Competing for a shot at going to the Division III Final Four, the Cardington softball arguably put together its best performance of the season in topping Pemberville Eastwood by a 4-0 margin on Saturday at Findlay High School.
The game was delayed from noon to 4 p.m. due to field conditions, but that didn’t seem to have any affect on the Pirate performance, as they rode a great pitching performance by Casey Bertke and a pair of two-run home runs to a date with Wheelersburg at Akron Firestone University on Friday morning.
“I’m extremely proud,” said head coach Tod Brininger. “They earned it. They played a great game today. Casey was dominant, our defense was great except for one little mistake and we hit when we needed to.”
Bertke pitched a two-hitter and also walked one batter. Eastwood only had runners on base in the first and third innings in the contest just three days after putting up 12 in a win over Colonel Crawford. In the first frame, the Pirate freshman recorded two outs, but then walked Ashley Hitchcock and gave up a single to Carleigh Coffield. However, she would then induce the third out to escape with no damage done.
The Pirates would then quickly jump on Hitchcock. With one out in the second, Kierston George picked up a single and Baylee Adams followed with a two-run blast that gave Cardington the lead.
“They’re a really good team, but we executed off their pitcher well,” said Rylie Partlow, who reached base twice in the game with a single and walk.
Eastwood’s only other threat came in the bottom of the third frame. A misplayed throw to first base on a ground ball by Hannah Owens gave Pemberville their leadoff runner on base. With one out, Maddy Dyer singled to give her team two base-runners, but Bertke finished the inning with a strikeout and groundout and then pitched four perfect innings to preserve the win.
That wouldn’t be the extent of her strong game, though, as she also gave Cardington a pair of insurance runs in the sixth inning. After Partlow got on base with a leadoff single, Hitchcock got two straight outs; however, Bertke deposited one of her pitches over the wall to boost the Pirate lead to a four-run margin.
“I don’t know — it’s a close tie,” was her response when asked whether pitching a shutout or smacking the home run was more exciting. “I think I was just ready mentally, so that helped physically.”
Through the playoffs, Brininger had noted that Bertke often starts slow and hits her stride in the middle innings. To combat that, the solution was simple.
“For the first time, I had her throw 40 pitches before the game,” he said. “We changed things up a bit and she came out ready, which we’ll need Friday.”
With the win, the 25-4 Pirates set school history, being the first softball program to reach the state semifinals. Heading into the regional finals, Brininger noted that he wanted his players to work hard on the basics.
“We did have a couple tough practices,” he said. “We went back to stuff from the very first day. I wanted to refocus and they did it. They’re the best team ever in Cardington history.”
Partlow noted that experiencing the level of competition in regionals last year helped them prepare for this year’s games.
“We knew the talent level we had to face and we just executed very well,” she said. “We knew what the talent level was and we knew what we had to do to beat them.”
All of which led to an exciting win for the Pirates.
“It was just so overwhelming with the home runs going on and how excited everyone was,” added Partlow. “We made history.”
Now, the team is hoping for two more wins. Brininger is planning to keep things the same as they have been while preparing for his team’s trip to Akron.
“We’re going to go back to the same stuff we did,” he said. “We’ll give them a couple days off to spend with their families and then, Tuesday, get back to it. We’ll treat it like another game, even though it’s a big one.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS