MOUNT VERNON — It was a dream that the No. 3-seeded Utica Redskins had since the end of last season — Beat the Cardington Pirates. The top-seeded Pirates put an abrupt end to the Redskins’ season in 2018, but for a while, it looked like 2019 was Utica’s turn to shine.
The Redskins’ dream, however, turned into a nightmare in the fourth inning on Saturday, when the Pirates marched a dozen batters to the plate and scored seven runs to break the game wide open. The Pirates went on to win, 12-2, finishing the Redskins’ season in a run-rule shortened OHSAA Central District championship game played at Pickerington Central High School.
“Coming up short on the field happens to everybody at some point,” said Utica coach Josh Sichina. “Today just happened to be our day. We battled a really great team. We just gave a very good team more opportunities than we should have.”
The top of the Redskins’ batting order teamed up in the third inning to give their team an early lead. Utica’s Taylor Heckman (1 for 3) scored on a double by teammate Sydney Hoover (1 for 3), making it 1-0. The Pirates tied it up in the bottom of that inning on an RBI single by Kierson George (3 for 4). Later that inning, George was cut down at third base on a heads-up throw by Utica left fielder Shayla Estep, who had chased down a single by Cardington’s Dana Bertke. Estep slightly overran the ball, which landed just inside the left-field foul line, by a couple of steps, but recovered to field the ball and get the runner at third, perhaps preventing another Pirates’ run.
In the top of the fourth, Utica pitcher Elizabeth Dyke smacked a home run to put her team back on top, 2-1. That was the only other run that Pirates’ starting pitcher Casey Bertke (5 Ks, a BB and a hit batter) allowed in the game. Dyke collected two of the five hits that Bertke allowed.
“(Elizabeth) is a competitor,” Sichina said. “She has battled and we have faith in her, no matter what the score is.”
It all came undone for the Redskins in the bottom of the fourth. Cardington’s Casey Bertke (2 for 3) homered to tie it up at 2. Also highlighting the inning were a 2-run single by Bailee Adams (1 for 3), followed by a 2-run double by Chelsey Miller (1 for 3).
When the Pirates were finished, they had an 8-2 lead. Dyke (5 IP, 2 Ks, 2 BBs) had a tough day in the circle, getting hammered for 12 runs on 13 hits.
“That’s what our offense does,” said Cardington coach Tod Brininger. “We go through our batting order once, but when we see a pitcher the second time around, it’s hard to keep us down, because we have good hitters, one through nine. We also have two or three on the bench that can do the same. Also, we can do a lot with two outs.”
The Pirates finished up in the fifth and final inning, scoring four times, including George’s 2-run homer to finish the game. The left-handed-batting George hit an opposite-field shot that bounced off the top of the left-field fence and landed on the other side.
The Redskins will bring back a large class of juniors next season, but Sichina has to say good-bye to his seniors.
“I’ve coached this team for three years, and Elizabeth has been my No. 1 pitcher for all that time,” Sichina said. “She has battled for her teammates and she has always been there for us. It will be hard to see her go. Alyssa Wiegand, Beth Dennis and Emily Dunn don’t get a lot of playing time. As a dad, my daughter was in the high school play and she’s a sixth-grader. Those three helped her and I will never forget that. Those three don’t get the time on the field, but they are great people. Elizabeth and those three are great people, and will do great things when they go out into society.”
The season continues for the Pirates, but they are sailing into familiar waters.
“This is our fourth District Championship,” Brininger said. “We understand what the process is. We will play Eastwood, which is the team that we played the last two years in the regional finals, so we know what they’re about. They know what we’re about. It’s like old friends now. I told my players, ‘Celebrate until midnight. After that, we’ll focus on Eastwood.’”