CLAYSBURG - Kiersten Coho wasn't perfect, but she was more than good enough, and the Claysburg-Kimmel Lady Bulldogs are on their way to the PIAA Class A state softball playoffs again.
Coho gave up only two hits in pitching C-K to a 4-0 victory over West Branch in a District 6-A semifinal game Thursday afternoon.
Claysburg, the No. 2 seed, will face Southern Huntingdon, No. 5, next Wednesday at 5 p.m. at Penn State's Beard Field in a rematch of last year's 6-A final won by C-K. Southern knocked off top seed Conemaugh Valley, 14-2, Thursday.
Coho is the latest in a long line of outstanding softball pitchers at Claysburg, but it hasn't been an easy road for her. Far from it.
"When I was in second grade, my parents asked me if I wanted to continue gymnastics or learn how to pitch softball," Coho said. "I went for pitching lessons and it started from there."
Coho took some lessons in the area, but she sometimes traveled over two hours to learn from top instructors. Then an injury to her right shoulder almost ended her high school pitching career before it even started.
"I got hurt the summer before my sophomore year," she noted. "I was playing travel ball. At a big tournament in Salisbury, PA., - it was a three-day tournament - I pitched 64 innings the whole weekend. I got a big knot in the back of my shoulder."
After seeing a couple of doctors and receiving an MRI, Coho went through 22 weeks of physical therapy, sometimes as much as three or four times a week. At one point, she was told that if the therapy didn't work, she might have to face career-ending surgery.
"It paid off," she said, smiling. "I didn't have to have surgery."
Ronette Claar was still C-K's pitching ace so Coho didn't pitch as a sophomore, but she was a big contributor as the Bulldogs' first baseman. After Claar's graduation, Coho has become the team's ace hurler the past two seasons. She has a 14-2 record this year.
Thursday's win marked the third time C-K defeated West Branch this season, but Coho said the Bulldogs didn't take the Warriors lightly.
"I knew it would be difficult because we knew they'd be out to get us," she said. "My sophomore year, we beat Bellwood twice and played them for the districts. They were up for us and I figured this might be the same situation."
Coho and West Branch's Morgan Rackish matched zeroes for three innings before the Bulldogs broke through for three runs in the fourth. After Abby Kulick walked and Mallory Cox singled, Coho sacrificed them into scoring position. With two outs, Hannah Claycomb belted a 2-run double to left and scored on Kristina Wannyn's single for the 3-0 lead.
C-K added an insurance run in the sixth when Wannyn singled home Katelyn Gerheim, a courtesy runner following Coho's single.
Coho, who gave up a fifth-inning single to Jessica Milliron and a seventh-inning double to Rachel Myers, said a curve and screwball were her dominant pitches Thursday as she struck out four and didn't walk any.
Coho will attend Division I University of Hartford to study physical therapy. She also received offers from LSU and Texas A&M.
"Kiersten is solid," C-K coach Mike Barbarini said. "She's proved she's a Division I player. It makes it a little easier on us, but our defense played well today.
"It's tough to beat a team three times," Barbarini continued. "They're very-much improved since we played them the first two times. They were ready and their pitcher was tough.
"We had some clutch hits, though, when we needed them."
This is Barbarini's 14th season at C-K and the Bulldogs have advanced to state play eight times.
WEST BRANCH (0): Redmond cf 300, Rackish p 300, Myers 1b 301, McCracken ss 300, Croyle 2b 300, Milliron lf 201, Hahn dp 200, Bumbarger rf 000, Laterzo c 200, Zelenky 3b 200. Totals - 23-0-2.
CLAYSBURG-KIMMEL (4): ickes 2b 300, Kulick rf 211, Cox c 300, Walters cr 010, Coho p 201, Gerheim cr 010, Morgan 3b 301, Claycomb ss 312, Wannyn cf 302, Glass 1b 301, Dively lf 200. Totals - 24-4-9.
SCORE BY INNINGS
West Branch000 000 0-0 2 0
Claysburg-Kimmel000 301 X-4 9 0
2B-Claycomb. RBI-Claycomb 2, Wannyn 2.
West Bramch ................. IP H R ER SO BB
Rackash (L) ................... 6 9 4 4 5 1
Coho (W) ....................... 7 2 0 0 4 0
Records: West Branch (14-7); Claysburg-Kimmel (20-3).