me the whole time, telling me to breathe, work it out, visualize and make sure that I think about it before I do it.”

Bunte needs to keep visualizing success.

After allowing the Tornados to score a run in the top of the first inning, Bunte didn’t allow another runner past second base, guiding the Raiders to a 3-1 victory and their fifth consecutive regional crown.

“It starts with Caitlin in the circle,” Orne said. “I just feel like she gets stronger as the game goes by and I feel like everyone else starts believing in that, and once that happens, everybody just kind of rallied around that.”

Buffalo Tri-City beat QND in two previous postseason matchups — winning a 10-inning affair in the Class 2A sectional semifinals in 2021 and then rolling to a 13-4 victory in the sectional semifinals in 2022. 

“You know we were thinking the third time’s the charm going into today,” Bunte said.

Said Orne, “It’s a breakthrough. It was hard. It was difficult, but I thought our girls stayed in their huddle and did a lot of really good things to get ourselves the victory today.”

QND (19-4) advances to the Class 2A Williamsville Sectional and will face Stanford Olympia (28-1-1) at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday. The Raiders beat the Spartans 7-5 in in last year’s sectional semifinals with a four-run, seventh-inning rally.

“We know Stanford Olympia is coming out at us and they’re gonna be coming out at us strong and fast,” Orne said.

The Raiders have had a response for that, just as they did when they fell behind Saturday.

Tri-City scored in the top of the first inning when Kenzie Chandler reached on a one-out error and scored on Kamryn Sturdy’s single to center field. QND answered immediately as Bunte walked leading off the bottom of the first, and two outs later, Morgan Zanger walked. Lauren Miller followed with a double to left field to plate Bunte.

“See ball, hit ball basically and just attack the first pitch that is good,” Miller said of her approach.

Miller led off the bottom of the fourth inning with a single through the left side of the infield, and Payton Stupasky reached on a single to the right side of the infield. Both runners advanced on a wild pitch, and Miller scored one pitch later on another wild pitch.

“I thought Lauren Miller did an incredible job with an all around game, getting a couple big hits and then sliding in on that wild pitch to give us the lead,” Orne said. “We need things like that to happen to be successful like we were last year.”

With two outs in the sixth, QND’s Morgan Winking reached on an error, went to second on Lanie Fesler’s walk, took third when Caitlin Bunte walked and scored on Alyssa Ley’s infield single.

That was enough for Bunte, who allowed five hits, one unearned run and one walk with eight strikeouts.

“My teammates are super super helpful,” Bunte said. “Marah (Becks) had the bucket at the ready for me (to sit on) when I walked in the dugout. They’re just all making sure I have water and Gatorade and everything, and they’re all so supportive they just keep me high energy and just ready to work.”

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