For five innings, Cardington was locked into a scoreless game with defending Division III champs Warren Champion in Saturday’s softball state championship game.
And then Cassidy Shaffer put her name into the OHSAA record books for the Golden Flashes, sending the Pirates to a 5-0 defeat that ended their season with a 25-5 record and a second straight state runner-up placement.
Shaffer hit a three-run homer in the sixth inning and followed that up with a two-run blast in the seventh to account for all five of her team’s runs and be the first Division III softball player to hit two home runs in a state title game.
“We were hanging,” said Cardington coach Tod Brininger. “We had some opportunities, but just couldn’t string hits together. We couldn’t get good at bats consistently. Casey (Bertke) pitched good, too. That kid just mashed two.”
Brininger and his players were impressed by Warren Champion’s pitching and defense, as the team went the entire postseason without surrendering a single run. Allison Smith held the Pirates to three hits and gave up one walk, while another Pirate reached base via error. She struck out 10 in the contest.
“Her rise ball is so good,” said Baylee Adams. “She got the majority of us. We were just swinging out of our shoes.”
After Casey Bertke pitched a scoreless first inning, the Pirates got a baserunner in the second with a long fly ball by Dana Bertke glanced off the Champion left fielder’s glove for an error. However, Smith struck out the next two batters to end that threat.
It looked like Cardington would be in trouble in the second inning when Casey Bertke walked Sophie Howell and Carli Swipas reached base via error. However, the Pirates would then get some great defense when they turned an Abby White liner into a double play. The team would get many good defensive plays in the game, as Reanna Roth prevented a hit with a diving snag of a hard-hit ground ball in the third inning and Taiylor Hubley dove to snare a fly ball in the fourth frame.
“We stress defense,” said Brininger. “When we get over the hump and win a state championship, that’s what’s going to do it. I love defense. That’s what keeps us in a lot of games when the hitting isn’t there.”
Such as Saturday’s contest. While Casey Bertke led off the second inning with a single and was sacrificed to second base by Paige Clinger, Smith recorded two straight strikeouts to end that threat. In the third, Dana Bertke got a two-out single and a walk issued to Adams put two on; however, a ground ball got the Golden Flashes out of that inning with no damage done.
Neither team could get a baserunner in either the fourth or fifth innings, but Warren Champion was able to strike in the top of the sixth. Smith opened the inning with a single and Abbi Grace followed with a hit that put runners on second and third for Shaffer. The Warren sophomore worked the count to 3-2 before sending a pitch over the wall for three runs.
The Golden Flashes would put two runners on base after that homer, but the Pirates were able to record a pair of outs to get out of the inning with no further damage done. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the same good fortune on offense. With one out, Adams smashed a double, but wound up stranded on second when WC was able to get the next two batters out.
Shaffer would then add a two-run homer in the seventh to give her team a pair of insurance runs and Smith pitched a perfect bottom half of the inning to put an end to the game.
When reflecting on what the team has done during her four years at Cardington, senior Paige Clinger was simply happy to have had so much success, as the Pirates advanced to regionals in each of the last four years, reaching the Final Four three straight times and recording two consecutive appearances in the championship game.
“It’s a blessing,” she said. “Everyone wants to go to the state tournament. To go the last three years shows how hard we work. We would not be here without the entire team.”
With many of his key players returning next year, Brininger is hoping that his team will get another crack at bringing home a championship trophy. He said that his squad seeks out tough competition during the season to prepare for their tournament runs.
“These girls don’t get intimidated,” he said. “We play a bunch of Division I schools and the only Division IV and even Division III ones we play are in our league. We told them we’re going to be back next year. I want to be the second team announced after the game and not be the first. We want to be what Warren Champion is.”
Casey Bertke gave up eight hits and a walk in the game. She, Dana Bertke and Baylee Adams provided the team’s three hits, with Adams’ knock being a double.
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS