Pitching carries West Branch to first state tournament
Warriors duo of Coffelt, Byers
secures first state title berth
By BOB ETTINGER
West Branch pitchers Kylie Coffelt and Kelsey Byers work very well as a 1-2 punch in the pitching circle. Each knows the other will perform well. That doesn’t mean the dynamic duo would have predicted a combined 17-strikeout, three-hit performance in a 7-1 victory over Peninsula Woodridge in a Division II regional championship game at Firestone Stadium on Saturday.
“Probably not,” Byers said. “I mean, I would’ve believed you [if you told me that would happen], but it would be hard. I believe in our preparation and that we were ready for the situation.”
The Warriors will be appearing in the Division II Final Four for the first time in program history. Previously, they had made regional appearances in 1997, 2004 and 2011, winning just once (a regional semifinal in ’97) in those three trips.
“This is what they’ve worked for from Day 1,” West Branch coach Sis Woods said. “I’m so happy for the girls. They’ve worked so hard to get here. It’s a true team atmosphere here. They’ve just worked so hard. This was something they believed in. They believed in the team and they believed in each other. That’s what it comes down to.”
West Branch (26-3) will battle Plain City Jonathan Alder in a state semifinal at Firestone Stadium on Thursday at 10 a.m. In the other semifinal, LaGrange Keystone will play Lancaster Fairfield Union. The state championship game will be Saturday at 10 a.m.
“We just have to play our game,” Coffelt said. “If we bring our pitching, our fielding and our hitting, nobody can beat us.”
Coffelt started and worked the first four innings in the circle. She allowed an earned run on two hits in striking out eight, walking a pair and hitting a batter.
“I just trusted my defense,” Coffelt said. “I know they have my back. I throw my pitches and trust in my ability to do what I’ve done since I was 9.”
Byers entered with one on in the fifth and struck out nine of the 10 batters she faced, allowing just a lead-off double in the seventh.
“I was very ready (to be summoned to the circle),” Byers said. “Kylie and I are ready to go in for each other no matter what the situation is. Stuff happens. We were just trying to keep them on edge. We didn’t throw a lot of the same pitchers to hitters twice. We wanted to keep them on edge. That’s really what we were trying to do.”
West Branch made a habit of playing from in its first three tournament games, but took an early 3-0 lead this time around.
“It was really nice (to play with a lead for once),” Woods said. “But it was still nerve-wracking. It was nice to get a lead and keep adding to it. We were behind in the last three tournament games. It was great to be able to jump out and get a lead. And we kept adding to it. We didn’t get the three runs and sit on them.”
After Destany Blake worked a two-out walk and Riley Mesler was hit by a pitch in the home half of the second. Hanna Sprague blooped a single down the right-field line scoring Blake for a 1-0 Warriors’ advantage. Jordan Anderson drove a ball to the base of the fence in left-center plating Mesler and Sprague for the 3-0 lead.
“I was look inside and work my way outside,” Anderson said. “The inside pitch is the primary pitch I hit. I got a piece of it and drove it like I can.”
Coffelt drew a lead-off walk in the third and her curtesy runner, Kenzie Erb, scored on a sacrifice fly from Peyton Alazaus for a 4-0 West Branch lead.
Coffelt issued a lead-off walk to Sydney Shaheen in the fourth, fired a wild pitch and allowed a single to Caitlin Raid leading to the lone run for Woodridge (15-11).
The Warriors all but sealed the victory with three runs in the fifth. Delaney Rito got it going with a one-out single and scored on a single by Blake. Blake scored on a single from Mesler and Mesler scored when Sprague’s scorcher made its way through the legs of the Woodridge shortstop and was cut off by an outfielder in deep left-center.