Erick Starkey/News After barehanding a bunt, Highland third baseman Morgan Wilhelm fires the ball toward first to try and get an out in the first inning of a 12-3 Scot loss Tuesday.
Erick Starkey/News
After barehanding a bunt, Highland third baseman Morgan Wilhelm fires the ball toward first to try and get an out in the first inning of a 12-3 Scot loss Tuesday. View More Photos

SPARTA — After giving up eight runs in the top of the first inning, the Highland Scots softball team played league-leading Cardington close, falling 4-3 over the remaining six innings to drop the contest, 12-3.

“I think our nerves got the best of us on a couple people out there,” Highland coach Shelly Hornsby said. “If it wasn’t for that first inning, it definitely would have been a different ball game.”

A Dana Bertke triple scored leadoff hitter Kierson George, before Baylee Adams had a two-run shot on the next at-bat to push the lead to 3-0. Heather Sparkman scored on an error and back-to-back singles scored both Emily Pearl and Paige Clinger. A bases-loaded walk plated Reanna Roth and Taiylor Hubley scored on a passed ball before the third out was recorded to put the Scots in an 8-0 hole.

Cardington pitcher Casey Bertke made quick work of Highland with three-straight outs in the bottom of the first, bringing the Pirates up to bat again. The second inning was not nearly as explosive as the first and Hornsby credited a mound visit for part of the reason for the change defensively.

“When I talked to them on the mound in the first inning, I knew it was nerves with a couple people and I think a little bit of anxiousness, excitement and nerves all bundled up in one,” Hornsby said. “I basically just told them it’s just another ball game. We just need to come out and play the game we know how to play and work and be there for our pitcher. From that moment on, they were.”

The lone hit in the second came on a solo home run by Clinger to run the score to 9-0. Highland got one run back in the last of the frame with Kaitlyn Carney scoring on a Pirate error. Lucy Smith faced only three batters in the third and the Scots got some momentum going at the plate to start the bottom of the third to load the bases, but a double play where Casey Bertke caught a line drive and sent the ball to third before the runner had a chance to tag ended any scoring threat.

Casey Bertke also had her way at the plate, demolishing a ball for a home run in the fourth. Her shot went over the fence, over a dugout and onto the baseball field to put Cardington ahead 10-1.

Highland clawed out a run in the fifth with a single by Haven Farson scoring Savannah Fitzpatrick to cut the lead to 10-2. Cardington tacked on two more runs in the seventh with Sparkman and Clinger both scoring again, but Highland had the last run, with Fitzpatrick touching home again, to set it at the final score, 12-3.

Clinger was the lone Pirate with multiple hits, including her homer, and she finished with three runs and an RBI. Adams and Casey Bertke each kicked in with their two deep shots, combining for two runs and four RBI. Dana Bertke was the only other Pirate with an extra-base hit, lacing a triple. Roth chipped in with two RBI on the day.

Fitzpatrick paced the Scots with two hits, including a double, and she also scored two of the team’s three runs. Carney had a hit and scored the other run, while Farson and Liz Jensen had a hit and an RBI apiece. Morgan Wilhelm added Highland’s final hit.

Casey Bertke and Smith both lasted all seven innings in the circle for their respective teams. Bertke allowed six hits, only one earned run with two strikeouts and two walks, while Smith’s stat line was filled with 10 hits, nine earned runs, five strikeouts and five walks.

The Pirates improved to 10-0 with an 8-0 record in the Knox-Morrow Athletic Conference. Highland dropped to 8-6, but still holds steady at second in the league with a 7-2 KMAC record. The two teams will lock horns again today in Cardington at 5:15 p.m.

“I’m looking forward to going into tomorrow and I know they’re beatable,” Hornsby said. “We’ve just got to go in with the same momentum we ended here with and use that toward our advantage.”

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Erick Starkey: 740-397-5333 or and on Twitter, @mvnstarkey