STRATTANVILLE - It was a subtle adjustment, really one that the players themselves made, that led Claysburg-Kimmel to an 8-2 win over DuBois Central Catholic in the opening round of the PIAA Class A softball playoffs Monday.
Going into the sixth inning at Clarion-Limestone High School, the Lady Bulldogs, the District 6 runner-up, were deadlocked with District 9 champion DCC at 2-2, and Lady Cardinals freshman ace Riley Assalone had retired six in a row and seven of the past eight Claysburg-Kimmel hitters.
But in the sixth, Claysburg-Kimmel's batters got aggressive swinging at first pitches from Assalone and strung together three straight hits leading off the inning and five hits in all in the frame while taking control of the game by scoring four runs.
"That's something [our players] did," Claysburg-Kimmel coach Mike Barbarini said. "I didn't stress going after that first pitch. All I stressed was see a pitch that is in your zone and go with it. It was getting later in the game. She had thrown a lot of pitches. She must have been coming into their zone, because we were hitting the ball harder."
Kiersten Coho, who was 3-for-4 in the contest with two runs scored and an RBI while also throwing another gem in the circle, got the rally started with a drive to deep center that went for a double.
Keyara Morgan followed with a single to left to put runners on first and third, and Hannah Claycomb broke the tie with an RBI double to left. A run-scoring groundout by Mercedeze LeMaster made it 4-2, and two more runs were added when Claycomb scored on an error, and Christina Wannyn came home on a Madison Ickes single to left.
That was more than enough support for Coho, who allowed two runs, both unearned, in the first inning - a pair of Coho errors resulted in the tallies. Coho struck out four while giving up four hits and hitting a batter. She retired eight in a row at one point.
"She is the engine that makes us run," Barbarini said. "When she is on, she can control a game with her pitching. She made a couple of mistakes, but we had enough offense today to overcome those mistakes."
Coho's best pitching may have come in the third inning when she worked her way out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam while facing the heart of the DCC lineup with the game tied at two.
After giving up a leadoff triple to Jordy Frank, a fielder's choice to Macey Hanes with everyone safe and hitting Kylee Schaffer, Coho got cleanup hitter Kayla Bittner to pop out to second before inducing a fly ball to right-center by Assalone that turned into a double play when rightfielder Abby Kulick threw a bullet to the plate nailing Frank, who was trying to score.
"That was very key," Barbarini said. "If they go up a run or two that puts the pressure on us. They can relax, and maybe they don't make the mistakes they made late in the game."
Barbarini credited Coho and her defenders for getting the Lady Bulldogs out of the jam.
"Kiersten seems to get herself into trouble, and she knows she can work her way out of it by striking some girls out," Barbarini said. "She jammed a girl and got her to pop it up and then we got that nice catch out there by Abby and the nice throw home and a nice tag by our catcher [Mallory Cox]. Everything just happened. They are good players and they are expected to play that way. They came through there."
Coho gave the Lady Bulldogs a 1-0 lead in the first when she singled home Kulick, who had doubled.
DCC answered back with a two-run single from Assalone in the bottom of the first to take a 2-1 lead.
That lead was short-lived, as LeMaster drew a one-out walk in the second and scored when Wannyn hit a ball to shortstop that should have been an out at second but instead resulted in an error followed by DCC throwing the ball around the infield as LeMaster came all the way around from first to score.
The Lady Bulldogs, who play Iroquois on Thursday, then followed up the four-run sixth by adding a pair of insurance runs in the seventh on a sacrifice fly by Claycomb - she was safe on the play when Haynes dropped the ball in left - and an error by Assalone on a comebacker by Wannyn.
"I am happy with the way we responded from losing the District championship game," Barbarini said. "It's always hard to lose a game, especially late like that. But I told the girls our goal was to get to the state playoffs, and now we are here. Now we make our hay here. This is our path ... We can go from here and take advantage of our path now."
CLAYSBURG-KIMMEL (8): Ickes 2b 403, Kulick rf 412, Cox c 400, Coho p 423, Morgan 3b 411, Claycomb ss 322, LeMaster lf 310, Wannyn cf 410, Helsel dp 401, Glass 1b 000. Totals 34-8-12.
DuBOIS CENTRAL CATHOLIC (2): Frank c 401, Hanes lf 310, Schaffer ss 211, Bittner 3b 301, Assalone p 301, McNally dp 300, Liddle 1b 300, Maurer cf 300, Clyde 2b 300, Gillespie rf 000. Totals 27-2-4.
SCORE BY INNINGS
Claysburg-Kimmel110 004 2 8 12 2
DuBois C. Catholic200 000 0 2 4 6
E-Coho 2, Bittner 2, Maurer, Schaffer, Hanes, Assalone. 2B-Kulick 2, Coho 2, Claycomb. 3B-Frank. RBI-Claycomb 2, Ickes, Cox, LeMaster, Assalone 2. WP-Coho. LP-Assalone. SO-Coho 4, Assalone 4. BB-Assalone 1.
Record: Claysburg-Kimmel (21-4). DuBois Central Catholic (18-3).