Claysburg-Kimmel places its trust in Coho

CLAYSBURG – The Minersville softball team’s offensive statistics are hard to overlook. Consider what Miners’ lineup has done this year:

n All of the Minersville batters are hitting .341 or higher.

n The 23-3 Miners have scored in double figures in 15 of their 26 games and six of their last seven, outscoring their three state opponents, 35-6.

n Freshman No. 2 hitter Adrienne Kroznuskie has hit nine home runs.

It will be the job of Claysburg-Kimmel pitcher Kiersten Coho and her defense to keep the Miners in check as the Lady Bulldogs play in their first PIAA Class A championship at 3 p.m. Friday at Penn State’s Beard Field at Nittany Lion Softball Park.

Coho has done a very good job doing that against some of the best lineups District 6 and C-K’s side of the state bracket. She’ll take a 19-3 record, a 1.68 earned run average and 176 strikeouts and 25 walks in 129 innings into the title game.

There’s a warm, comfortable feeling you have when you have a shut-down pitcher going against an explosive offense.

“I’m really comfortable with her,” C-K coach Mike Barbarini said, “because she’s done it all year to good teams. She shut them down. Our defense has played behind her against good teams and I’m sure will show up on Friday.”

“I’m not familiar with the teams that they’ve played,” senior right fielder Abby Kulick said. “They might not have seen a pitcher as good as Kiersten, so we’ll see.”

Coho, who struck out five, walked one and yielded six hits to go with her two-run eighth-inning double in a 5-4 win over 2012 state champ and 2013 runner-up Neshannock in the semifinals on Monday, sees facing a strong lineup as a challenge she likes to face.

“The first couple innings we try to figure out what they’re hitting and what they’re not hitting,” Coho said, “and then just take it from there for the next couple innings.”

A two-year starter as C-K’s pitcher who had to change her pitching style due to a shoulder injury she sustained playing in the summer after her freshman season, Coho is happy with how far she’s come.

“I think I’ve progressed a lot since last year,” Coho said. “I think I’ve got my pitches down and more secure than last year. Last year was like a new experience for me. I was anxious. This year, I’m more relaxed.”

“She’s improved a lot,” Barbarini said. “She learned a new pitching style because she hurt her shoulder. Just physically, she’s gotten bigger and stronger over the last couple years, can throw harder and has more command of her pitches

“She’s gotten a lot stronger,” senior catcher Mallory Cox said. “Her mindset is definitely in the right spot. She’s more driven and ambitious, and she really wants it.”

Coho says she’s been clocked at 66 miles per hour in the past, but Barbarini says she averages between 60 and 63.

Coho had to follow in the footsteps of one of the area’s best and hardest throwing pitchers in Ronette Claar. Coho said she learned to stay relaxed as she played with Claar.

“She’s matured so much over the years,” senior second baseman Madison Ickes said. “She had Ronette to look up to, and then she filled her shoes completely.”

“Ronette had the mentality that she was going to throw it by you,” Barbarini said. “Kiersten is more of a finesse pitcher. I’m going to put it where you’re not going to hit me hard.

“She has come so far,” Kulick said. “It’s honestly amazing. And being there as a teammate the past four years since we both moved up to the varsity, and watching her grow as a player and a person, has just been a great experience.”

Coho and Cox have formed a formidable 1-2 punch as the pitcher and catcher. Coho credits Cox for finding the right pitch selection when she needs it.

“I think it’s very important, especially with the pitcher and catcher,” Coho said. “If she knows that I have a pitch that isn’t working well, she knows an alternative pitch that I can go to, and we both agree on that pitch.”

Coho is a co-captain, along with Cox and junior shortstop Hannah Claycomb. In the last couple games, she’s openly encouraged, coached and congratulated her teammates.

“She is a very good leader,” Kulick said. “If she gets going, we all get going. It’s contagious. If she’s pitching well, we’re doing well. Honestly, I look up to that girl. She is probably the most determined, hard-working girl I know. I’m so glad I can call her my teammate.”

Despite the injury she sustained playing during the summer, Coho still plays on a summer traveling team called the Razorbacks, which is based out of Bellwood. That has allowed her to hone her skills and gain valuable experience.

“I think if it wasn’t for summer ball I would not be as far as I am,” she said. “Summer ball has helped a lot, especially with the experience.”

Coho will continue her pitching career at the University of Hartford, where. she’ll likely major in physical therapy. She’s not sure if she’ll redshirt her freshman season, but she’s looking forward to college.

“I’m very excited,” Coho said. “I just closed my high school chapter with graduation. I’ll have a brand new chapter opening up when I go to college.”

But, first things first. She wants to help deliver C-K’s first state title. Don’t expect her, however, to lose any sleep over the game or the Minersville lineup.

“Not really, until my dog starts barking and wakes me up, and I have to get him to quiet down,” she said with a laugh. “Other than that, I’ve been sleeping pretty well.”