Cardington was able to earn its fifth straight district title thanks to clutch pitching and some timely defensive plays on Wednesday, edging West Jefferson by a 2-1 margin.
Pirate pitcher Genevieve Longsdorf gave up 12 hits in the game, but got big outs when needed to only allow one Roughrider runner to cross home plate. Meanwhile, the Pirates were able to manufacture two runs in a game where both teams left a bunch stranded on base.
“I told the team last night we need to score two runs to win,” said Cardington coach Tod Brininger. “That pitcher (Brooke Mannon) is a stud. She’s the best we’ve seen all year.”
Cardington had cruised to a win over West Jefferson earlier in the year, but the Roughriders didn’t pitch Mannon in that game. Against the Pirates, she struck out 10, walked two and gave up nine hits, but couldn’t pick up the win due to some timely plays by the home team.
Cardington struck first in the game, scoring once in the opening inning. Mikayla Linkous opened the bottom of the first with a walk and a bunt single by Dana Bertke put two on. A fly ball by Riley Burchett advanced both runners and Hailee Edgell then drove in Linkous when she lined out.
While West Jefferson didn’t score in the first two innings — in part due to Pirate catcher Chelsey Miller throwing out a would-be base stealer in both frames — they would tie the game in the third. Mannon hit a one-out double and Peyton Filby reached on a bunt to put runners on the corners. A groundout by Laney Lambert would then bring in a run to knot the game at 1-1.
It would stay that way until the fifth thanks to clutch pitching by both Longsdorf and Mannon. In the top of the fourth, West Jefferson loaded the bases with one out, but the Pirate freshman got back-to-back strikeouts against Victoria Dunugan and Mannon to escape unscathed.
“How about that for a freshman pitcher?” said Brininger. “She wanted it. Just an unbelievable job by that kid. She struck her (Mannon) out two times in a row and that kid doesn’t strike out.”
Not to be outdone, Mannon gave up a double to Longsdorf and infield hits to Miller and Emalee Artz to load the bases with nobody out, but was able to record three straight outs with no damage done to keep the game at 1-1 heading into the fifth.
After Longsdorf pitched around a pair of base-runners in the top of the inning, Cardington was able to regain the lead. Mannon struck out the first two Pirate batters, but Edgell was able to connect for a single and Longsdorf moved her to third base with a double. While Miller was at the plate, the Roughriders committed a passed ball to allow Edgell to give Cardington their second run.
“We were telling them to keep putting pressure on them,” said Brininger. “In games like this, one mistake can do it. Going from first to third on a little bloop to left field. I needed that girl on third and she was the winning run.”
While Longsdorf gave up leadoff hits in both the sixth and seventh innings, she was able to get out of both unscathed to preserve the lead, with some help from her defense. In the seventh inning with a runner on first and one out, catcher Miller made a great play on a foul pop-up, crashing into the fence to recover it before it hit the ground.
“I just wasn’t letting anything drop tonight,” she said. “But it’s not just about my play. It’s a team effort.”
Brininger also was impressed with her hustle and leadership.
“We’ve never seen her run that far that fast in four years,” he said. “She’s a great senior leader. We need that with a freshman pitcher.”
The team now will travel to Elida for their fifth straight trip to regionals. Of the previous four, three resulted in the team advancing to Akron for the Final Four.
“It says more about the kids,” said Brininger. “They work their butts off. They’ll show up Sunday night. Even if we’re not hitting, three, four, five kids will be out there.”
Miller was an underclassmen for the team’s last two trips to regionals. Now, as a senior, she’s seen her role on the team evolve.
“There’s a lot more pressure on my shoulders because everyone looks up to me to make plays,” she said. “But I rely on them, too.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS