ELDON — Prior to last Wednesday’s triangular in Eddyville, Ava Ferrell had spent just one full inning in the pitching circle for the Cardinal Comets in her first year of varsity softball.
By the time Monday’s Southeast Iowa Superconference south division contest with Van Buren rolled around, Ferrell had started and finished five games earning her first win Saturday at the North Mahaska tournament. Still, the Comets are looking to give Ferrell any boost of confidence they can each time the eighth-grader steps on to the field.
“She’s still really shy and nervous. She’s still scared about screwing up the game,” junior teammate Rachel Lewman said. “I think she’s starting to realize that we’re all behind her. We’re not hating on her. We’re here to help make her better.”
Lewman and the Comet hitters did their part to help Ferrell earn her first varsity conference pitching win on Monday. Cardinal answered an opening-inning run from the Warriors, scoring twice in the first and four more times in the third on the way to an 11-4 victory that puts the Comets in position for their highest Southeast Iowa Superconference south division finish under head coach Sabrina Morrison.
Cardinal (12-11, 5-4 SEI south) can clinch a runner-up finish in the SEI south on Wednesday with a win at home over Central Lee. The Comets also head to Davis County tonight and host Pekin on Friday needing three wins this week to clinch Morrison’s first winning season as head coach of a program she won a state title with as a player in 2003.
“I told the girls I wanted the intensity from top to bottom to be there from beginning to end,” Morrison said. “We needed to put runs on the board early and needed to keep putting up runs every inning. Part of it is the rivalry with Van Buren, but the other part is knowing that we’ve got a young pitcher who is nervous out there. We just kind of had to step it up for her and take some the pressure off her shoulders.”
Caitlyn Reber and Maddie Cloke both scored on a ground ball hit to second by Lewman, giving Cardinal an early 2-1 lead. Lewman came up in the very next inning and stroked a two-run single to give the Comets a 5-1 lead, the first two of Lewman’s three runs driven in during the contest.
“We lost to Van Buren earlier in the season and we really don’t like listening to Van Buren have bragging rights over us,” Lewman said. “Knowing that Van Buren wanted to come in here and beat us after we beat them the second time, we knew we had to get the bats going right away. We thought Van Buren would get some hits and some runs off Ava, but we got to work on the batting tees right away at practice and really pushed it at the plate from the start of the game.”
Van Buren threatened to get right back into the game, scoring twice in the third inning while putting two runners on before Ferrell struck out Ally Campbell in a battle of eighth-grade stars. The Warriors also loaded the bases in the fifth, but could not plate a run as Ferrell record her third strike out and coaxed a pair of pop outs to first baseman Riley Bears, protecting the Comet lead.
Maddie Cloke, Ferrell’s catcher, had two hits and reached base four times scoring twice for the Comets. Behind the plate, Cloke tagged out Salena Sayre to end both the first and third innings, ending Warrior rallies in both instances.
“It’s huge for us to continue to build with every successful night we have on the diamond,” Morrison said. “I can’t say enough about how proud I am of our girls. We made plays when we needed to make them. We’re a young team, but the enthusiasm is there.
“I told the girls from the start of the season that I wasn’t worried about wins and losses. If we got better with each game and they had fun in the process, I’d consider this season a success.”
Shayna Sprinkle led Van Buren with two hits in the loss. Chelsey Huff added an RBI single for the Warriors, plating Isabel Manning who reached base three times.