By SCOTT JACKSON
Courier sports writer
---- — ELDON – After having to fight to the very end not once, but twice this year to get by their Southeast Superconference north division rivals, the Cardinal softball team showed just how far they’ve come as a team Tuesday in its postseason opener.
Cardinal answered an opening inning run by Van Buren Tuesday immediately and never looked back, picking up what proved to be by far their easiest of three wins this year over the Warriors in the first round of Class 2A, Region 5 play. Lindsey Davis drove in two of her three runs in the opening inning on a two-run single to left that gave the Comets a lead they would never relinquish because sophomore pitcher Delaney Ridgway wouldn’t let the Warriors get anywhere close to challenging the advantage.
Ridgway allowed just two base runners after giving up two hits and the first-inning run to the Warriors, allowing just four Van Buren base runners all night in a 6-1 postseason triumph. The victory sent the Comets rolling Wednesday into a showdown with fourth-ranked Highland, which beat Cardinal once this year 6-3 and got an eyeful of what their opponent is capable off on Tuesday when they visited the softball diamond.
Ridgway and the Comet defense showcased a dominant stretch of play, retiring the final 10 Warrior batters of the contest.
“I always just work on location and trying to work on different pitches,” Ridgway said after earning her 10th win of the season in the pitching circle. “I’m a young pitcher. I know the other team is going to hit the ball off of me. My location and my different pitches makes sure they don’t hit the ball hard.”
The sophomore showed that early-season maturity in the way she allowed her only run. Facing a powerful hitter in Van Buren’s Jordan Billups with Caitlyn Millard at third, Ridgway allowed the Warrior clean-up hitter only a bloop single beyond third to produce a 1-0 Van Buren lead.
“I just didn’t want them to hit home runs. Facing Jordan Billups, that was a scary situation at that point,” Ridgway said.
“A lot of these times in games like these, a big inning or two is usually all you’re going to get,” Cardinal head coach Jerald Harter added. “They got that one bloop hit on us in the first inning, but we came right back them and answered the challenge.”
Danae Moses and Lindsay Moore began the responding rally for the Comets with consecutive hits off Van Buren starting pitcher Alicia Fitzsimmons. After a walk loaded the bases, Lindsey Davis lined a go-ahead two-run hit to left as Cardinal flexed its offensive muscle right away.
“It was still early on. We’re confident we can get it back no matter what kind of deficit we’re facing,” Davis said.
Cardinal also did a good job forcing Van Buren into old habits that have plagued the Warriors throughout the year. The Comets forced Fitzsimmons into six walks and scored a pair of unearned runs thanks to a pair of Van Buren errors, helping aid in a second three-run inning in the fourth.
“Our Achilles heel all year has been allowing teams to score runs or allow runners on with walks and errors. Those have killed us all year,” Van Buren head coach Eric Speer said. “When we’ve won, we’ve committed an error and given up two walks. When we’ve lost, we’ve committed two errors and given up five walks. That’s five more base runners a game. You’re just not going to win when you give up that many more base runners.”
Unlike the Comets, Van Buren hitters didn’t make Ridgway or the Comet defense have to work nearly as hard. Quick swings and even quicker at bats helped Ridgway sat down Van Buren in order four time in the final six innings while Cardinal’s defense committed just one error on a tough grounder to third.
“(Van Buren) certainly has a team of fighters. It’s not too surprising to see them come up swinging like that,” Ridgway said. “It definitely helped my confidence to come back out in the second after giving up that first run and be given the lead right away.”
“On a night where it was nice and hot, you want a pitcher to go deep in the count. (Van Buren) seemed to swing at a lot of first pitches. We seemed to take a lot more and made their pitcher work a lot more,” Harter added.
Van Buren’s season ends with a record of 9-17. Cardinal took plenty of confidence they could pull an upset at No. 4 Highland for the 2A Region 5 second round Wednesday.
“We played (Highland) here on a wet night and let an early lead get away from us,” Harter said. “I feel like we’ve got something to prove, but I think our non-conference schedule had made us ready for any team we’re going to face from here on out. Whoever we face better be ready, or they’re going home.”
The Comets played well on Wednesday night in their rematch with the fourth-ranked Huskies (31-3), but could not pull off an upset. No. 4 Highland ended Cardinal's season with a 4-1 win on their home diamond, bringing another winning season to an end at 18-16.
The Huskies will host West Branch on Friday in the Class 2A, Region 5 semifinals after the Bears (16-19) knocked off Pekin (21-11) 8-3 in Packwood on Wednesday. The loss brought an end to the 26-year head coaching career of Bryan Marley, who started his career at Cardinal before moving on to coach the Panther softball program for the past 25 years.
The other side of Class 2A, Region 5 saw 14th-ranked Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont beat North Mahaska (19-12) 7-1 thanks to a five-run fourth inning that snapped a 1-1 tie. Tasha Alexander came up with three hits, including a bases-clearing double and solo home run, as the 25-9 Rockets will play at Iowa City Regina Friday in the regional semifinals.
In Class 1A regional second play on Wednesday, Bluegrass champ Twin Cedars ended Moravia's (13-14) season for a second straight year with a 4-3 victory that moves the Sabers (24-9) into a regional semifinal matchup at seventh-ranked Earlham on Friday. Moulton-Udell also saw their season end at 6-22 after losing to New London 15-0 in the second round of 1A, Region 6 action.
No. 13 Sigourney (21-5) won a thrilling postseason opener over South Iowa Cedar League rival Montezuma 6-5 on their home diamond Wednesday. The Savages will move on to a Class 1A, Region 5 semifinal showdown at Lisbon Friday night at 7 p.m.
Class 2A, Region 5 First Round Softball
Cardinal 6, Van Buren 1
V.B. 100 000 0 — 1 3 2
Card. 300 300 0 — 6 8 1
Van Buren battery — Alicia Fitzsimmons (L, 8-15) (6IP, 8H, 6R, 4ER, K, 6BB, HBP), Kadie Meek catching.
Hits — Sarah Wells 1-2, Jordan Billups 1-3, Caitlyn Millard 1-3.
RBI — Billups.
Runs — Millard.
Cardinal battery — Delaney Ridgway (W, 10-11) (6IP, 3H, R, ER, 2K), Lindsay Moore catching.
Hits — Carlie Bennett 3-4, Lindsey Davis 2-4, Ridgway 1-2, Moore 1-3, Danae Moses 1-3.
RBI — Davis 3, Moore.
Runs — Moses 2, Bennett, Schylar Conger, Jessie McElderry, Moore.