Despite LaBrae’s grit, Vikings fall in final

MASSILLON – Something as simple as a paper cut can cause a major inconvenience for the average person.

For an average catcher, a deep cut on the knees might mean a spot on the bench (or a stint on the 15-day disabled list).

But Laura Hall isn’t an average catcher.

The LaBrae senior, who has the outward appearance of a mini-Carrie Underwood, but the inner grit of Johnny Bench, injured her right knee while sliding against the backstop in the third inning of a Division III regional final at Massillon on Saturday.

“I was scared,” Hall said. “It was kind of ugly.”

Columbia Station scored its first run in Hall’s absence and added two in the sixth inning for a 3-2 win, ending the Vikings season at 18-9.

“They’re a determined bunch,” Raiders coach Joe Lugo said. “We got the key hits when we needed to and took advantage of all of our opportunities.”

Kasey Rininger, a freshman, took over behind the plate and had two errors in the third inning. It was her first time catching for LaBrae, though she is a staple at the position in summer travel ball.

“I think she was deer in the headlights for a little bit,” Vikings coach Demetra Noble said. “We had to get her settled down. She knows how to catch, it’s nothing new for her.”

In the fourth inning, to Noble’s surprise, Hall strapped on the gear, flipped on the mask and trotted through the dirt.

“I was shocked,” Noble said. “I thought she was done, so I was a little nerved up. She’s going to get X-rays and stitches.”

Added pitcher Emily Dugan, “Laura’s the strongest girl I know. I’m going to miss her the most. I’ve never met anyone like her and her integrity to play.”

Hall had a slight limp at the plate and let out a groan as she tried to lunge for a foul ball in the sixth inning, but she toughed it out.

“I knew I wasn’t going to be out; I couldn’t be out,” said Hall, who admits she’s been lucky with her only previous injuries being some back spasms. “I didn’t want to spend my last game on the bench.”

In the fourth inning, Dugan struck out the side with just 15 pitches.

“For her to get those three strikeouts and for me and me to get off my knees and back on the ice was awesome,” Hall said, laughing.

Dugan worked her riseball to record seven strikeouts. All but one of the outs until the sixth inning were either strikeouts or softly hit ground balls. Then, Kaley Marshall led off with a double, and she scored on Emma Sullivan’s bloop single to right field, breaking a 1-1 tie,

“We weren’t swinging at her high pitches anymore,” Sullivan, the Lorain County Player of the Year, said. “We kept swinging at what we could control and going the distance with what we were comfortable with. Christine Lisine added a triple in the inning and Amanda Sedlock was hit by a pitch.

“They’re a good hitting team and they figured out some things,” Noble said. “It came down to who was going to hit first.”

LaBrae did its best to start a rally in the seventh with Lauren Rutherford reaching base to leadoff. Danielle Miracle drilled a shot to right field with two outs that scored Rutherford. Senior Taylor Smith, who tore an MCL two weeks ago, pinch hit and struck out swinging for the second out.

“I wanted to get her a swing in her final game,” Noble said. “She deserves that. She played a heck of a right field for most of the year.”

Somer McCoy, the semifinals rally starter, struck out to end it the game. Still, the “LV Hitsquad” enjoyed the program’s best run since 2005.

“I’m proud that it was done with these girls,” Hall said. “I couldn’t be more proud of them.

“We’re good friends. We’re the LV Hitsquad. It doesn’t end here.”

Columbia Station (28-4) faces the Fairborn Region winner (Bishop Ready or Claremont Northeastern) in Akron in the state semifinals.