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PIAA Softball Championships

LIFE OF RYLEE: DuBois Central Catholic Sophomore Pitcher Kulbatsky Has Excelled This Season, Helping Her Experienced Teammates Get Another Shot at PIAA Crown

DuBOIS, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Jessy Frank has caught a fair share of games.

But the DuBois Central Catholic senior catcher has seen no one quite like Cardinals’ sophomore pitcher Rylee Kulbatsky.

“I can’t say enough about Rylee,” Frank said. “I truly have never known a player in any sport that is so gritty and determined. Nothing can shake her.”

Frank saw that firsthand during the District 9 Class A final against Northern Potter on a rainy afternoon on May 29. Kulbatsky slipped and fell while delivering a pitch several times, but didn’t let it fluster her.

Not at all.

“Most pitchers I know would just call it quits then and there and say it’s too hard,” Frank said. “But she laughed it off, got up and kept striking people out. She probably struck out 15 people that game.”

Actually, it was 18 in a 2-1 win.

That was nothing new this season for Kulbatsky, who has put up some eye-popping numbers in her first full season as the No. 1 pitchers for DuBois Central Catholic, which will play familiar foe Carmichaels out of District 7 for the PIAA Class A title at 11 a.m. on Thursday at Penn State University’s Nittany Lion Softball Park.

Kulbatsky is 17-1 with a 0.69 ERA. She has struck out 227 batters in 112 innings. She’s surrendered a mere 45 hits and walked just 21. Opponents are batting a paltry .117 against her.

She’s been a big reason the Cardinals (22-2) are doing something unheard of at any level of softball.

DCC has yet to give up more than two runs in any game this season. Opponents have touched home plate just 18 times in 24 games.

The Cardinals have 11 shutouts. The two losses were 2-1 to Central Mountain, a Class 5A team, and 2-0 to Wellsville, a team from New York which finished 23-1 and won the Class B state championship.

“It’s all because of how hard we practice,” Kulbatsky said.

Kulbatsky certainly does.

She’s worked on her craft relentlessly over the years — bordering on compulsion.

In fact, she admits softball is more than just a passion for her.

“It’s an obsession,” Kulbatsky said. “Even when I wasn’t the best, I never gave up on myself. I worked every day. I pitched every day, endlessly, for hours on end, just because I was obsessed with it. I just really fell in love with it.”

Kulbatsky has had the surrounding support to keep her from going overboard, she said.

It’s a fine line — putting the work in improving without burning out.

“They tell me when I need to take a break,” she said. “They’ve supported me through everything.”

When Kulbatsky was younger and still finding her way in the circle, she and her father, Adam — who is a coach on the DCC staff — were watching a college softball game. She turned to her dad and told him she wanted to be like one of those women on the television, but didn’t think it would ever happen.

“He said, ‘You don’t know that,’” Kulbatsky said. “I just kept working and I’m still not there yet.”

She almost didn’t start at all.

When Kulbatsky was 12, her nerves about pitching were so overwhelming that she thought about quitting.

“I used to be scared to throw bad,” she said. “That’s something that made me grow, but I really struggled with it. I would get so nervous before games that I just didn’t know how to calm myself and I thought I should quit. But I just kept working because I always have this voice in my mind telling me I can’t, I just can’t, I just can’t quit. I just had to keep working and be consistent with it and just do my thing.”

Kulbatsky said her father didn’t pressure her either way — perhaps the best gift he could have ever given her.

“He was going to support me no matter what decision I made at the time,” she said. “He was just there for me in those moments and I think that’s what really helped me make the right decision.”

Now Kulbatsky is just one more pitching gem away from helping DCC win a state championship.

She would like nothing better than to help the seniors on the roster get that elusive title.

“They’ve been working all four years and they deserve it,” Kulbatsky said. “They’re my teammates and I love them all.”

DCC has had little luck in the PIAA final.

Two years ago, the Cardinals lost to Montgomery, 5-1. In 2019, they fell to Williams Valley, 5-0.

Carmichaels stands in their way this season.

The third-place team out of the WPIAL, the Mighty Mikes (20-3) are on a four-game winning streak heading into the championship game after a loss in the District 7 semifinals to Chartiers-Houston.

Carmichaels beat DCC, 7-0, in the first round of the PIAA playoffs last season.

At the plate, Carmichaels is led by sophomore Carys McConnell, who is batting .513 with six home runs and 35 RBIs in 76 at-bats. But as a team, the Mikes are hitting .278.

Sophomore Bailey Barnyak has enjoyed a big year in the circle just like her DCC counterpart Kulbatsky.

Barnyak is 18-2 with a 1.17 ERA. She has stuck out 223 in 143⅔ innings, while giving up 71 hits and 54 walks.

Frank will take her pitcher over anyone else on any day of the week.

“We pitch and catch every Sunday over the winter. We get a lot of time together,” Frank said. “She’s just an awesome girl. She’s really nice and easy to get along with. She gets along well with everyone on the team and she’s definitely a good team player. She wants the best for everyone. And I feel like I know her spin so well and I can see exactly what she needs and exactly what’s working and what isn’t.”

Just about everything has been working for Kulbatsky, who is always quick to give her catcher heaps of credit.

“She has my back. I don’t know, we just have this connection. I really can’t explain it. She calms me down when I’m nervous. I trust her. I’m really gonna miss her.”