By ANDREW WILLIAMS
DUNKIRK — Arcadia’s Ashley Baird struck out the first three Hardin Northern batters she faced in the bottom of the first inning.
Things didn’t improve much for the Polar Bears with Baird in the circle in the remaining six innings, either.
The senior allowed just three hits and one earned run, while striking out eight and walking four to earn the victory as the Redskins captured a share of the Blanchard Valley Conference championship with an 8-3 win Monday at the Dunkirk Community Park.
Arcadia improved to 14-8 overall and 8-1 in the BVC. Arlington (17-5, 8-1 BVC) also clinched a share of the title with an 8-3 victory Monday against Leipsic.
Lea Rowe led off the bottom of the second with a single into center field, which proved to be the only hit the Polar Bears (12-6, 7-2 BVC) would muster in the first six innings.
Baird retired Hardin Northern in order in three of the first five innings and faced just 18 batters during that stretch.
“She’s been funny all year,” Arcadia coach David Spridgeon said of Baird. “There’s games that she’s been dominant. Then there’s games like the sectional game (against Carey) where she’ll walk a lot of people. And today, she was on point. I just told her to relax, have some fun out there, which is what she did. She pitched a whale of a game.”
Said Baird: “I just went out there with the most positive attitude I could and I knew it was going to be a tough game because their pitcher’s really good. I just wanted to be on par with (Addy Bame) because she has a very low ERA. So, I just tried to hit my places as well as I could and it worked.”
Bame matched Baird’s dominance through the first three innings.
The junior struck out the first five batters she faced and retired the first eight in order before Lizzie Coward reached on a single with two outs in the third.
Baird walked with one out in the fourth and scored when Megan Hill laced a two-out double into the left-center field gap to give the Redskins a 1-0 lead.
Bame struck out Molly Glick to end the inning, but Arcadia was back at it in the fifth frame when Skylar Conley and Haley Kieffer led off the inning with a single each. Courtney Cramer sent the first pitch she saw into right-center, scoring Conley and Kieffer and increasing the margin to 3-0.
“I think we had some big moments where people came up in big situations,” Spridgeon said. “We always talk about pressure. A lot of people put pressure on themselves and they tighten up. I think today the girls were able to relax up there, have a little fun, hit a line drive instead of that pop fly or that home run. We just need base hits and they came through.”
The Polar Bears manufactured a run after Kylee Hooker walked to start the sixth, advanced to second when the ball got away from the catcher, stole third and scored on an error by Coward at third base.
The dagger, though, came in the seventh inning when the Redskins capitalized on two walks and three Hardin Northern errors to plate five runs on just two hits to run the lead to 8-1.
“We’ve got to hit the ball better. We haven’t hit the ball real well all year long,” Hardin Northern coach Jeff Hunt said.
“It was partly the bats, but I think that top of the seventh when we had four straight errors and gave them five runs, that kind of killed us. That’s the way we’ve won a lot of games lately, with defense. That’s unusual for us to make that many errors in a game like that, let alone in an inning.”
The Polar Bears put together a rally in the seventh when Taylir Schiewe singled to lead off and pinch-runner Bailee Waller came around to score on Hannah Fisher’s double to right-center. Fisher scored on an errant pickoff attempt and Shelby Schlatter walked, but Baird snagged a line drive hit back at her by Kamryn Dye and doubled off Schlatter at first to kill any momentum.
Hooker battled Baird at the plate, but was eventually put away on a groundout to second to end the game.
Hill finished with a double, a single and three RBIs, Conley had a single and an RBI and Kieffer notched a pair of singles for the Redskins.
In her final game in an Arcadia uniform, Baird put together a performance she will certainly remember for years to come. The BVC title she helped clinch will take a little more time before it can be fully appreciated.
“As a senior, this being my very last game, it’s so sad yet really, really fulfilling,” Baird said. “It’s the only year we’ve done this. As a senior doing it, I can’t even comprehend it right now.”
Arcadia 000 120 5 — 8 7 2
Hardin Northern 000 001 2 — 3 3 3
WP — As. Baird. LP — Bame. top hitters: (Arc) Cramer 1B, 2 RBI; Hill 1B, 2B, 3 RBI; Conley 1B, RBI; Kieffer 2-1B. (HN) Fisher 2B, RBI.
records: Arcadia 14-8 overall, 8-1 Blanchard Valley Conference; Hardin Northern 12-6 overall, 7-2 Blanchard Valley Conference.