Rylee Kulbatsky of DuBois Central Catholic embraces moment, pitches Cardinals to Pennsylvania softball state title

Sophomore pitcher Rylee Kubaltsky threw a three-hitter to help DuBois Central Catholic to the PIAA Class 1A softball state championship
Rylee Kulbatsky of DuBois Central Catholic poses with her gold medal after pitching the Cardinals to the 2024 PIAA Class 1A state championship.
Rylee Kulbatsky of DuBois Central Catholic poses with her gold medal after pitching the Cardinals to the 2024 PIAA Class 1A state championship. / Ryan Isley, SBLive Sports

DuBois Central Catholic sophomore pitcher Rylee Kulbatsky sailed her first pitch of the PIAA Class 1A state championship game on June 13 over the head of catcher Jessy Frank and to the net behind home plate at Penn State’s Beard Field.

But the catcher didn’t panic. She just smiled and laughed.

“I'm sure some people thought that was like a red flag, but I knew she was fine,” Frank said. “I was not concerned at all. Sometimes that's even a good sign. And she never pitches a bad game really, so it's not like I was worried.”

Frank turned out to be prophetic, as Kulbatsky fired a three-hit shutout with 15 strikeouts in a 2-0 win over Carmichaels. And despite throwing the game’s first pitch to the backstop, she didn’t walk a single batter in the game and threw 71 of her 90 pitches for strikes.

“I trusted myself and had trust in my defense and I just really spun the ball, that's what I always do,” Kulbatsky said.

She throws a variety of pitches, mixing in her changeup, screwball, backdoor curveball and backdoor riseball along with her fastball to go along with her most dominant pitch – the riseball, which was her pitch of choice more often than not in that state championship game.

“She climbs the ladder as you say, and early in the count, she'll throw her riser at the knees, next one, she'll put it at the belt and the next one is at the shoulders where it's very hard to hit.” DCC head coach George Heigel said. “And if they do bunt, there's a good chance we're calling that situation defensively. I'm always calling a riser because it's very hard to get a riser down on the ground. And so 90% of our pitches were risers (against Carmichaels).”

While the physical talent is not a question, the most important part of pitching in big games is to be in control of the emotional and the mental part of the game, something Kulbatsky does well.

“I just really had to stay calm and not get overwhelmed and not make the moment too big," Kulbatsky said. "Even though it was big, I had to like kind of make it not.”

The moment never looked too big for the 5-foot-3 pitcher in the state championship game, as she was cruising and perfect through four frames, striking out 10 of the first 12 batters she faced.

But then adversity hit in the fifth inning when the leadoff batter hit a ball to left center that looked like it would be caught, but ultimately dropped between two outfielders who looked like they had a communication error on the play. The sophomore didn’t let it rattle her, and after a sacrifice bunt moved the runner to second, she struck out the final two hitters to end the inning.

“Softball is a game of failure, and that's going to happen,” Kulbatsky said of the play in the outfield. “Things happen. I know I make mistakes myself. So I just have to buckle down and keep going.”

Kulbatsky sure didn’t make many mistakes in her sophomore campaign, racking up a 19-1 record and allowing just 11 earned runs in 126 innings pitched for an ERA of 0.6. She never allowed more than two runs in a single game, and allowed two only three times. She gave up just 50 hits and struck out 255 hitters to only 24 walks.

One of the reasons Kulbatsky doesn’t seem fazed in the big moments is because big moments are nothing new to her. She has been facing them in the summer for her entire career and currently is doing so for Ohio Outlaws 08 Williams, her travel ball team she hurried off to be with after winning the state championship because she had already missed games in that current travel tournament.

“She's a sophomore, but she's played solid softball for last four or five years at the travel level and the level of travel ball she plays, she gets hit,” Heigel said. “Girls who play at that level of travel ball, it translates well into high school because they don't get upset. She doesn't get excited about anything.”

Another reason she has been so successful so early in her high school career is the work she puts in with pitching coach Ed Beavers of Cortland, Ohio, who unbeknownst to Kulbatsky, was sitting in the third row behind home plate for the state championship game.

“When I go with Ed, I'm usually just by myself and we'll go through every single pitch,” said Kulbatsky, who has played on travel teams with another of Beavers’ pitchers in Madelyn Vogan of Sharon.  

Amongst the others who go to Beavers for lessons are two of the best pitchers in Ohio in Sydnie Watts of Austintown-Fitch and Gabby Gradishar of Warren Champion. Both juniors were named first-team All-Ohio in each of the last two seasons, and are headed to play Division I college softball - Watts committed to Georgia Tech and Gradishar to Penn State.

Like Kulbatsky, Watts won a state title as a sophomore. She then repeated this season.

Being in a group of pitchers the likes of who Beavers coaches is a thrill for the younger hurler.

“It's awesome,” Kulbatsky said. “They're both Division I recruits. It's really great. I'm super proud to be in that group with them.”

Not only will she be in the group with them because they share a pitching coach, but she will soon be officially able to be recruited by colleges and will start taking official visits. So far, she has visited a few schools unofficially and has enjoyed the experience.

“I like visiting the schools, but I obviously can't talk to the coaches because I'm too young,” Kulbatsky said. “I do have a lot of interest in schools and they have some interest in me, so I'm really pumped.”

But once she is able to officially be recruited, she knows it’s a serios time that will come with tough conversations and decisions. Despite that, she is looking forward to the process and hopes to commit sometime in September.

“It's going to get stressful, I'm just not there yet,” Kulbatsky said. “Right now, I'm really excited for it, and I just go out and give it all my all every time and hope it's the best.”

Not only is Kulbatsky one of the best players on the team and the one who gets the spotlight because she is in the pitching circle, but according to coaches and other DCC players, she is an even better person and teammate.

“She keeps everyone up,” Frank said. “It’s not all about her, which is the best thing for a pitcher to be. It's great to respect your teammates and she does that, she picks us up over everything. She's grateful for us and we're grateful for her. She's a great pitcher and a great person.”

And she’s also the kind of person who can laugh after the game when her first pitch was closer to hitting the stands than it was the catcher’s mitt.

-- Ryan Isley | ryan@scorebooklive.com | @sbliveoh

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Ryan Isley, SBLive Sports


Ryan Isley is a Regional Editor for SBLive Sports, covering Ohio and Pennsylvania.