SLIPPERY ROCK - Claysburg-Kimmel pitcher Kiersten Coho and left fielder Mercedeze LeMaster both missed games late in the season.
Coho rested her valuable pitching arm, and LeMaster was recovering from a thumb injury that put her on the shelf for, by her estimation, three or four games. Both seniors are proving that the rest was well worth missing the time.
LeMaster went 2-for-3 in an 11-hit attack, and her fourth-inning single to center gave C-K the lead, while Coho tossed a two-hitter and retired the last 16 batters she faced to lead the Lady Bulldogs to a 6-1 win over Iroquois in the PIAA Class A quarterfinals on Thursday at Slippery Rock University.
"It feels pretty amazing," LeMaster said. "I was just really relaxed and focused on the ball. I'm usually really tense, but I was relaxed because I knew I had to hit for us to score runs. At first, it was hard to get back into it (after the injury), but now that I'm back into it, I think I'll be good."
"I think the first couple innings were kind of a warmup," she said, "because I was warming up (before the game) and then we did our infield, and I got a little cold. After the first two innings, I got warmed back up and all of my pitches started coming back."
The win advanced C-K (21-4) into the state semifinals for the second time in the last three years. The Lady Bulldogs will tangle with Neshannock (18-2), a 6-1 winner over Burgettstown, on Monday at a site and time to be determined. Neshannock has played in two straight state title games, winning in 2012.
The Lady Braves (14-7) did all their damage against Coho in the first two innings. Leadoff hitter Emily Martin worked the only walk Coho yielded, stole second and scored when cleanup hitter Ali Kaliewski laced a double to center field.
Iroquois put two more runners on in the second. Claire Buzzard reached on a one-out catcher's interference, and Lena Donnelly's sharp two-out single to left field was the Lady Braves' last hit.
After that, Coho, who struck out five and threw 60 of her 93 pitches for strikes, induced nine ground ball outs, four pop-ups and three strikeouts in the run.
"I think she was a little stunned at the beginning of the game," Iroquois coach Julie Parker said. "She just kept getting stronger and stronger and stronger. I don't know if she was spinning it and changing speeds, but we couldn't get on it."
Iroquois pitcher Rachel Prather had a one-hitter going into the fourth, but that unraveled in the fourth. Abby Kulick, who went 3-for-4, led off with a single to left, and Coho followed later with a one-out single to left.
"We were hitting her, but we weren't getting good swings against her," C-K coach Mike Barbarini said. "We were swinging at pitches out of the strike zone, and I told them as soon as we start swinging at pitches that were down in the strike zone, we would start hitting her."
Keyara Morgan chased Kulick home for the first run with another single to left. With two outs, LeMaster, who singled in the third, laced a Prather offering up the middle to plate Coho.
"She's been solid all season, but she really has improved since the beginning of the season," Coho said of LeMaster.
"She jump-started us the last game too (an 8-2 win over DuBois Central Catholic)," Barbarini said. "She had a hit to get us going when we were tied."
C-K scored four more runs in the sixth. Morgan led off with a double to right-center, and Hannah Claycomb's single scored Morgan.
After Whitney Helsel's two-out walk put runners on first and second, leadoff hitter Madison Ickes plated Christina Wannyn with a single to right. Kulick's infield hit and a throwing error on the play scored two more runs, making the score 6-1.
"I think we all were just more relaxed," LeMaster said. "Once everyone started hitting, we all got on a roll."
Coho finished off her gem by getting two ground ball outs and inducing Buzzard to pop up to shortstop Claycomb for the final out.
The Lady Bulldogs can now turn their attention to Neshannock, which eliminated C-K in the state quarterfinals last season.
"We're going to be up for them," Coho said, "and I know they're going to be up for us."
IROQUOIS (1): Martin cf 210, Hess 2b 300, Prather p 300, Kaliewski c 301, Ashley ss 300, Canavan lf 300, Buzzard 1b 200, Hime dp 200, Donnelly rf 201, Haight 3b 000. Totals - 23-1-2.
CLAYSBURG-KIMMEL (6): Ickes 2b 411, Kulick rf 413, Cox c 400, Gerheim cr 000, Coho p 411, Morgan 3b 312, Claycomb ss 301, LeMaster lf 302, Walter pr 000, Wannyn cf 310, Helsel dp 211, Glass 1b 000. Totals - 30-6-11.
SCORE BY INNINGS
Iroquois100 000 0-1 2 1
Claysburg-Kimmel000 204 X-6 11 1
E-Hess, Cox (catcher's interference). 2B-Kaliewski, Morgan. RBI-Kaliewski; Ickes, Kulick, Morgan, Claycomb, LeMaster. SB-Martin. LOB-Iroquois 3, Claysburg-Kimmel 7.
Iroquois: Prather (L)-6 IP, 11 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 1 BB, 5 SO.
Claysburg-Kimmel: Coho (W)-7 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 SO.
Records: Iroquois (14-7); Claysburg-Kimmel (21-4).