In a battle between the top two teams in Division III, according to the state rankings, the Cardington softball team came up short against Wheelersburg in the state semifinals by a 5-2 margin Friday.
The second-ranked Cardington Pirates took a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the first inning after Riley Burchett smacked a two-run homer, but the team struggled to muster any offense the rest of the way in seeing its season end with a 24-5 record. Wheelersburg would then go on to beat Massillon Tuslaw by the same score on Saturday to win the state title with a 27-1 mark.
“They’re a really good team,” said Cardington coach Tod Brininger. “A couple things can determine a game like that. We made too many mistakes.”
In the contest, the Morrow County team committed three errors and also gave up four walks and hit one batter with a pitch.
The team’s first miscue played a role in Wheelersburg scoring in the top of the first. Catie Boggs led off with a grounder that was misplayed. She would steal second base and take third on a groundout. After an intentional pass was issued to Wheelersburg power hitter Macee Eaton, Cardington pitcher Genevieve Longsdorf was able to get the second out of the inning.
However, back-to-back walks would then push the game’s first run across the plate.
The locals wouldn’t waste any time in responding, though. With two outs in their half of the opening inning, Hailee Edgell got a single and Burchett followed with a two-run blast to give her team the lead.
“I’ve hit a lot, so I get a feeling where it’s going and when it’s going out,” she said. “I was trying to get a hit.”
After a scoreless second inning, Cardington opened the top of the third by intentionally walking Eaton again. A groundout moved her to second and a single by Sydney Skiver put runners on the corners. From there, Wheelersburg executed a second steal, with Eaton scoring while Cardington threw out Skiver, to tie the game.
While Mikayla Linkous reached base in the bottom of the third and Abby Hardwick got a single in the fourth, neither runner would advance past first. Wheelersburg then tallied two runs in the fifth to reclaim the lead.
After Haley Myers opened with a single, Brininger elected to pitch to Eaton, who responded with a run-scoring double on a two-strike pitch. The coach noted that he would have preferred to not pitch to the Wheelersburg slugger, but felt the situation dictated it.
“There was a thought (of intentionally walking her),” he said. “But there were no outs and I didn’t want to put two on with no outs.”
Longsdorf recorded a strikeout to get the first out. but an errant pitch during that at bat allowed Eaton to take third. She would then score when a Skiver grounder led to an error in attempting to get the out at home.
Cardington dodged a bullet in the sixth inning when a Wheelersburg run was disallowed due to the runner not tagging up at third before going home on a sacrifice fly, but their opponents would score in the seventh with Skiver drove in Myers with a two-out double.
Wheelersburg pitcher AndiJo Howard would then pitch a perfect seventh to end Cardington’s season. After being held to two runs after scoring 43 in their two regional games, the Pirates felt they weren’t disciplined enough at the plate after that opening inning.
“I think after the first inning, she worked the outside corner with us,” said Burchett. “I think if we would have had a more disciplined approach, we would have been better.”
Burchett’s home run was the big hit for the team, while Linkous, Edgell and Hardwick all added singles. Longsdorf struck out two, walked four and scattered seven hits on the mound.
With his team’s season over, Brininger noted how much he’ll miss his senior class. Sitting with Linkous, Dana Bertke and Burchett during the post-game press conference, he talked about their success this year and during their careers.
“They’ve had a hell of a career,” he said. “All three were all-conference and all-district and all three are going to college. It was a hell of an experience because I love all of them.”