By DANA SULONEN
Tribune Chronicle Sports Editor
MASSILLON - LaBrae coach Demetra Noble couldn't ask much more from pitcher Emily Dugan during the Vikings' Division III regional semifinal game against Akron Manchester on Wednesday at Massillon High School.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
LaBrae’s Kasey Rininger walks off the field after the Vikings’ 4-1 loss to Akron Manchester in a Division III regional semifinal Wednesday.
Dugan struck out 10 batters, walked two and scattered three hits over seven innings. Unfortunately for her and the Vikings, two of those hits were home runs by Manchester's Emily Kusmits to right field - and they were the difference in the game as the Panthers defeated LaBrae, 4-1, to advance to the Division III regional final.
"I think she did well, I don't think it was top notch, but she did well," Noble said of her pitcher's performance. "She did what she needed to do. That was a good hitting team and I knew that's what we were going to be up against."
Not only was Kusmits responsible for the two home runs, she was the only Manchester player to get a hit. She also had a single in the first inning.
Her first blast came in the third inning. The Panthers (19-8) scored three batters earlier as Haylee Zwick came in after she walked, advanced on two passed and balls then scored on a wild pitch. Dugan retired the next two batters before Kusmits stepped to the plate. With a full count, the sophomore lifted a shot over the head of LaBrae right fielder Amber Davidson to give the Panthers the 2-0 lead.
Kusmits' second home run came in the fifth and landed in nearly the same spot over the right-field fence, this time with one runner on base. That gave the Panthers all the runs they needed to advance to Saturday's final against the winner of South Range and Independence.
"Wins are always good," Manchester coach Jim Morehart said. "When you get this far every team is good. I have respect for LaBrae and the other teams we have beat. That was a good softball team, they played well. We just got a couple of the big hits and they didn't."
The only run the Vikings were able to generate came in the bottom of the third. Haley Davies began the inning with a walk, then advanced to third after a single by Danielle Miracle and a groundout by Somer McCoy. Lauren Rutherford then laid down a sacrifice bunt to bring Davies home. After that, LaBrae only had two base runners the rest of the game.
LaBrae finished the game with four hits, two coming from Davidson. But it wasn't that the Vikings weren't making contact - they only had two strikeouts but hit into 12 groundouts.
"We hit the ball hard, we only had two strikeouts - they just made some really good defensive plays on us," Noble said. "They are a good team with a good pitcher. We roped the ball pretty good at times, they just made good plays on us. They are a good team."
This was the second straight year LaBrae advanced to the regional tournament, and while the team graduates eight seniors, Noble hopes the Vikings' quest for a state tournament berth doesn't end at two.
"I'm proud of them, it was a phenomenal season," Noble said. "How many teams get to go to regionals twice in two years? Not many. It's a great experience for the girls, the parents, the school... I hope to continue to the trend. It just wasn't meant to be today."