November 28, 2014

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High school softball: Nicolette Kunath’s big day at the plate keeps Columbia rolling right into regional finals

MASSILLON — If Nicolette Kunath is running for office back in Columbia Township today, she’s got a lock on it.

She’s probably not, but that makes her no less popular on the home front.

In her first two at-bats in Columbia High’s first regional appearance in 21 years, Kunath faced an even dozen pitches and produced five RBIs.

That was the core of the offense — the Nicolette Kunath Show — in the Raiders’ 5-3 victory over tradition-rich Loudonville in a Division III semifinal at Washington High School.

More photos below.

The Raiders (27-4) advance to the regional final at noon Saturday on the same diamond. With a Final Four spot hanging in the balance, the opponent will be either Youngstown Ursuline (20-9) or Leavittsburg LaBrae (17-8-1).

They meet at 5 p.m. today, also in Massillon.

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Kunath drilled a two-run, one-out single on the ninth pitch she faced in the first inning. Seniors Kaley Marshall and Emma Sullivan scored and Columbia was apparently off to the races. But Loudonville (22-9) tied it with a pair of runs — one unearned — in the home half of the inning.

Suddenly, the outcome was in doubt.

But Kunath ended the suspense quickly when she went to bat in the third.

Again there was one out and Marshall and Sullivan were at first and second after singles. Kunath liked the third pitch the Red Birds’ Haylie Hurst threw and jacked it over the left-field fence for a three-run homer.

The Raiders were in business.

“It was fast and right down the middle,” Kunath said of the pitch she deposited beyond the fence, 195 feet from home plate for her 10th home run of the season.

But five RBIs in her first two at-bats? Had she done that before?

“Not that I know of,” Kunath said. “It was a pretty nice day.”

The Raiders also got 2-for-3 production from Sullivan and senior catcher Christine Lyzen.

“I don’t have to worry about getting myself ready for a game like this. I’m more focused on the younger girls,” said Sullivan, whose .451 batting average leads the team. “Like Kailey (pitcher Minarchick), she’s only a sophomore and she’s my main priority right now. If Kailey’s not on, then none of us are on.”

The versatile Lyzen is also a pitcher. In fact, she was No. 1 in the circle until she suffered a shoulder problem. But Minarchick has taken over and on Wednesday improved to 12-2.

“I felt a little pressure in the seventh inning, but I wasn’t worried,” Minarchick said. “I felt strong and I knew my defense was there. They were great the whole game and I knew they’d be there for me.”

Loudonville, which has won three state championships and been runner-up twice, scored its third run in the seventh with a one-out bunt and two fielder’s choices after two were out. Minarchick ended it with her seventh strikeout.

“I’m real happy,” Raiders coach Ken Lugo said. “The girls came to play and they hit the ball well. All I asked them all week was, ‘Please hit the ball.’ It was nice to see them come back, like they have all season, just hitting the ball. It’s been great. It’s nice to see them hit again.”

Contact Bob Daniels at 329-7135 or softball@bobdaniels.info.