It’s only fitting that Columbia senior Emma Sullivan will end her high school career playing in the state tournament because for most of the past three seasons she has already been performing at a championship level.
Sullivan and the rest of the Raiders will take on Columbus Bishop Ready in the Division III state semifinals Friday at 12:30 p.m. at Akron’s Firestone Stadium.
A .429 career hitter who was just named to the second-team, Division III All-Ohio team, Sullivan said she never thought about getting the chance to play for a state championship.
“For the past three years, it was always district game and we’re done and district game and we’re done,” said Sullivan, who will be attending Baldwin Wallace University next year. “This season, Coach (Ken) Lugo didn’t really focus and put a lot of pressure on the district games. He was always like, ‘keep winning and make it to states.’ Before we always felt that pressure in the district tournament.”
The one place Sullivan never feels pressure is the batter’s box. In 88 at-bats this season, she has a .466 average and leads the Raiders in doubles (13), triples (8), RBIs (34), walks (15) and on-base percentage (.636)— all while only striking out four times.
“I think if I can get on base and make something happen it rubs off on some of the younger girls at the bottom of the order,” Sullivan said. “When they see myself, Nicolette (Kunath) and Christine (Lyzen) at the top of the order getting on base, it pushes them to work even harder so they will be able to do the same things we do by the time they are seniors.”
According to Sullivan, one of the biggest differences in this year’s Columbia team can’t be found in the team’s lineup, but instead in the person signing the lineup card – the first-year head coach Lugo.
“Coach Lugo really relates to teenage girls,” she said. “He really works well with all the girls on this team. Although he wasn’t the head coach, he’s been with us for a long time, so he knows how to get the best out of everyone.”
Sullivan has also done her share to get the best out of her teammates by doing what she does best, getting on base and putting pressure on opposing pitchers.
“Emma always seems to be on base and when you’re the cleanup up hitter you always want to come up with runners on base,” said Kunath, the Raiders’ right fielder, who leads Columbia with 13 home runs. “I’ve been lucky that pitchers are throwing me the pitches I want to hit. I am sure that always coming up with runners on base helps me out. I wasn’t intentionally walked all season until the district final game against Independence.”
Playing softball has been a way of life for Sullivan, who said her first memories of picking up a softball bat date back to when she was just three years old.
“All day, any time of year, any time I could get in a game, I always want to be on a softball field.” Sullivan said. “It’s feels awesome to know that it has all ended up with going to state with my high school team. I am so excited right now but at the same time it doesn’t even feel real and I don’t think it will until we get on the field on Friday.”
Lugo was a fan of Sullivan’s before she ever put on a Columbia uniform.
“I remember seeing her playing travel ball and thinking that’s the kind of player you hope you can get on your high school team,” Lugo said. “Emma is so mechanically sound as a hitter that it makes her easy to coach. If I find a minor flaw in her swing, all I have to do is tell her about it once and she will correct it.”
Sullivan earned first-team, All-Patriot Athletic Conference honors as a freshman and made the first-team in the next two seasons. She has also made multiple all-county and all-district teams.
“It helps to be behind Emma in the batting order,” Lyzen said. “As a batter you are always more focused with runners on base and with our lineup this year it seems like there are always runners on when I get up.”
Although it’s Columbia’s first trip to the state tournament, Sullivan has a little bit of experience in tough situations. Four years ago she played on the MC Madness U-14 team that won the national championship in their age division.
“That was crazy like, ‘Did we really just do that?’” Sullivan said. “We lost the first game and we had to win nine in a row to win the tournament. I never thought I’d have an opportunity like that again. I remember how much fun it was to be the last team standing that day. I hope on Saturday we’re going to be the last team standing.”
Contact Todd Shapiro at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.