Your Prep Sports
WEST BRANCH – Over the last five years Kaiya Luneckas has played a lot of softball on the diamond in front of West Branch high school.
Luneckas couldn’t recall a time the Bears have ever been better than they were on Wednesday in the senior pitcher’s final appearance on her home field.
West Branch (7-8) was sharp in every phase of the game on its way to a 2-1 win over Pekin (7-7) in a Class 2A, Region 8 quarterfinal in front of a large crowd in West Branch.
“Tonight we had everything coming together,” Luneckas said. “We were hitting well, we were playing defense and I wasn’t allowing a lot of walks. We’ve been working really hard and it’s all kind of coming together for us.”
Luneckas struck out eight and allowed just five hits in a complete game and junior Bailey Donohoe homered as West Branch advanced to Friday’s Region 8 semifinal.
The Bears will face the winner of Thursday’s quarterfinal between second-ranked Louisa-Muscatine and Van Buren.
“It was a fun game to coach in,” West Branch coach Chandran Lapel said. “It was a nice clean game and it’s good to see that in the postseason.”
West Branch did it all well on Wednesday.
West Branch squared up balls against three different Pekin pitchers, played strong defense behind Luneckas who didn’t allow a walk in the complete game win.
All around it may have been the best game the Bears played all season. Perhaps in a few seasons.
“Kaiya is pitching great, this is one of the best games she has ever pitched and we played defense as a whole team,” West Branch junior Nicki Henson said. “This was one of the best games we’ve played in a long time.”
Henson helped flip the momentum early with a big play on defense.
Emilee Linder reached on an error leading off the first inning.
Two batters later Linder was cut down at the plate attempting to score on an Allison Bainbridge single to center field by a perfect strike from Henson.
“When they got runners on first and second I thought they had rattled us a little bit,” Henson said. “When that play happened it really just changed everything.”
Henson fielded the single on a hop and fired to Maddy Hatfield at the plate on one hop. Henson applied the tag to keep the game scoreless.
“Before the pitch I knew she had some speed so on a hit they weren’t just going to stop her at third,” Henson said. “I fielded it cleanly and I knew she was going to be going so I just let it go.”
West Branch seized the momentum and the lead when Donohoe lined a 2-2 pitch from Kylie Davis over the right-center field fence to put the Bears up 1-0 in the second inning.
“I just had the mentality to get a hit,” Donohoe said. “I just wanted a base hit but it turned out to be a home run.”
Pekin pulled even with a run in the sixth but West Branch answered in the bottom of the inning.
Hatfield led off the inning and Mackenzie Heise followed with a single before an error allowed the go-ahead run to score.
That was enough for Luneckas who struck out four of the final five batters she faced to secure the win.
“I think we all went out the way that we wanted to in our last time playing on this field,” Luneckas said. “I am really proud of us and how we played.”
Luneckas seemed to get stronger as the game went on.
The senior right-hander had six of her eight strikeouts in the final three innings including three in the seventh.
“Kaiya, I can’t say enough about her tonight she pitched a very good game,” Lapel said. “No walks, which is phenomenal, if that happens every game I will be happy.”
Pekin 000 001 0 – 1 5 1
West Branch 010 001 x – 2 5 2
W – Kaiya Luneckas L – Cari Duwa
2B – WB: Maddy Hatfield
HR – WB: Bailey Donohoe