Much like in their district final contest with Utica, the Cardington softball team found itself in a 2-1 hole when they took on Galion Friday night at Findlay High School in their Division III softball regional final.
Also much like in that contest with Utica, the Pirates quickly erased that deficit with an offensive explosion. The team tied the game with one run in the third and then added five in the fourth and three more in the sixth on their way to claiming their third straight trip to the Final Four with an 11-3 victory.
“It’s unbelievable,” said head coach Tod Brininger of his team’s success. “I’m not sure how to explain it. It means a lot. These girls work their butts off. They deserve it.”
The coach admitted to being a bit worried in the early going. Taking advantage of wildness by Tiger pitcher Madelyn Thomas, the team loaded the bases with one out on two walks and one batter hit by pitch, but could not get anyone across home plate.
“That first inning where we didn’t get any runs across — that’s scary,” he said.
Cardington was able to take the lead in the second inning, as Taiylor Hubley was walked with two outs, stole second and came home when a Kierson George grounder was misplayed for an error. That lead would be short-lived, as Galion responded with two runs in the bottom of the inning to take their only lead of the game.
The Pirates would tie the game in the top of the third, as Baylee Adams was walked and advanced to third when a Chelsey Miller bunt attempt led to another Galion error. Bertke then followed with a run-scoring fly ball to give the team their second run despite not having yet recorded a hit. The team took advantage of two Galion errors, as well as several free passes.
“I think we forced them to make mistakes with how hard we hit it and our aggressiveness,” said Brininger, who also was pleased with his team’s plate discipline, as Thomas finished with eight walks and three hit batters to her name. “The farther you get in the tournament, the tighter the strike zone gets. We talk about opportunities at the plate and to make her throw strikes.”
The Pirate offense got going in the fourth inning, though. Reanna Roth led off the inning with the team’s first hit — a single. A Hubley single combined with a Tiger error put runners on the corners. Both would then be driven in by a one-out Dana Bertke single. Then, with two outs. Miller walked to put two on. Casey Bertke drove in one run with a single and Paige Clinger followed by bringing two more in with another one-base hit.
In the sixth inning, that 7-2 lead expanded to a 10-2 margin. Thomas hit Adams, walked Miller and hit Casey Bertke to set the stage for a three-run double by Clinger, giving the senior five RBIs on the day.
“We all went in thinking let’s have energy and play hard together,” she said. “We know how to play it out under pressure. It’s reassuring to know we did it before and go out and do it again.”
After giving up a run in the bottom of the sixth, Cardington put the finishing touches on their win with a run in the seventh, as Hubley led off with a single and came home when a Miller ground ball was misplayed by the Tigers.
For the game, Galion finished with four errors, while Cardington played mistake-free defense — something that wasn’t lost on the team’s pitcher.
“It’s so comforting,” said Casey Bertke. “When I don’t get strikeouts, it’s really comforting not having to worry about errors because they have my back.”
Now, the team will head up to Akron Firestone for the third straight year. After falling in the state semifinals in 2017, they advanced to the state championship game last year.
“Akron is such a great atmosphere,” said junior Baylee Adams. “I shouldn’t be nervous because it’s my third year, but I’m already freaking out a bit.”
While the team’s goal is to break through and claim a state title this year, they also are celebrating the act of simply advancing this far once again.
“It means everything, especially with my three seniors,” said Clinger. “It’s everyone’s goal to go to state — to make it three times is just special.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS