End of the road for Major’s Eagles

Columbia head coach Rhonda Major (right) won 248 games in nine seasons with the Eagles. (Corey Saathoff photo)

It just wasn’t supposed to end this way.

The Columbia High School softball team brought its high-flying offense and 32 victories into last Tuesday’s Class 3A Centralia Sectional contest against the host squad following a thrilling regional title victory just days prior.

The Eagles jumped out to a first inning lead, but were unable to rally late in a 5-4 season-ending loss to Centralia.

Columbia had defeated Centralia, 9-5, earlier this season.

Lexi Touchette homered and Kylie Cleveland smacked an RBI double to give the Eagles a 2-0 lead in the first inning. But Centralia homered to tie the game in the second and took the lead for good in the third.

Chelsy Pena’s solo homer in the fifth cut into Centralia’s lead, and Columbia threatened with runners on in the seventh but just could not push the tying run across.

“(It) was an extremely tough way for this extremely talented group to end a phenomenal season,” Columbia head coach Rhonda Major said. “We battled ’til the end and I am proud of the girls for that.”

The Eagles won 26 games to start the season, which set a school record. Their 32 wins is second only to Major’s 2014 squad that went 34-3.

Three seniors – Keeler van Breusegen, Calli Wibbenmeyer and Pena – will be playing college softball next season.

Aryn Henke, a sophomore, led the Eagles in hitting at .475 with a .552 on base percentage, 43 RBIs and 17 stolen bases. She was followed by Touchette, who hit .464 with a .539 on base percentage and eight home runs, and van Breusegen (.461, 16 doubles, 45 runs, 18 stolen bases). She collected a hit in 32 straight games.

Pena hit .458 with a .515 on base percentage, nine home runs, 46 RBIs and 46 runs.

Wibbenmeyer hit .402 with nine home runs, 39 RBIs and 39 runs.

Cleveland, a freshman, hit .383 with 31 RBIs.

Kaelyn Rheinecker, a junior, posted a record of 20-2 in the pitching circle with a 1.84 ERA and 196 strikeouts in 144.3 innings. She also hit .364. 

Mikaela Kossina, a junior, went 12-0 with a 3.72 ERA as a pitcher and hit .390.

The loss marked the final game with Major at the helm for Columbia. She accepted a teaching position in Waterloo for the upcoming school year. In nine years, Major’s teams won 248 games with five regional titles and one sectional crown.

“When I told them back in April this would be my last season coaching, they all were determined and said they were going to fight ’til the end for me and this team and they definitely did that,” Major said. “Their future for next season is extremely bright and I believe they will do great things.”

Major said she will cherish all the memories she has shared with players and their families over the years.

“The last nine years of coaching these girls and the relationships I have built with the girls and their families will by far be some of the absolute best memories I will cherish forever,” she said. “I have been so fortunate to work with such outstanding, dedicated and hard-working young ladies.”  

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Corey Saathoff

Corey is the editor of the Republic-Times. He has worked at the newspaper since 2004, and currently resides in Columbia. He is also the principal singer-songwriter and plays guitar in St. Louis area country-rock band The Trophy Mules.
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