The Columbia High School softball team is this week’s Republic-Times Team of the Week.
The Eagles reached the 30-win mark this past weekend at the Columbia Regionals, improving their season to 30-5 with a regional title win over Waterloo, 4-3.
CHS will now face Carbondale in the Salem Sectional semifinals Wednesday, in a game that was originally scheduled for Tuesday.
Below is a sneak peak of this week’s article featuring Columbia’s regional run:
Columbia takes regional title in thriller over rival Waterloo
In one of the most exciting games of the entire Columbia Regionals, the Waterloo Bulldogs (16-13) and Columbia Eagles (30-5) softball teams served up a thrilling battle for their fans on a beautiful Friday evening.
In a game that was decided by just one run, Waterloo left three runners stranded with the bases loaded in the top of the first inning in the Columbia Regional final contest. It was a pitchers’ duel with Columbia’s Brianna Weilbacher walking three WHS batters to start the game off, hitting one.
“We didn’t capitalize in the first inning,” WHS softball coach Sarah Renner said after the game. “But our goal was to put pressure on them and every inning we did that and it really worked to our advantage.”CHS catcher Taryn Pena steps up to the plate while WHS third baseman Annie Crouch gets ready, right before her double to put the Eagles on the board in the second inning.
With no score after the first inning for both teams, Columbia catcher Taryn Pena, who leads the team at the plate with a batting average of .604, got the bats going and notched her, 17th double of the season,off Waterloo’s Tiffany Harbison, who was pitching with a sore arm that had been bothering her since the latter part of the season.
“Tiffany is a good pitcher and I knew she had a good rise ball coming in, so I was just watching for that,” Pena explained.
After the double, Pena stole third and was driven in by Weilbacher on a sacrifice fly to center field, putting the Eagles on top 1-0 after two.
Senior Savannah Wittenbrink kept it going for CHS the following inning, knocking one out of the park and increasing the Eagles’ lead to 2-0.
WHS came out on a mission in the top of the fourth inning. Harbison walked, then Weilbacher hit her second batter of the day. After a missed pop fly behind third base, Taylor Krekorian grounded to the shortstop but was safe on a wild throw to first base, scoring Waterloo’s first runner of the game. With the bases loaded and Waterloo inching closer, senior Bryce Latchem blasted a single to center, scoring two more runs for WHS. The Bulldogs pulled ahead in the fourth, 3-2.
“I had a feeling (they would give us a close game),” CHS softball coach Rhonda Major said. “At this point in the season everyone is playing to win and Waterloo is a good team.”
But Columbia would go on to prove their top-seed status in the bottom of the fifth inning, putting pressure on Waterloo and causing a few bloopers in the field.
Krekorian started the inning off with an impressive catch in left field to support her pitcher, but it was followed by a pop fly that went through shortstop Latchem’s glove due to bad communication in the outfield behind third base.
“Columbia is a hard-hitting team, so that makes a difference,” Renner said of her team’s mistakes on defense. “There were a lot of plays that were hit hard and we kept it in front.”
Eagles slugger Pena knocked her second double of the day in the following CHS at-bat, tying the game, 3-3.
“(Pena) comes through at big times for us,” Major said of her sophomore catcher. “She has been disciplined up at the plate and seems to get the job done for us.”
After a good scoop by Latchem to bounce back from the dropped pop fly just plays earlier, sophomore Caitlyn Touchette produced another CHS double, scoring Pena and taking back the lead, 4-3, with two outs.
“I think something our team is good at is putting our hits together and staying focused, not letting us being down by a run get us down,” Pena explained of her team’s offense. “We stay up and keep going.”
That would seal the deal for the Eagles, who would go on to with the regional title, 4-3.
“We had our ups and downs but I definitely think it made it us tougher and stronger, especially in situations like this,” Renner said, reflecting on the Bulldogs’ season. “We can handle that pressure. They are a talented group of seven seniors that have a lot of experience. They left it all on the field and they really set the bar high for our program.”
Columbia advanced to the Salem Sectionals and faced Carbondale on Tuesday. The results were not available by press time but can be found at RepublicTimes.net/Sports.
“(We are) staying focused on one game at a time and doing the little things as a team,” Major said of her team’s strategy moving forward. “Like I’ve said before, this is a really talented group, a special group. We’ve had a lot of success with them and I’m confident they’ve got the drive.”