Mooney finishes off South Range

GREENFORD — After scouting Cardinal Mooney for the last two games, the South Range coaching staff came away confident heading into Thursday’s Division III district semifinal matchup. When the top-seeded Raiders jumped out to an early three-run lead things seemed to go according to the plan. However, nobody was prepared for the onslaught that followed.

The fourth-seeded Cardinals hit the ball with authority against South Range ace Caragyn Yanek and roared back for eight unanswered runs to stun the Raiders 8-3 at South Range High School.

“We watched them against Waterloo and Southeast in the sectional round, and they were certainly a different team today,” South Range coach Jeff DeRose said. “We were pretty confident, especially after we put up a three spot in the first inning. Today Mooney was the better team.”

The Raiders (17-6) came into the season with eight starters back from their 2016 Div. III state runner-up squad and were gearing up for another deep postseason run. Instead, they saw their streak of three straight district titles came to a halt. Mooney (17-6) advances to take on second-seeded Columbiana in the district final at 5 p.m. today at South Range High School.

The Cardinals looked confident all night at the plate on their way to pounding out 15 hits. Mooney coach Mark Rinehart said his team respected Yanek’s ability, but came in with a lot of belief that they could hit the ball.

“We have an excellent hitting team, we’ve pounded the ball all season long against a lot of good pitching,” Rinehart said. “Up-and-down the lineup and even into the bench, we have girls that can hit the ball. We respect Yanek. She’s shut us down every time until tonight, but I’m not surprised we hit the ball hard today.”

The Raiders scored all three of their runs in the first. Hope Thomas had an RBI single and later scored on a fielders choice. Codi Taylor brought home another run on a squeeze bunt. South Range could have pulled way ahead, but Mooney pitcher Kayla Rutherford worked out of a bases-loaded jam.

The Cardinals let the Raiders know they weren’t going to roll over when they seized the lead with two runs in the second and two in the third. The bottom of the order propelled the Cardinals in the second, as number-seven hitter Adrianna Popovich had a two-out RBI double and Brooke Chandler followed with an RBI single. Rutherford had an RBI double in the fourth.

“They came prepared, they weren’t afraid of anything,” Yanek said. “I have to give them credit, they’re a really good hitting team.”

South Range let a golden opportunity go by in the fourth when they loaded the bases with one out, only to have Rutherford escape with two strikeouts against the middle of the order. The Raiders also left runners on first and second with one out in the fifth. Rutherford finished with six strikeouts and two walks. Yanek and Morgan Smith each doubled and singled for the Raiders.

“Our girls didn’t give up,” DeRose said. “It’s not like they went up there and struck out. They kept giving themselves opportunities.”

As the game wore on, the Cardinals kept steadily adding to their lead. They made it 6-3 in the fifth on a triple by Conchetta Rinaldi and RBI singles by Rutherford and Popovich. Cardinal Mooney added single runs in the sixth and seventh for the final margin.

Most of the damage was done by Rutherford, who was 3-for-4 with two RBIs. Four other Cardinals had at least two hits.

“Caragyn honestly didn’t have her best,” DeRose said. “She was fired up mentally, but they just hit the ball. They put the ball where it needed to go.”

Reflecting back on the season, DeRose said there was plenty for the Raiders to be proud of, but acknowledged the reality that everyone was hungry for more after their success last season.

“We’re happy with winning our eighth straight league title, especially with this being the last year of the ITCL,” DeRose said. “But of course our goal was to get back into the regionals. I think everyone knows we were going to see Champion there again. We wanted another crack at them to show last year wasn’t a fluke. But unfortunately we’re not going to be there.”

Thursday also brought the curtain down on the careers of Yanek, Codi Taylor, Lydia Baird and Morgan Smith. The four of them contributed to one of the most successful periods in program history, which included four league titles, three district titles and one regional championship.

“It’s an honor to be a part of this team and to accomplish all that we did,” Yanek said. “Without this group we wouldn’t have been able to do everything we did. We’re all a family, we go down together and we win together. I’m thankful to have all of those girls behind me.”

Game notes

• Yanek will continue her softball career at the University of Findlay next season where she plans to major in business management.

• In addition to replacing his ace pitcher next season, DeRose will also be tasked with replacing three fourths of South Range’s infield.

“We have girls that are eager to get in there, but it’s going to be a different team next year no question about it,” DeRose said. “We’re losing a hell of a pitcher as well. The underclassmen are going to have to work hard. I told them next season starts as soon as they can get ready to go.”

CM: 0-2-2-0-2-1-1–8-15-1

SR: 3-0-0-0-0-0-0–3- 8-2

CM–Kayla Rutherford, wp, (7IP, 7K, 2BB) and Conchetta Rinaldi.

SR–Caragyn Yanek, lp, (7IP, 6K, 1BB) and Hanna Dennison.