A fast start was all Cardington needed to made another trip to regionals in softball.
Competing at Pickerington Central against Centerburg in an all-KMAC Division III district final Friday evening, the Pirates got three runs in the first inning and two more in the second and made those scores hold up the rest of the way in earning a 5-1 decision.
For the Pirates, it was their sixth-straight district title.
“It never gets old,” said head coach Tod Brininger. “We almost have to remind the younger ones it’s a big deal. It’s hard to win a Central District title.”
For the Pirates, it was their 13th win of the year over a KMAC opponent and first victory over a league rival that came by fewer than 10 runs — no small feat, considering that Danville, East Knox and Fredericktown all also won district titles on Saturday.
“It’s really hard to beat a team three times,” said Brininger. “In tournament games, we just want to win.”
Centerburg struck first in the game, as leadoff hitter Chloe Goulter opened the game with a solo home run. Brininger felt that play might have given his team a wake-up call.
“It wasn’t for Al (Adams, assistant coach) and I because we saw her do it against Fairbanks,” said Brininger. “It definitely woke G (pitcher Genevieve Longsdorf) up. She sent down the next six or seven with strikeouts and only gave up one more hard-hit ball.”
After Longsdorf followed up that home run with three straight strikeouts, her offense wasted no time in erasing the Trojan lead.
Mikayla Linkous led off the Cardington half of the inning with a bunt single and Dana Bertke followed with a two-run home run to put the Pirates up 2-1.
“I’m really confident with her on base,” said Bertke of Linkous. “I can move her or get on — whatever it takes to score this run.”
And getting a quick response to the Centerburg run was important to the Pirates.
“It’s super-important,” said Bertke. “Coach stresses to not let them hang around. He says to step on their throats.”
Linkous added that the key was simply for her team to not feel any pressure just because they were down a run.
“Staying in ourselves and knowing that run isn’t anything right now,” she said. “We’re going to come back.”
Hailee Edgell followed by recording a single. With two outs, she would be driven in by an Ari Simpson hit to put the Pirates up 3-1 at the end of the inning. Edgell would then strike in the second frame. After Bertke drew a two-out walk, she responded with a two-run homer to give Cardington a four-run lead.
Centerburg wouldn’t be able to get any closer, as Longsdorf only gave up a Goulter single the rest of the way to make sure that four-run lead held up.
Now, the Pirates will be returning to regionals. Last year, the team advanced to the regional finals before being topped 11-1 by Fairview Sherwood — a lopsided loss they have not forgotten about.
“We’ve been talking about it all year,” said Brininger. “We’ll tell them tonight to think about that game because the desire has to be there.”
Linkous added that the team’s schedule has helped in preparing them for what they’ll see at regionals.
“We’ve played many Division I and Division II teams to get better,” she said. “It’s all about mindset. The mental is as important as the physical. I think we came in a little timid and came in thinking we will win this. We came in with the wrong mindset.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS