Cardinals took their lumps, but champions they are

J. Patrick Eaken

Even though Cardinal Stritch softball shared a Toledo Area Athletic Conference championship last spring, they took their lumps. That was by design — scheduling strong programs.
        “The big wins were within the TAAC itself,” said coach Tony Esposito. “The idea of playing the other games, which I knew outside the TAAC we would have difficulty because there are not a whole lot of teams in Division IV that are close by that we can play against, so we played some of the Division II and Division I teams and we knew that would be a little tough. But at least it was one of those learning opportunities; I guess you could call them.
        “We played teams like Bowling Green and some other people, and they were not very good games, put it that way. They were five (innings) and out (due to mercy rule). But that was the idea — I would tell them between innings, don’t pay attention to the score, just continue to battle.
        “I have to say for the most part the last one we really got trounced against Bryan. We took a two hour trip to Bryan, complete with a traffic jam and when we got out there we got a five-inning spanking, as I would call it. But that was the idea — it was really our Toledo Christian and Northwood games that we were working for, so when we got there I think we were prepared to play.”
        Stritch finished the season 9-14 overall and 6-2 in the TAAC, but even the league wins did not come easy.
        “It was really good because those games were really close, within a run one way or another. We took Toledo Christian, but we had to go an extra inning. Having to deal with everything else, I think it all helped when we got down to it,” Esposito said. “We sat down and said, ‘What are our goals at the end of the season?’ and among our goals was actually 10 wins. I know we would have hit those 10 wins — there were four rainouts that we never got to play.”
        The cancellations because of rainy spring weather early in the season caused other issues. Once fields became playable, it was make-up time, and it meant games on a near daily basis.
        “We had so many games in a row for a team with only 12 players. We had 14, but two started playing other sports so they dropped, so we ended up with only 12,” Esposito said. “That’s kind of hard when you are playing 10 games in a row, but they did exceed my expectations from that standpoint.”
        The Cardinals were led by six players who received Alan Miller Jewelers All-Press honorable mention accolades. Five batted over .300.
        Junior shortstop Amber Daly batted .364 (21 for 66) with 18 runs, 21 RBIs, 10 stolen bases and a .970 fielding percentage. She finished second in voting for TAAC Player of the Year and is a first team all-league selection.
        “I had expectations that she knew what she could do, and it was nice because she was a team leader. She and (senior first baseman) Cora (Radtke) were the leaders, and no matter what, she never stopped playing until she got outside the gates,” Esposito said.
        Radtke batted .279 (19 for 68) with 15 runs, 14 RBIs, five SB and an .864 fielding percentage. Sophomore pitcher/catcher Allie St. Claire was also a first team all-league selection, batting .323 (21 for 65) with 22 runs, nine RBIs, seven SB and .864 fielding.
        “She was one of those pitchers, catchers, or outfielders, who played wherever we could put her. She smiled and said, ‘Yes Sir, Coach, I’ll do the best I can’ — that type of thing.”
        Junior second baseman/outfielder Hannah Crosley batted .382 (13 for 34) with seven runs, eight RBIs, six SB and .972 fielding. Senior outfielder Emily Naugle hit .309 (17 for 55) with 11 runs, 13 RBIs and two SB and sophomore pitcher Jocelyn Ahumada hit .305 (18 for 59) with 22 runs, nine RBIs and 12 SB.
        One item missing from those individual batting stats are home runs, which is what Gibsonburg coach Marty Brown stresses to his players, and it works. But the Golden Bears have had a perennial powerhouse program on a statewide level for decades, and it’s something Esposito can only strive for, right now.
        “We try to (stress home runs) when the player has the ability to do that,” Esposito said. “I know that his (Brown) girls come through a lot of travel leagues and they’ve been playing many years, and you’ve got to realize they’ve had that opportunity.
        “What we’re trying to teach, I think, with the 12 girls we have here, I’m still having three or four learning basic fundamentals, as opposed to the other ones are learning strategy or how to exceed their goals and it’s a very fine line they have to work with what we have. I know other teams do not have that issue — they can work on that. Even if you have two left feet, I can teach you to hit .300 if you can learn.”
        Ahumada, St. Claire and Emily Naugle covered the circle for Stritch, but Ahumada became the ace. She was 6-6 with 46 strikeouts, allowing 51 earned runs and 103 hits in 65 innings for a 5.49 ERA.
        “Jocelyn really came along. They (Ahumada and Nagule) both did really well, but once Jocelyn started rolling with that confidence thing, and once she realized what she could do that she really stepped up. In the games down the stretch, she was the one we were kind of leaning on a little more. But with our schedule we had to kind of balance it out because with nine games in a row, I didn’t want one person to pitch nine games in a row so I was switching back and forth between them, and I think they both did very, very well,” Esposito said.
        Helping him as an assistant is Stritch alumnus and his daughter Rachel Esposito, and Tony credits all of the players who have helped him coach for the past 15 years.


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