For the first half of their Division III district semifinal at Westerville Central, it looked like Cardington would cruise past Liberty Union into the district finals.

The second half turned into a gut-check for the Lady Pirates, though, as their opponents turned a 17-point deficit into a two-point one before Cardington was able to pull away down the stretch to claim a 45-36 win and keep their postseason alive.

Part of the problem for the Pirates was that Liberty Union star freshman Abbie Riddle got hot from the field in the second; the other part was that their offense got sloppy, committing several turnovers that helped the Lions get back into the game.

“We held her for the most part, but then she got hot,” said Cardington coach Jamie Edwards of Riddle. “And it seems both times our point guard went out, things kind of fell apart.”

Early on, it looked like the Pirates would cruise to the win. In the first quarter, with Liberty Union focusing on Casey Bertke in the paint, the team got great minutes from Hannah Wickline, who tallied seven points in staking the team to a 13-4 lead after eight minutes.

“We asked her why she’s not shooting as many threes as she does,” said Edwards. “She was smart and didn’t force it and she has probably the best mid-range jumper on the team. When Casey draws that much attention, it’s good.”

Bertke then took over in the second quarter. After Arica Keiffer hit a basket to make the score 13-6, the Pirate senior scored eight straight points. Sara Stepp would then hit from the field and the score was 23-6. Liberty Union went on a brief run to trim their deficit to 13, but two free throws by Wickline and a basket by Bertke pushed the lead back up to 17 at 27-10.

While Riddle opened the third by hitting back-to-back three-pointers, Cardington was able to respond. Bertke scored six points, including a three-pointer and Wickline added three as the team maintained a sizable lead at 36-20 with 2:30 left in the quarter.

However, the Lions would finish the quarter with some momentum, as Keiffer and Riddle both hit from deep and Caroline Berlekamp ended the period with a basket.

The Pirates still led 36-28 entering the fourth, but Liberty Union wasted no time in cutting into that advantage. Two free throws from Riddle and a three-pointer by Delaney Peck brought them within a 36-33 score. Bertke hit from the field for Cardington, but Keiffer responded with a three-pointer and it was 38-36 with more than five minutes left in regulation.

Fortunately for Cardington, while they struggled from the free throw line down the stretch, only hitting 5-of-14 in the fourth quarter, their defense was able to pick up the slack.

“We were ready to go back to man when up two, but my coaches said to go 1-3-1 because they won’t expect it and we were able to slow things down a bit,” said Edwards.

That decision worked out well for Cardington, as LIberty Union went from hot to ice cold from the field, not scoring a single point after Keiffer’s three with 5:35 left.

Bertke finished with 21 points to lead all scorers, while Wickline tallied 14. Up next for the team will be Worthington Christian. The two teams faced last year in the district semifinal round in a game Cardington won 51-39.

“We scrimmaged Worthington Christian at Ohio Wesleyan in the pre-season and felt it’d be a Central District title game,” said Edwards. “We need games like this to be ready for Worthington Christian.”

Cardington’s Hannah Wickline controls the ball in her team’s win over Liberty Union Wednesday night.’s Hannah Wickline controls the ball in her team’s win over Liberty Union Wednesday night. Rob Hamilton | Morrow County Sentinel

By Rob Hamilton

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Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS