Columbia's big bats come through in regional championship victory over Waterloo

News-DemocratMay 25, 2013 

— Down by a run in the fourth inning Friday, the Columbia Eagles knew there was plenty of time for a comeback.

The Eagles turned a 3-2 deficit into a 4-3 Class 3A Columbia Regional championship victory over Waterloo on RBI doubles by Taryn Pena and Caitlyn Touchette.

"We've just got to push through," said Pena, a sophomore catcher whose offensive numbers include a .610 average, 18 doubles, eight homers and 50 RBIs. "It's putting our hits tougher and staying focused, not letting being down by a run get us down. We stay up and we keep going."

Columbia (29-5) advances to the Salem Sectional and will play either Carbondale or Herrin at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Columbia pitcher Brianna Weilbacher (16-3) allowed just two hits, but ran into trouble in the fourth inning. A leadoff walk and hitting a batter with a pitch preceded two Columbia errors and a two-run single by Waterloo's Bryce Latchem.

The Bulldogs (16-13) had a 3-2 lead and began entertaining thoughts of an upset against the same team that had beaten them 7-0 earlier this spring on a one-hitter.

"We executed our game plan, it was to put pressure on them and put the ball in play," Waterloo coach Sara Renner said. "They're a good team and they're not used to that pressure, I think we accomplished that. We just tried to put people in scoring position and make something happen."

The strategy worked, but Columbia's lineup was too strong to let a one-run deficit get in the way.

The Eagles left the bases loaded in the fourth, but scored twice in the fifth on RBI doubles by Pena and Touchette. A Waterloo error on a dropped fly ball also aided the uprising.

Weilbacher allowed just one hit the rest of the way, retiring Tiffany Harbison on a grounder back to the mound with two on and two outs to close out the victory.

Columbia coach Rhonda Major said it was important her team didn't dwell on Waterloo's three-run fourth inning.

"I felt that we stayed mentally tough and I was obviously happy to see that," Major said. "They played together as a team and stayed focused, didn't let those things frazzle them. They played through it and got the job done."

Harbison (8-6) pitched out of some tough spots for the Bulldogs.

"Tiffany's been pitching with a pulled muscle in her arm, so for not being 100 percent she gave it all she had," said Renner, who is losing seven senior starters including several headed for college ball. "They set the bar high for this program and I hope we can keep achieving that with the younger classes."

Harbison allowed a run in the second on Pena's double and Weilbacher's sacrifice fly and another in the third when Columbia's Savannah Wittenbrink connected for her fourth homer this season.

Columbia has 28 home runs in 34 games, including eight by Pena and six by Alexis Royer. The Eagles also have five players with 32 or more RBIs, led by Pena (50) and Royer (44).

"We've been pretty solid up and down the lineup all year," Major said. "It seems that it's always somebody else stepping up and I'm real proud of them or that. It's not just the top two or three hitters, we've been pretty solid up and down the lineup."

Contact reporter Norm Sanders at 239-2454, or on Twitter @NormSanders

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