The Wheelersburg softball team showed just why they were the top-ranked team in the state for Division III Friday morning when they ended Cardington’s season by a 10-1 margin in the state semifinals.
Wheelersburg, the defending state champions, was making its third straight Final Four trip, while Cardington, who finished their season with a 25-5 mark, was in their first ever semifinal game.
“I talked to a couple girls and they said the atmosphere was not like anything they’d seen,” said Cardington coach Tod Brininger after the game. “Hopefully, next year we’ll get back and it’ll be pretty old hat for us.”
Part of the issue, according to the coach, may have simply been the excitement of making the state tournament combined with the long wait between the regional finals and Friday’s game.
“I would rather have played this game right after the last game, so we wouldn’t have five days to think about it,” he said.
Cardington, who’d fought from behind to win in three different playoff games during their tournament run, fell into an early hole, as their opponents scored two runs in the top of the first inning. Kalle Coleman led off with a single and then, with one out, scored on a triple by Mia Darnell.
Pirate pitcher Casey Bertke recorded the second out of the inning via a harmless pop-up, but surrendered a run-scoring hit to Faith Howard, as Cardington fell behind 2-0.
However, the locals were able to strike back in the second inning, tallying a run off Howard. Makenna McClure led off the inning by singling. With two outs, Baylee Adams would then crack a RBI hit to cut her team’s deficit in half.
“As soon as we got that run, I thought we’d beat this team,” said Cardington senior Alyson Adams. “We got the lead-off runner on two or three times and had runners on second and third once, but we didn’t get them across.”
Brininger noted that his team simply was unable to consistently put hits together against Howard and a Wheelersburg team that had only surrendered one run in five previous playoff games.
“We’ve seen pitchers exactly like that, but she hit her spots well,” he said. “We’ve had a couple games where we haven’t hit the ball well and this was one of those.”
Alyson Adams concurred, saying, “Once we saw her throw, we said we’ve seen this before and can hit her, but one after the next, we fell.”
Over the next three innings, all Cardington would get offensively was a fourth-inning single by Alyson Adams and an infield single in the fifth from Bertke. Meanwhile, Wheelersburg was slowly pulling away, as Sarah Claxon drove in a run in the third and Coleman added a RBI hit in the fourth to make it 4-1. Coleman continued to deliver on offense in the sixth inning, bringing in another run with a double, giving Wheelersburg a four-run advantage.
The Pirates had a great chance to cut into that deficit in the bottom of the sixth, though. With one out, Alyson Adams drew a walk and McClure followed up with a single to right field that was misplayed, allowing the runners to advance to second and third. However, Howard responded with a strikeout and then got the final out, keeping Cardington stuck on one run scored in the contest.
Wheelersburg then blew the game open with a five-run seventh inning to advance to Saturday’s state championship game and end the most successful season in Cardington softball history.
While Cardington graduates a pair of starters in Alyson Adams and Dakota Crum, the team returns the majority of its players. After improving from last year’s regional semifinal berth to advance to the state semis, Brininger is hoping that experience will help boost his squad to even more success.
“I told them out there, ‘You know what you’re working for now. Not just winning the league, but getting back here.’,” he said. “Anything less than that is a disappointment.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS