Cardington outlasted Ridgedale in a wild game on Thursday to advance to the district semifinals, where they will face Newark Catholic on Tuesday.
In their 8-5 win, the Pirates didn’t have the game clinched until the final out and needed a five-run sixth inning to get into position to pick up the tournament win.
“We made a couple mental mistakes and were not hitting the ball as well, but we came around and got five in the sixth,” said Cardington coach Nathan Strome. “We were struggling a little with runners on, but the guys love to fight in the late innings, so we had confidence we’d be able to make a comeback.”
That trouble with runners on cost Cardington over the first four innings. While the team scored three runs during that span, it easily could have been more, as they left a total of eight runners on base during that time.
After two scoreless innings in which the Pirates left a runner stranded on third base, they finally struck in the third. Bobby Davis opened the inning with a single and moved to second on a wild pitch. A single by Garrett Wagner put runners on the corner for Daniel Kill, who drove in Davis with a sacrifice fly. Devin Pearl then made it 2-0 with a run-scoring single.
Cardington would get two more singles by Clayton Clark and Dylan Etgen, but Rocket pitcher Derek Lust was able to escape the inning with no further damage done.
Wagner cruised through the first three innings against Ridgedale, but ran into trouble in the fourth, giving up a pair of base-runners and then a two-run double by Alex Eldred to tie the score; however, Cardington quickly answered.
In their half of the fourth, Nico Wade was walked to open the inning. With one out, Wagner hit a ground ball. Ridgedale got Wade out at second, but in trying to get a double play, the throw was wild and Wagner moved up to second. Another error on a Kill grounder put runners on the corners. The Rockets intentionally walked Pearl to lead the bases, which backfired when Lust hit Clark with a pitch to bring the go-ahead run across.
Wagner struck out the first two batters in the fifth inning, but then ran into trouble. An error on a ground ball, a walk and a single loaded the bases for Sam Leach. Wagner hit him with a pitch to tie the game and then gave up a second two-run hit to Eldred to put the Rockets up 5-3 before getting out of the inning.
“Garrett has been solid all year,” said Strome. “I think he’s 5-0 on the season. I think in the middle innings, he had a little trouble getting his off-speed pitches over for strikes, but he figured it out for the sixth.”
Cardington was held scoreless in the fifth inning, but put together a huge frame in the sixth. Wagner opened the inning with a single and stole second. With one out, Pearl followed with a run-scoring double to bring the Pirates within one run.
After stealing third, Pearl was driven in by a two-out hit from Etgen that tied the score. Etgen then stole second and took third on an errant throw before Nate Craig was walked to put runners on the corners. The two runners then attempted a double steal that worked wonders when poor defense led to both scoring, giving Cardington the lead again.
“Our guys do an excellent job on running the bases hard — that’s what they take pride in,” said Strome. “They forced errors to get us a couple easy runs.”
The Pirates added one more tally in the sixth, as Devin Jackson walked, stole second and scored on a dropped fly ball hit by Wade. Kill then closed out the game with a scoreless seventh. While the Rockets were able to load the bases with two outs, he was able to induce a ground ball to escape unscathed.
Strome was happy to both see his team advance to districts and see them put together a big inning to give them some momentum heading into their 2016 semifinal rematch with the Green Wave. NC topped the Pirates 3-0 last year.
“Absolutely,” he said. “From recent history, it’s been a little bit of a struggle, but this is the second straight year we’ve reached the district semis. Going into a big game for district semis, it’s good to see us get a good late inning.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS