It wasn’t easy, but the Cardington Lady Pirates were finally able to break through in the district finals on Friday night, topping Worthington Christian 44-42 at the Columbus Convention Center to advance to the regional semifinals for the first time in program history.
In a back-and-forth game with the Warriors, Cardington took a five-point lead with four minutes to play and were able to hold on to earn the win to improve to 24-1.
“No Cardington team has ever done it and the seniors got to 85 wins to be the best class,” said head coach Jamie Edwards. The class of 2019 finished with 84 wins over their four years.
The team also reached another milestone in the game, as Casey Bertke’s game-high 15 points boosted her to 1700 for her career, making her the highest scoring basketball player regardless of gender in Pirate history, surpassing Andy Levering. However, after the game, her mind was mainly on the team’s accomplishment.
“It feels awesome — it’s unreal, honestly,” she said. “We waited so long for it. We just had to do it.”
Early on, it looked like it would be their fourth loss in the last five years in the district finals. After Hannah Wickline opened the scoring with a basket just 15 seconds into the game, the Warriors immediately got hot from outside, hitting four three-pointers in the first six minutes of the game and taking a 16-7 lead to force a Pirate timeout.
However, things would change quickly. Beth Hardwick drained a three-pointer to get Cardington back on the scoreboard and Bertke followed with a basket and free throw. Bertke would add another basket and her sister, Dana, scored right before the end of the opening period to put the Pirates on top 17-16.
“That shows a lot of composure,” said Edwards. “I called a timeout in there just to tell them we’ve been here before.”
Worthington Christian hit a three-pointer to regain the lead in the early moments of the second quarter, but Wickline tied things at 19 with a basket. Mikayla Linkous followed with a basket and Casey Bertke hit a free throw to make it 22-19. After a Warrior shot netted two points, the Pirates get buckets from Linkous and Casey Bertke to lead 26-21, but another Worthington Christian three-pointer made a two-point game going into the half.
A 7-0 run to open the third gave the Warriors a 31-26 lead, but Cardington bounced back to tie things up at 33 going into the final period thanks to five points from Wickline.
Beth Hardwick broke the tie with a three-pointer two minutes into the final period, but a Warrior three immediately tied it back up again. However, Wickline would respond with five straight points including a three-pointer that made it 41-36 with 4:28 left.
“Hannah hit a big shot with that step-back three,” said Edwards. “That was a game-changer. That kind of shot is major…for a senior to do that.”
Wickline added, “This team, I don’t think it ever gives up. We’re a team of shooters. Whoever can score scores.”
Neither team would score again until the Warriors got a free throw with 1:54 left in regulation to draw within a 41-37 margin. Casey Bertke responded with a basket to make it 43-37. After a pair of free throws by WC, Bertke got one-of-two free throws; however a three-pointer at the other end turned it into a 44-42 game with 44 seconds left.
Both teams traded turnovers and Cardington then missed the front end of a one-and-one with 22.6 seconds left. However, Cardington’s defense was able to come up with a big stop and snare the defensive rebound to advance to their first regional semifinal in program history.
Casey Bertke led the way with 15 points, while Wickline had 14 and Hardwick’s three three-pointers gave her nine. Next up for Cardington will be Berlin Hiland, the top-ranked Division III team in Ohio.
“We knew this year was a year we could run into them,” said Edwards. “We watched them in the summer playing high-exposure teams and the way they competed, they are for real. If we can get any mention in the same sentence with those guys, that’s a big thing. So play hard, that’s why you play the game. You don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS