Throughout the season, Cardington head softball coach Tod Brininger has repeatedly commented on how strong his line-up is from top to bottom.
That depth was on display in the team’s 3-0 regional semifinal win over Pemberville Eastwood. On a team loaded with seniors and juniors with a lot of experience playing at the regional and state level, it was the freshmen members of the squad who provided a spark on offense to propel the Pirates past Eastwood for the third straight year at the regional level. They won 8-2 last year and 4-0 in 2017.
Freshman Dana Bertke opened the game’s scoring with a solo home run in the third inning. Another freshman, Hailee Edgell drove in classmate Mackayla Linkous with a sacrifice fly in the fourth inning. Then, in the seventh, a double by Edgell put Paige Clinger on third base and in position to bring the team’s third run across home plate.
“They did — I expect that out of them,” said Brininger of the contributions from his freshmen. “We had three freshmen heavily involved. Dana’s been there all year and Hailee’s really come alive for us.”
Other than those three runs, the game was a pitching duel. Cardington’s Casey Bertke finished with four strikeouts, while giving up six hits and a walk. Meanwhile, Eastwood pitcher Ashley Hitchcock struck out 12 batters, while surrendering four hits, two walks and a strikeout.
“Hitchcock was throwing well,” said Brininger against his team’s struggles with stringing together hits. “She was hitting her spots better than the last two years. She maybe made four or five mistakes all day, but one she really paid for. We were aggressive on a couple of their mistakes. We did what we needed to. She was dominant, but Casey was dominant, too.”
While both teams were able to get runners in scoring position once over the first two innings, the game was still scoreless going into the third. Hitchcock looked like she’d put another zero on the scoreboard after striking out the first two batters she faced, but Dana Bertke deposited one of the senior’s pitches over the right field fence to stake the Pirates to a 1-0 lead.
A double by Sam Rost and an infield single from Alissa Ray had Casey Bertke in trouble in the bottom of the third, as there were two on with only one out. However, she induced two consecutive groundouts to keep her team in front going into the fourth.
They would add to their advantage in that frame. Casey Bertke led off with a triple and was run for by Linkous. The freshman took second on a wild pitch and was then sacrificed to third by Clinger. Edgell’s fly ball would bring her home, giving the Pirates a two-run lead.
Eastwood opened the fifth with an infield single, but the next batter hit into a double play to neutralize that threat. Cardington also pitched around a two-out single in the fifth inning, as well as a pair of base-runners in the sixth to preserve their 2-0 advantage going into the final inning.
Clinger reached first base on a ground ball when the throw to first went high and Edgell’s double put runners on second and third. A pitch from Hitchcock to Liz Horton went high and was misplayed by the Eastwood catcher, going to the wall and allowing Clinger to sprint home to put Cardington up by three.
Casey Bertke then nailed down the game in the bottom of the seventh, giving up a one-out single, but then rebounding to record a strikeout and fly out to finish the game.
The Pirates will next play Galion Friday evening in the regional finals. Cardington defeated the Tigers 9-2 in last year’s regional semifinal, but Brininger is expecting a closer game this time around.
“They’ve got a number of good hitters and their pitcher is good,” he said, while adding that the winner of the game will likely be the team with the fewest mistakes. “I don’t think she throws as hard as Hitchcock, but she can spot the ball well.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS