SALEM — Staked to an early four-run cushion, Columbia ace Brianna Weilbacher never looked back Wednesday in the semifinals of the Class 3A Salem Sectional.
And neither did the Eagles hitters.
Allie Eckert sparked a four-run first inning with a two-run double and Weilbacher blanked Carbondale on just four hits as Columbia rolled to 8-0 win on a hot, windy day at Tully Park.
The Eagles wasted no time in jumping on Terriers starter Sam Goodale. After leadoff hitter Laura Rooster singled and moved to second on a sacrifice, Eagles catcher Taryn Pena singled in the game's first run.
Weilbacher then helped her own cause with an RBI double and following a single by Caitlyn Touchette, Eckert lined a double into the alley in left-center to put Columbia up 4-0.
"I was just looking to have a good at bat and hit the ball hard somewhere,'' Eckert said. "It felt good to help the team and get us off to a good start."
Pena later added a run-scoring double, while Alexis Royer hit a solo home run and an RBI triple in support of Weilbacher, who struck out 13 Terriers while pitching Columbia (30-5) into the sectional final.
The Eagles will take on Marquette at 11 a.m. for the title Saturday. The Explorers (28-6) defeated Centralia 5-0 in the other Wednessday semifinal.
Like Eckert, Eagles coach Rhonda Major felt the quick start was one of the keys to the win.
"It's always nice to be able to get out to an early lead. But even after we scored those four runs, I thought we still had a good approach at the plate and we stayed aggressive," Major said. "We didn't back off, we kept trying to score.
"And I thought (Brianna) Weilbacher pitched very well. She throws hard and tonight I thought she did a good job of hitting her spots and just throwing strikes.''
Another hit by Roessler and Royer's triple gave Columbia a 5-0 lead in the second inning.
With all of her pitches working, Weilbacher retired 12 of the first 13 hitters she faced and had eight strikeouts in the first four innings.
"My screwball and my fastball were working well today,'' Weilbacher said. "It's also huge to be able to get out to the big lead that we did tonight.
"I was just able to spot my pitches and throw strikes.''
All of Carbondale's hits were doubles and the Terriers had just one good chance to score.
Goodale led off the fifth inning with a double and one out later, Weilbacher walked Paige Bird to put runners on first and second.
Weilbacher got out of the jam by striking out Skylar Miller and Karly Williard.
"We had some chances. We just never were able to get the big hit,'' Terriers coach Kim Wheeler said. "She (Weilbacher) made some big pitches when she needed to and we just didn't swing the bats very well all night.
"It's a disappointing way to end the season. But we did a lot of good things all season. You don't win 27 games without being a good team.''
Royer made it 6-0 in the fifth inning with a solo home run and the Eagles added an unearned run later. Pena then capped the Eagles' scoring with an RBI double in the sixth.