LAGRANGE — With a big fifth inning, Columbia turned a close game into a big win over Keystone on Tuesday for the first time in seven years.
The Raiders’ bat-around fifth produced four runs and a 6-2 victory in what was expected to be the Patriot Athletic Conference game of the season. Both teams are ranked fifth in the statewide coaches association poll this week, Columbia in Division III and Keystone in Division II.
Despite the outcome, both Columbia (22-4, 15-0 PAC) and Keystone (22-4, 13-2) are conference champions. Columbia rules the Stripes Division for the PAC’s smaller schools and the Wildcats are again champions of the Stars Division. The conference does not crown an overall softball champion.
“Since I’ve been with Columbia, this is the first time we’ve beaten Keystone in seven years,” said Ken Lugos, the Raiders longtime assistant who is in his first year as head coach. “It was a nice win for the girls. It made another goal for them this year. One of their goals was to win conference and another was to beat Keystone.”
As expected, the game was close with Columbia leading 2-1 through four innings. Then came the Raiders’ fifth.
Shortstop Emily Viccarone led off with a single to left. With one out, Emma Sullivan was hit by a pitch. Nicolette Kunath followed with a single to center, scoring Viccarone.
Sullivan scored when Crystal Fetchet reached on a fielder’s choice, and Kunath and Fetchet scored when Amanda Sedlock hit a two-run single to left field.
Sullivan, the only Columbia player with two hits, put the Raiders in charge with an RBI double to center field in the first inning that scored Kaley Marshall, who was on with a one-out single. Sullivan scored when Fetchet reached on a two-out infield error.
“This was a big game and I had been going through a rough spot with my hitting,” Sullivan said. “I knew I had to get ahead in the count and score her (Marshall) so we could get ahead in the game.”
Trailing 2-0, Keystone cut the lead in half in its first at-bat after shortstop Morgan McNulty reached on an infield single, then raced home when Nicole Neri reached on a fielder’s choice and the Columbia infield threw the ball away.
It was the Wildcats’ only run until the sixth. Jenny Schaffer led off with a single to right, moved to second on a groundout, then scored on Melissa Knepper’s single up the middle. Until then, Raiders pitcher Kailey Minarchick had held the Wildcats scoreless on three hits since the first inning.
She got good results with her inside fastball and nice movement on her curve.
“I wanted to come out strong because I know they’re a great team,” Minarchick said. “I had to be ready for them. I knew it was going to be a good game, but I don’t think I really expected this.”
A problem for the Wildcats was they couldn’t come up with key hits in key situations, leaving 10 runners on base, six in scoring position.
“They’re a good-hitting team and you have to give Columbia all the credit,” Wildcats coach Jim Piazza said. “They came ready to win. We played well for one inning, then kind of stepped down to the challenge. We kept fighting, but we left way too many runners on base. You can’t leave runners on base and expect to win.”
Contact Bob Daniels at 329-7135 or email@example.com.