MASSILLON — Next stop: Akron.
On Saturday, the Columbia softball team did what no other Raiders team had done before — won a regional championship.
The Raiders (28-4) did it the same way they have been doing it all season, with solid pitching and timely hitting. Kaley Marshall’s leadoff double in the sixth inning sparked a two-run rally to push Columbia past LaBrae 3-2 in the Division III regional final at Massillon High School.
“I knew it was the sixth inning and we were running out of time to make something happen,” Marshall said. “I am really thankful for our coaches and all of the hard work they have done to make us better this season. I knew we had a good team this season, but I really never even thought about going to states at the start of the year.”
Marshall doubled to the deepest part of the field, her line drive bouncing off the base of the center-field fence. The next Columbia hitter, second basemen Emma Sullivan, also doubled, but in a much different fashion. Sullivan hit an opposite-field blooper down the right-field line that dropped among three Vikings and skipped into foul territory, allowing Marshall to score for a 2-1 lead.
“I don’t know where that hit came from,” Sullivan said. “It started out so bad but it ended up so great.”
Columbia scored another run in the sixth to take a 3-1 lead. Christine Lyzen tripled to score Sullivan.
LaBrae (18-9) wasn’t about to let its season end without a fight. Lauren Rutherford reached base to lead off the seventh on a Columbia throwing error, one of three Raiders errors on the day.
Then Danielle Miracle hit a two-out single to right field that rolled under the glove of right fielder Amanda Sedlock, allowing Rutherford to score and Miracle to advance to third.
Columbia sophomore pitcher Kailey Minarchick buckled down to strike out Somer McCoy on three pitches to end the game and begin the celebration.
When asked what her first thought was when the final out was recorded, Sullivan simply said, “Thank God.”
Meanwhile, Marshall was making plans for the postgame celebration.
“I wanted to run in as fast as I could, hug all of my teammates and just scream,” said Marshall, the center fielder. “It’s just a really great feeling right now.”
Minarchick had another big game, striking out four and holding the Vikings to three hits. She worked her way out of a bases-loaded jam in the third inning without allowing a run.
The Raiders will play the winner of the Dayton regional final between Columbus Bishop Ready and Clermont Northeastern at Firestone Stadium in Akron on Friday at 12:30 p.m. The Bishop Ready-Clermont Northeastern game was rained out Saturday and will be played today.
Columbia scored first in the third inning when Emily Viccarone scored from third on a throwing error. The Vikings answered in the fourth, tying the game as Skyler Gilanyi came home on a wild pitch.
“In the first inning I was super nervous, but the butterflies went away as we got into the game,” said Viccarone, who made a pair of outstanding plays at shortstop in the top of the sixth to keep the game tied. “I had so much faith in my teammates that I just knew we would get it done. We always come through when we need to.”
The eventual Division III state champion has come out of the Massillon regional three of the past four years — Youngstown Ursuline in 2009 and Champion in 2011-12.
“It was one of those games where everyone felt the pressure. All the girls felt it. I am sure the fans in the stands probably felt it, too,” Columbia coach Ken Lugo said. “I am so proud of all of these girls. They worked so hard to get here.
“Once we got into the season and started beating Division I teams I knew we had something special with this group.”
Contact Todd Shapiro at 329-7135 or email@example.com.