The Cardington softball team’s streak of reaching the Division III Final Four came to an end on Saturday at the hands of Fairview Sherwood in the regional finals.
Competing at Elida High School, the Pirates fell victim to a big fifth inning to blow open a fairly close game and couldn’t bounce back in falling 11-1 in five. The team had reached the Final Four in 2017 and advanced to the state championship game in 2018 and 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the 2020 season.
“We saw them the other day,” said head coach Tod Brininger of Fairview. “They hit the ball hard against Otsego. Part of it was our fault. We didn’t make plays we should have and gave them seven, eight, nine extra outs.”
Sherwood got on the board in the top of the first inning. After Pirate pitcher Genevieve Longsdorf retired the first two batters, Kiersten Cline reached on an infield single and was brought home on a double by Olivia Ricica.
They would add another in the second frame. Allison Rhodes led off with a single. With one out, the Apaches got a single from Alyssa Merritt and a walk issued to Clair Shininger to load the bases for Anna Ankney, who responded with a run-scoring single to stake her team to a 2-0 advantage.
While Cardington had people on base in each of the opening three innings — a single by Dana Bertke in the first, a single by Chelsey Miller in the second and a double by Bertke in the third — they were unable to string together offense against Fairview pitcher Paige Ricica.
“She hides the ball well,” said Brininger of Ricica. “All the kids said she wasn’t really that fast, but she hides it well and it gets there quicker than expected.”
After Longsdorf got through the third inning without incident, pitching around a pair of base-runners, Fairview struck again in the fourth, with Ankney striking again — this time blasting a two-run homer to increase her team’s lead to a 4-0 margin.
However, the Pirates were able to respond in their half of the inning. Hailee Edgell opened with a double and a single by Longsdorf put runners on the corner. With one out, Miller smacked a double to score one run and put runners on second and third. Unfortunately for the team, they were unable to bring anyone else home, as the Apaches got the final two outs without incident.
That proved to be costly, as Fairview exploded in the fifth. Olivia Ricica opened the inning with a single and took second on a Pirate error. Brininger noted that his team simply didn’t make enough plays on defense to stay in the game.
“Honestly, when I look back, I don’t know how many earned runs they had,” he said. “Defensively, we just didn’t attack the ball the way we needed to.”
Longsdorf would get two quick outs, but the third one would be elusive. An infield single by Paige Ricica put runners on the corners and Merritt singled to bring one run in. Shininger drew a walk to lead the bases and Ankney would then strike again, this time blasting a grand slam to open up a 9-1 lead for her team.
The Apaches would add two more runs before Cardington could get out of the inning and Paige Ricica would then pitch a perfect fifth inning to bring an end to the Pirates’ season at 26-3.
Brininger noted that while this season might have ended a bit earlier than expected, he has a lot coming back and the expectations will be there for a successful 2022 campaign.
“Our three seniors (Miller, Ashlee Tharp and Lexie Mellinger) had a heck of a run,” he said. “I told the girls — the rest of them — we’re going to be working them and getting them back in the weight room.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS