Your Prep Sports
WEST BRANCH – If forced to choose between a strong showing in the circle and a big game at the plate Kaiya Luneckas would lean toward the pitching success.
The West Branch senior didn’t have to make that choice on Thursday against Mid-Prairie, opting instead to shine in both areas.
Luneckas tossed a one-hitter and had three hits including a solo home run as West Branch snapped a three-game losing skid with a 9-1 win over Mid-Prairie (0-6) in a River Valley Conference South Division contest in West Branch.
“I’m a pitcher through and through so I’ll take a good pitching performance any day but a home run is a good bonus,” Luneckas said. “I put my priority on being there for my team defensively as a pitcher.”
Luneckas struck out 13 in the one-hitter and had a double and homer as part of a 3-for-4 showing at the plate.
Mackenzie Heise also homered as West Branch (4-5) won for the first time since June 25 and improved to 4-3 in RVC play.
“It’s been a while so this was big for us,” Heise said. “We changed up the lineup today and I think that really got us going.”
Ten different players had a hit in a 14-hit effort by the Bears that included five extra base hits.
West Branch scored runs in each of the final five innings, including a three-run fifth that broke the game open.
“We definitely needed this,” West Branch coach Chandran Lapel said. “I knew that we were getting over the hump. That is something that we’ve been focusing on is seven innings of good energy and I was very happy tonight with the outcome.”
West Branch got contributions from everyone on Thursday but it was Luneckas that stole the show.
Luneckas didn’t allow a hit until Madeline Schrader reached on an infield single with two outs in the fifth.
She struck out the side in the third and fanned four in the fifth with one striking victim reaching on a drop third strike.
“I felt really confident today,” Luneckas said. “I just took the mentality of dominating the batter and that helped me get in the right mindset.”
After issuing 17 walks in her previous 11 innings Luneckas walked just two on Thursday while also hitting a batter.
“We’ve been working a lot on getting the first and second strike and that’s her mentality,” Lapel said. “She has done an incredible job of changing her mentality about getting ahead of hitters, staying ahead of hitters and obviously she becomes so much more effective when she is ahead. She has worked really hard at that so I have to give her credit.”
Luneckas retired the final seven batters she faced on Thursday and allowed two balls to be hit out of the infield all game, both fly outs to right field by Lanie Bowlin.
“Having a good first inning just helps build confidence,” Luneckas said. “We were hitting well and offense builds into defense just like defense builds into offense. They go hand in hand and I am really grateful for my team backing me up all the time.”
West Branch gave Luneckas an early cushion with two runs in the second inning. Lexie Peak had an RBI ground ball and number nine hitter Sasha Koenig added an RBI single in the inning.
“It’s awesome that everyone was hitting,” Heise said. “They were all line drives and the fact everyone did that tonight, even people coming off the bench was amazing to see.”
Heise and Luneckas doubled the lead in the third inning with back-to-back homers.
The inning started with Heise lining a leadoff homer over the fence in right field.
“When I hit I just want a line drive so I was not expecting that,” Heise said. “I just wanted to slow down, wait on the pitch and drive it up the middle.”
Luneckas followed with a towering drive to left.
The third home run of the season for Luneckas gave the Bears a 4-0 lead.
“All three of my home runs have been solos so we are hoping we can get some people on base and make the next one a big one,” Luneckas said.
Maddy Hatfield had an RBI double in the fourth and Lexi Klinkkammer an RBI double in a three-run fifth.
Luneckas capped the scoring when she doubled and scored on a Taylor Thein RBI in the sixth.
“We mixed up the lineup a lot tonight and I feel really good about putting girls in other positions or brining in other girls and still knowing that we can produce,” Lapel said. “I was happy with up and down the lineup one through nine everyone had good at bats was locked in and produced.”
Mid-Prairie 000 010 0 – 1 1 1
West Branch 022 131 x – 9 14 1
W – Kaiya Luneckas L – Myah Lugar
2B – WB: Maddy Hatfield, Lexi Klinkkammer, Kaiya Luneckas
HR – WB: Kaiya Luneckas, Mackenzie Heise