A big second inning gave the Cardington softball team a nice cushion against visiting Worthington Christian in their Monday evening Division III district semifinal contest and the Pirates were able to claim a 10-4 win to advance to Wednesday’s district final, where they will host West Jefferson.
“It never gets old,” said head coach Tod Brininger of reaching another district final. “It’s weird that it’s going to be here. I told the girls that there’s a lot of generated enthusiasm when we travel somewhere because there’s several games being played, so we have to create that enthusiasm.”
To reach the district finals, the Pirates had to overcome a game Warrior squad. WC claimed an early 1-0 lead after the top of the first inning, but Cardington responded with back-to-back two-out doubles from Riley Burchett and Hailee Edgell in the bottom of the frame to tie the score.
They would then break open the game in the second. Lily Clark was walked to open the inning and a double by Ashlee Tharp brought her in to give the home team their first lead. Kayleigh Ufferman drew a walk, as did Dana Bertke with one out. Burchett followed with a sacrifice fly and Edgell was then walked to load the bases again. Pitcher Genevieve Longsdorf then helped her cause with a three-run double and she crossed the plate when Chelsey Miller cracked a single.
Brininger felt that inning was really welcome, as his team was going against a program familiar with them.
“Their coach knows us well,” he said, while also giving credit to Warrior defense for a few good plays that robbed his team of potential hits. “He had scouted us and knew what we were about. They had a great game plan, but we had enough. In tournament time, it’s just about moving on.”
And part of that was simply finding the right pitch. Pirate batters were able to regularly make contact, fouling off pitch after pitch, while waiting for one to drive.
“We talk about our approach at the plate,” said the coach. “Keeping fouling them off and fouling them off until you get one you can handle and put it into play.”
Staked to a 7-1 lead, the Pirates were able to maintain that margin. The Warriors cut it to five a couple times, but Cardington always had an answer. Mikayla Linkous recorded an inside the park home run in the third inning, while Ufferman brought a run across the plate with a bases loaded grounder in the fifth. Leading 9-3 in the sixth, Cardington got one more score on an Emalee Artz grounder with two on.
While the Warriors were able to close within six again in the seventh, the Pirates would shut the door without any more damage done in order to continue advancing in the postseason.
To get to Monday’s game, Cardington topped Mount Gilead Friday in the sectional championship.
The Pirates put up 16 runs and got a perfect game from Longsdorf to eliminate the Indians from the tournament. She struck out 13 of the 15 batters she faced in the five-inning game.
“I can’t ask for anything better than that,” said Brininger. “A freshman pitcher comes out and only two balls are put in play.”
MG coach Dave Boggs also was impressed by Longsdorf’s performance.
“That’s the first time we’ve seen her all year,” he said. “She’s a heck of a pitcher.”
Indian pitcher McKennah Bump was solid in the first inning, but found herself in a 1-0 hole after that frame had concluded. She gave up a walk to Bertke, who stole second base and advanced to third on a fly ball. With two outs, Bump induced a ground ball from Edgell, but an errant throw allowed her to reach base and scored Bertke.
Boggs noted that his team just wasn’t quite able to make the plays they needed to in order to minimize the damage Cardington’s bats could do.
“One little itty bitty bobble,” he said. “You can’t give a team like that extra outs. Make a mistake here or there and they’ll blow it open.”
The Pirates then broke open the game with a seven-run second inning. Miller opened with a solo home run and Clark followed with an infield single. Tharp would drive her in to make it 3-0, but would become the inning’s first out when she tried to turn a double into three bases.
Ufferman followed with a double and an infield hit by Linkous put runners on the corners. A groundout by Bertke gave MG their second out, but also brought in a run. A wild pitch made it 5-0 and a two-run hit from Longsdorf added two to that tally. Miller then got her second hit of the inning — a single — to give the Pirates an 8-0 lead.
Brininger felt his team just needed a little time to get used to Bump’s pitching.
“We played Elgin last night and they have a pitcher who throws hard,” he said. “The change of speed took a while to get used to.”
That win over Elgin was Brininger’s 200th as head coach of the Pirates. However, he felt number 201 was sweeter because it happened in the postseason.
“This playoff game,” he said. “Like I told the girls, I want to have 207 this year because that’s winning a state championship and that’s our goal.”
The Pirates added five runs in the third inning and picked up three more in the fourth to finish with 16 on the day and advance to their game with Worthington Christian. Unlike previous years, district games are hosted by the better-seeded team instead of being at a neutral site, so Cardington has the potential to play at home until regionals.
“It’s awesome,” said Brininger. “Frankly, I hope they stick with it. We’ll have a ton of fans Monday and, if we win, we’ll have twice as many Wednesday.”
With his team’s season over, Boggs is hoping for a good summer to help his team see improved results next year.
“We’ll have a lot of seniors next year,” he said. “We’ve got to work in the summer time and get back together to learn and know each other. Next year, we’ll turn things around or try our best, anyway.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS